Constructing learning SO THAT it is meaningful and purposeful

Finding ways to make the complexities of learning concrete and clear to learners is a challenge. Ensuring how we design learning that is both purposeful and meaningful is one thing. Deciding just how we translate the often abstract concept of learning we have in our head so that it makes sense and has meaning for others is what makes a quality learning experience.

This is part of my Marginal Learning Gains (#marginalgains) thinking as it involves focusing in on a very small aspect of learning and refining it in order to extract as big a learning opportunity as possible from it. What I have come to refer to as ‘squeezing the learning’.

I’ve been grappling with the challenge of how to construct learning outcomes and /or objectives (which I will refer to as LOs from here on) that are both purposeful and meaningful. For many lessons, LOs often become the empty and unloved dark corner of our learning architecture rather than the engine room of the learning experience we are offering. So, with my Marginal Learning Gains thinking hat firmly on I started to unpick this one aspect of learning design to see if there was a marginal learning gain to be aggregated in the use and construction of LOs.

The “So That…” of learning 

By inserting the connective of ‘SO THAT…’ there is a concrete way to communicate the relevance of learning. This can also counter challenges from those students who, when faced with something new or unfamiliar and are reluctant to take an intellectual risk, ask why they need to learn/ do/ understand/ study this or learn in this way. So it gives us a great opportunity to pre-empt what is, in fact the ‘SO WHAT?’ by making the reason for the lesson in the LO overt and explicit from the outset.

Some of the benefits of using the ‘SO THAT…’ connective I have begun to notice…

  • It forces me to really think through the reasons why I have designed the learning in a particular way and it doesn’t let me off the hook!
  • It makes me explicit about what I intend the impact of learning to look, sound and feel like, so I have front-end evaluation criteria from the outset as part of my outcome-focused planning
  • It sharpens up my thinking about every form of learning or training session I design. After all, if I can’t explain the ‘SO THAT…’ it probably means that I couldn’t answer the ‘SO WHAT…?’ if I was asked
  • It means that anybody who comes in mid-way through will be clear about the purpose of the design and content of the learning experience
  • It provides a prompt for all learners to articulate why and what they are learning in terms of content and the how in terms of the organisation of their learning
  • It provides an opportunity to involve the learners in working out for themselves what the purpose of learning is. In doing so, they co-construct the success criteria for individual tasks and can see how these are directly linked into the bigger picture of learning

And, if you know me well, you’ll not be surprised that I need a visual to show what I’m talking about. So here you go…I’m working with some teachers to see how this goes, so please let me know what you think so we can add, tweak and refine it further if needs be…Image

30 thoughts on “Constructing learning SO THAT it is meaningful and purposeful

  1. What about, “To challenge …” SO THAT “You feel more confident to”. With my top sets we are really challenging each other in a supportive to way to make our judgements and decisions that more powerful. It could be linked to the others but is a very powerful one on its own and it has a lot to do with ownership.

  2. Hi Zoe,I have asked 6 colleagues to try out one of the ideas from your blog and reflect on their learning . I will let you know what they tell me. I did this before I knew it was your blog!! Small world – how is the cricket?

    • Hi Dave, it’s lovely to hear from you! Thank you for taking the time to comment on this and I am pleased that you are finding it useful. Please let me know how your colleagues get on with the SO THAT. It’s certainly helping me be sharp in my planning and in communicating what exactly it is I want to see, hear and feel in my own work. Cricket is on the back-burner this year…golf is my new pleasure (and frustration!). I hope all is well with you.

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  6. I used SO THAT with my year 2 class last term in a few English lessons and found it really helped their understanding of where we were going and why! For example, we are learning to put words into alphabetical order SO THAT our reports will have alphabetical glossaries. The children suggested putting themselves in alphabetical order and were excited to show me they could do the glossaries on their own. Will definitely use again.

  7. I’m going to try this with my key stage 3 classes after half term. At first I a going to seeing they can come up with their own “so that”. This will tie in a little with the SOLO approach that I am trying out. If they are unable to come up with their own then I will share mine. Could be a whole new starter activity for the beginning of the lesson…?

    • Dear Nick,
      Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback. I love how the ‘So That’ can provide an opportunity to co-construct learning outcomes with the students. It can also then provide you with powerful assessment feedback with regard to the security and confidence that students have gained as a result of the lesson. If you haven’t already, take a look at the site for more marginal learning gains you may wish to develop. Please let me know how it goes?

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  9. Such a great way to present it. I take the SO THAT you feel confident in all my classes and want this to be the main thing that students take away – that confidence can be so hard to build and so empowering once there… such an important step. Thanks for sharing :o)

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