Best Learning Moments


Why do so many students find high school science classes uninteresting and become easily disengaged? Declining interest and engagement in science is a worldwide issue, even in country like Finland where students have done well on international comparative studies such as PISA (Program for International Assessment). Student disengagement with science is a real concern; it does not bode well for the future development of a scientific workforce or global society’s willingness to grapple with the wicked problems of climate change, digitalization, new human diseases, and the boundaries of artificial intelligence and robotics.

Why is science, especially in high school, viewed by many as stressing or boring? How can we identify the best learning moments and promote them? Is there something about the way that science is taught that contributes to the unease that young generation feel when thinking about their science classes?

We argue that when presented with questions that students find personally meaningful and intellectually challenging they can become more interested in science topics and want to learn more. What is essential then for encouraging science learning is to create engaging learning environments that ignite students’ interest in science by asking personally meaningful questions, tackling just rightly challenging problems and acquiring them new skills. Engagement is not only dependent on the subjective feelings of interest, skills and challenge, but by their interactions within a particular situation.

We argue that these three independent constructs, interest, skill and challenge, occur during situationally induced moments, which we term optimal learning moments (OLMs) - best learning moments. When students are fully engaged in these optimal learning moments they are likely to feel positive about their schoolwork, acquire new knowledge, use their creativity and  imagination and stretch their problem-solving abilities. These are the best learning moments.

Neon Brand - Unsplash

We build on modern expectancy-value (American educational psychologist Jacquelynne Eccles) and flow theory (Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmmihayi) and argue that the key components of best learning moments are students’ expectancies of successfully completing these tasks (skills), the subjective value that they attribute to these tasks (interest) and appropriate cost (challenge). As shown by educational psychologists Eccles and Wigfield in 2002 in their influential article “Motivational beliefs, Values and Goals”, the value is influenced by students’ intrinsic interest or importance or attainment, and utility value or usefulness of the task, but also psychological cost. 

When fully engaged in a learning task, best learning moments are marked by feelings occurring at nearly the same time. We have identified learning enhancers—these are positive emotions, when students are enjoying what they are doing, succeeding at what they are doing, and feeling happy, confident, and active. Learning detractors, in turn, are experiences students are unlikely to feel when engaged, such as feelings of boredom or confusion. Finally, we have identified learning accelerants—experiences when students feel a slight spike in anxiety or stress.

Although researchers agree that engagement is a changeable experience that varies over time, many studies pay limited attention to what happens to students in their everyday learning contexts. To obtain measures of students’ engagement experiences and other subjective feelings, researchers traditionally employ surveys that assess these conditions retrospectively. This approach, however, often fails to capture both the variability in how students feel from one moment to the next and the context(s) in which that variability is situated. Recognizing the difficulty of trying to define engagement without specifying the instances when it occurs misses being able to identify moments when students are actually involved and feeling successful at what they are doing. We argue that engagement in science is situational: not all experiences have the same effect on our social and emotional and academic learning.

Thus, to measure these best learning moments, we use new digital technology and the experience sampling method (ESM). We administer it using smart phones equipped with an open source application Paco specifically designed to capture the best learning moments. To capture the best learning moments, students are signaled several times during the day and prompted to answer a short survey about their interest, their skills and the challenge of the moment. Based on these three concepts, we identify optimal learning moments, which can be called as the best learning moments. In addition, we ask about their feelings at the moment, where they are, what they are doing, and who they are with. Science teachers involved in the project answer their own ESM surveys at the same time as their students. Our international team has been conducting a series of studies and we have now responses of 1,700 students including over 50,000 ESM responses on their daily learning experiences. Based on this data best learning moments tend to occur relatively infrequently, about 15-20% of science class time.

We have shown that using project-based learning (PBL) we have been able to increase best learning moments in science. PBL is grounded in learning science research and it emphasizes students’ active role in constructing cognitive artifacts, group discussions and synthesis of ideas, engagement in scientific practices similar to those of professional scientists, development of understandings through collaborating or sharing, using, and debating ideas with others and use of cognitive tools. The importance of promoting engagement in which science learning represents real scientific practices and gives all students both females and males a more realistic image of science.

Moreover, we are now developing interactive methods which would allow students and teachers to learn when students have the best learning moments and how to promote them. We are also developing new digital light-touch interventions to promote best optimal learning moments. We argue that growth mindset intervention would promote the skills components of the best learning moments, whereas the utility value intervention would promote the interest component.

Moreover, a special focus of our project is to bring high-quality science instruction to schools serving predominately low-income and minority students. Consequently, future evaluation efforts will consider both the average effect of the intervention and its differential effect on student subgroups. Another important component of our work is establishing a professional learning community among the teachers who participate in our project.

reagissez !


Livio Rossetti

molto interessante mi pare l'enfasi sulla sinergia di messaggi diversi, che sono efficaci se arrivano insieme allo studente.Complimenti.

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