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Learners and the Science of Learning

Why do we refer to children as ‘learners’, rather than students?

Using the term “Learner” is a critical first step so that we see every child and every person as a learner. Most important is for every child to see his or herself as a learner so a positive self-perception can be attained. Read a recent blog on this topic: Changing Perceptions: Every Child is a Learner.

Here is an infographic that describes the difference between a Learner and a Student located in the blog post where the full size infographic is located.

Learner Versus StudentLearners vs. Students: Who do You Want in Your Classroom?

What is learner agency?

Learner agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.

Why is learner agency so important?

Learners who have agency have the capacity to engage strategically in their learning without waiting to be directed. They can take ownership and responsibility for their learning as well as possess the skills to learn independently, without heavy dependence on external structures and direction.

What is identity and why is it important?

Identity stems from how a learner makes meaning of their unique combinations of their personality, physical characteristics, group associations, beliefs, values, attitudes and life experiences. The science of learning informs us about three principles related to identity.


What is the “Empower the Learner” Profile?

Identity = “Empower the Learner” Profile

Each child needs to be known, understood and valued and the “Empower the Learner” Profile is designed for each child to develop a positive self-perception of who they are, how they learn and what they aspire to be.

Empower the Learner Profile


What is self-advocacy and how does a learner gain those skills?

When a child uses the “Empower the Learner” Profile and understands who they are and how they learn, they are preparing to self-advocate. And when they can share their strengths and challenges along with their preferences and needs, they can begin to self-advocate not just with classroom teachers but by leading their own IEP meetings.

Read this blog post, to learn how one high school student learned to advocate for their own learning.

Learner Profiles Lead to Agency and Self-Advocacy in a WI High School

From the science of learning and development, what are the factors that impact learning?

Based on the research on the science of learning and development by leading cognitive scientists and researchers, the research on mindfulness and the team from Transcend Education, this diagram was designed to help us understand what are the factors that impact learning.

Discover in this video to understand the importance of intentionally building these skills  – social, emotional, affective and cognitive – for healthy brain development and engaged learning.


What is the “Empower the Learner” process?

3 step empower the learner processThe 3-Step “Empower the Learner” process begins with the

“Empower the Learner” Profile that helps each learner tell their story of

  • Who I am,
  • How I learn (using the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express™), and
    What I aspire to be.

In other words, their Identity. Creating the “Empower the Learner” Profile is the first step in the 3-step “Empower the Learner” process for each learner to develop learner agency and self-advocacy skills.

The next step is the-.

Personal Learning Backpack (PLB)

The PLB is built based on the strengths, challenges, preferences and needs of the learner in the “Empower the Learner” Profile (LP). It is designed to include the tools, apps, skills and strategies that the learner needs to support their own learning. To develop those skills, the final step is to develop a…

Personal Learning Plan (PLP)

The Personal Learning Plan (PLP) is unique for each learner. It creates a pathway to AGENCY as each learner develops goals and action steps for skill development alongside extended learning opportunities that are aligned to college and career, personal or citizenship goals.

What is the Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework based on research in the learning sciences, including cognitive neuroscience, that guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences.


What is the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express?

The UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express was designed to help learners understand their strengths and challenges in…

  • how they Access and process information into usable knowledge,
  • how they Engage with concepts and concepts, and
  • how they Express what they know and understand.

It helps the learner respond to “How I Learn” and it creates a common language around learning for the child, the parent and the educator.

The UDL lens of access engage and express


Could you explain what Access is as it relates to the learner?

Access relates to how a learner processes information into useable knowledge by accessing content through…

  • digital media
  • visual media
  • printed text
  • audio means, or
  • through touch.

Could you explain what Engage is as it relates to the learner?

Engage is how a learner engages with content and concepts using multiple strategies and tools that would keep the learner’s interest and motivation to learn. These strategies could include…

  • problem-solving
  • designing
  • questioning
  • collaboration
  • reflection
  • interactives
  • video or graphics

Could you explain what Express is as it relates to the learner?

Express relates to how a learner expresses what they know and understand through…

  • writing
  • presenting
  • storytelling
  • multimedia
  • building/modeling
  • making sense of learning

What is a Personal Learning Backpack?

  • personal learning backpackOnce a learner has indicated their strengths, challenges, along with their preferences and needs in the “Empower the Learner” Profile (LP), then the conversation begins with the learner to develop a Personal Learning Backpack™(PLB). The Personal Learning Backpack includes the tools/technologies and apps a learner can use to support a challenge or enhance a strength they indicated in their LP using the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express, along with the skills and strategies that learners need (with the tools and apps) to become independent in their learning.

What is a Personal Learning Plan and what is included?

Goals for the Personal Learning PlanThe Personal Learning Plan (PLP) is unique for each learner. It creates a pathway to AGENCY as each learner develops Learning Goals and action steps for skill development alongside extended learning opportunities that are aligned to College and Career, Personal or Citizenship goals. Here is the WHY behind the PLP four specific goals:

  • Learning Goals (Access, Engage and Express) to develop independent skills to support their own learning;
  • Personal Goals to explore their interests, talents, or passions;
  • College and Career Goals to gain first-hand experiences in career areas where they have strong interests; and
  • Citizenship Goals to become an active citizen in the local or global community.

Mindfulness and The Mindful Learner

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the act of paying attention to what is happening in the present moment, without judgment. It entails a variety of practices and exercises designed to enhance our experience in the here and now, reducing the stress and anxiety often created when the mind is focused on either past or future events. Mindfulness also includes self-regulation of thoughts and emotions, and helps to foster kindness and compassion toward self and others.

Why is a consistent mindfulness practice important, and how can it positively impact learning?

A consistent mindfulness practice is important in the development of concentration, management/reduction of stress and anxiety, and awareness of patterns of thinking, emotions and reactions. When the mind and body are in a more relaxed and concentrated state, as that produced by mindfulness exercises, the brain is better able to absorb, retain and process information.

Who is a Mindful Learner?

We recognize the important role mindfulness, also known as awareness, plays in social emotional learning and overall sense of well-being. A Mindful Learner is a child who is utilizing mindful practices and exercises to help achieve balance, concentration, self-regulation, and ownership of their thoughts and actions. Scientific research shows that mindfulness facilitates reduction of anxiety and stress, and increases feelings of confidence, calmness, and optimism in one’s abilities and future. Therefore, mindfulness has been woven throughout all of our programs to enhance and improve daily activities in and out of the classroom.

Tools, Apps, and Technology

What technologies or apps can help a learner who is challenged with writing?

Just like there is more than one way to read, there is more than one way to write. With advancements in technology, learners can write using a computer, their voice, their eyes, and their body. Using tools like dictation (voice typing), accessible graphic organizers, word prediction, spelling and grammar checkers, and text to speech help to empower the learner to access written expression and sets them on a path of writing independence.

What technologies or apps can help a learner who is challenged with reading independently?

There is more than one way to read. The international literacy association defines literacy as “the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, compute, and communicate using visual, audible, and digital materials across disciplines and in any context. It is important to leverage the use of inclusive technologies (apps and extensions) for learners who are challenged with reading independently. Having access to books is not confined to just a print copy.  Providing multiple formats of books which include Text to speech support, audiobooks, and font and display options help to empower the learner to access reading and set them on a path of reading independence.

What technologies or apps can help a learner who is challenged with organizing and planning?

There are so many apps and technologies that can help learners who need support with organization and planning. Timer apps, calendars, tasks, to-do lists, can really positively impact a learner’s ability to stay on track with learning, set goals, and have a sense of agency.