How We Learn

Discover how your mind acquires, processes, and stores new information in this captivating course about the process of learning.
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Shed some much-needed light on what's going on when you learn, and dispel some pervasive myths about an activity so central to your daily life. With Professor Monisha Pasupathi's 24-lecture course, How We Learn, you'll examine interesting theories about learning; explore the ways we master tasks such as speaking a new language, learning a musical instrument, or navigating through a new city; and gain vital strategies for excelling in a range of different learning situations.


Monisha Pasupathi
Monisha Pasupathi

I became a professor in the first place so that I could spend my life learning; the opportunity to both learn and tell others about the process of learning was irresistible.


University of Utah

Dr. Monisha Pasupathi is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Utah. She holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from Stanford University. She joined the faculty at Utah in 1999 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Germany. Professor Pasupathi has been honored multiple times for her teaching. She was named Best Psychology Professor by her university's chapter of Psi Chi, the National Honor Society in Psychology. Psi Chi also awarded her the Outstanding Educator Award and Favorite Professor Award. Professor Pasupathi's research focuses on how people of all ages learn from their experiences, particularly through storytelling. She is coeditor of Narrative Development in Adolescence: Creating the Storied Self, and her work has been published widely in scholarly journals.

By This Professor

How We Learn
How We Learn


Myths about Learning

01: Myths about Learning

Explore what it means to learn, and consider 10 myths about learning-for example, that learning must be purposeful or that emotions get in the way of learning. None of these or eight other widely held views is accurate, as you discover in depth in this course.

29 min
Why No Single Learning Theory Works

02: Why No Single Learning Theory Works

Take a historical tour of early work on learning, which was deeply influenced by classical conditioning, made famous by Ivan Pavlov. Learn that in the effort to avoid anything that wasn't directly observable, researchers left out key unobservable factors, such as the attitudes of the subjects.

31 min
Learning as Information Processing

03: Learning as Information Processing

Investigate the information processing approach to learning, which holds that learning occurs as people encounter information, connect it to what they already know, and as a result, see changes in their knowledge or ability to do specific tasks.

27 min
Creating Representations

04: Creating Representations

How do you create representations of categories and events in your mind? Explore two aspects of this process. First, you seldom, if ever, learn passively; instead, learning occurs in the context of purposeful action. Second, what you already know changes your experiences in learning.

30 min
Categories, Rules, and Scripts

05: Categories, Rules, and Scripts

Whether you realize it, you acquire new knowledge by organizing experiences into categories, searching for rules within those categories, and establishing scripts-or patterns-that serve as guides for predicting what happens next in an unfamiliar activity or interaction. Find out how in this lecture.

30 min
What Babies Know

06: What Babies Know

Newborns are not a blank slate on which parents can dictate whatever they want their children to know. Instead, babies come prepackaged to develop in certain ways. Investigate how babies manage an overwhelming amount of learning and what this tells us about how grownups learn.

30 min
Learning Your Native Tongue

07: Learning Your Native Tongue

Developing humans progress from no words to about 60,000 words by adulthood, while also mastering complex syntax and grammar. Probe the mechanisms that permit babies to absorb the language they hear around them and make it their native tongue.

28 min
Learning a Second Language

08: Learning a Second Language

If learning a native language occurs almost without effort, why is it so hard to learn a second language, particularly after childhood? Examine this question in light of experiments to teach human language to other species, which provide intriguing clues for the difficulties adult language learners face.

30 min
Learning How to Move

09: Learning How to Move

Focus on four questions central to learning a new motor skill: What should you pay attention to while learning the skill? Can verbalizing the skill help with mastering it? What about learning by watching versus learning by doing? Does imagining the movement provide any benefits?

27 min
Learning Our Way Around

10: Learning Our Way Around

Investigate how you learn to navigate through the world, a skill we share with all other mobile creatures. Find that while spatial learning has a conscious component, we often don't know that we have a cognitive map of a particular place until we have to use it.

28 min
Learning to Tell Stories

11: Learning to Tell Stories

Storytelling is a crucial way that you connect with other people and also learn about yourself. Discover how you learn to narrate your experiences in a way that is ordered in time, communicates the essential details of what happened, and makes clear to the audience why they should listen.

30 min
Learning Approaches in Math and Science

12: Learning Approaches in Math and Science

Math and science require learning both facts about the world and a special process-the "how" used to identify and solve new problems. Survey different approaches to teaching math and science. Some work for building a knowledge of facts, others for instilling an understanding of process.

31 min
Learning as Theory Testing

13: Learning as Theory Testing

Scientists engage in theory testing to evaluate their own work and that of their colleagues. But is it realistic to expect nonscientists to develop similar habits of mind? Examine the problems people have in overcoming natural biases that inhibit scientifically rigorous thinking and learning.

31 min
Integrating Different Domains of Learning

14: Integrating Different Domains of Learning

Survey some common factors that apply to many learning situations, focusing on both intuitive and conscious processes. Tips for learning include spacing your rehearsals, varying the context, drawing on connections to things you know, learning the same way you'll use your learning, and sleeping on it!

29 min
Cognitive Constraints on Learning

15: Cognitive Constraints on Learning

Delve into three constraints on learning: attention, working memory, and executive function. Consider the evidence for the importance of these capacities in supporting or limiting learning. Close by investigating how they can be improved to enhance learning abilities over your lifespan.

30 min
Choosing Learning Strategies

16: Choosing Learning Strategies

Monitoring progress in learning can help develop a more effective learning strategy. Examine research showing how easy it is to misjudge success or lack of success at learning a skill or subject. Then look at approaches that let you increase retrieval and retention of learning.

27 min
Source Knowledge and Learning

17: Source Knowledge and Learning

Often it's important to know not only a piece of information but also its source, especially in today's information-rich culture with many different sources to be weighed for accuracy. Learn how to combat the common tendency to forget the source before anything else.

30 min
The Role of Emotion in Learning

18: The Role of Emotion in Learning

How does it affect learning when you feel happy or sad? Examine the role of emotions in learning, discovering that some moods are better for some tasks. For example, mild anxiety in studying for a test might actually enhance performance by focusing attention.

29 min
Cultivating a Desire to Learn

19: Cultivating a Desire to Learn

Consider how to foster the kinds of motivation that will help support learning rather than undermine it. Rewards such as good grades can backfire by reducing a student's desire to learn about a topic and willingness to persist on that topic. But what is a more effective motivation?

29 min
Intelligence and Learning

20: Intelligence and Learning

Do IQ scores predict the ability to learn? Or are they simply a measure of what has previously been learned, giving a person a leg up on subsequent learning? Use the statistical concept of correlation to shed light on the long-running debate over the nature of intelligence and its role in learning.

30 min
Are Learning Styles Real?

21: Are Learning Styles Real?

An influential contemporary view holds that we're all good at some things but not others, and that we may each differ in the way we like to learn. Probe the arguments for and against these ideas of multiple intelligences and differing learning styles.

28 min
Different People, Different Interests

22: Different People, Different Interests

Trace the origins and growth of the different interests that people naturally have. Interest stimulates the development of initially higher knowledge, which then facilitates further learning and further interest. Then consider an interest-related personality trait that is likely to be shared by the audience for this course.

28 min
Learning across the Lifespan

23: Learning across the Lifespan

Focus on the role of age in learning by reviewing four principles presented earlier in the course and exploring how they relate to different age groups. Close by examining a variety of strategies for preserving information-processing abilities into late life.

29 min
Making the Most of How We Learn

24: Making the Most of How We Learn

Conclude your exploration of how we learn with a look at today's frontiers of learning research. Then revisit the myths of learning from Lecture 1, review optimal approaches to learning, and consider what educators can do to make best use of our new understanding of this vital process.

31 min