number eight, white, on green backdrop

By Gil Dekel, PhD.

The book ‘Learning as a generative activity’* presents strategies to help students make sense of the materials they learn, by turning passive learning situations into active experiences.

The authors explain that learning is a change in what you know caused by your experience. To facilitate experiences, we can design courses that promote interpretive learning, where students interpret what is given to them rather than simply accepting it as it is. Students develop cognitive processing and generate outcomes by themselves.

Here is a summary of the 8 strategies for interpretive learning. Each strategy is divided into What and How (based on the book) and to Why (based on my own experience in teaching and designing learning materials):

 1. Learning by summarising:

What How Why
Students restate the main ideas of a lesson in their own words. They select the most relevant material, and organise it into a concise representation. Concise representation promotes focus.



2. Learning by mapping:

What How Why
Students organise the lesson’s material into mind maps, graphics or concept maps. They select key elements from the lesson’s text and convert them into spatial arrangements of words.


Spatial arrangements create connections between parts that prompt new meanings.


3. Learning by drawing:

What How Why
Students illustrate the lesson’s content. They determine which parts from the text-based lesson to include, and how to show causal connections in drawings.


Drawings provide a visual form of interpreting meanings. It creates new perspective (an alternative to words) in which to look at the material and interpret it.



4. Learning by imagining:

What How Why
Students form mental images that visualise the lesson’s content in their mind. They determine what components to include, and how to arrange them spatially to visualise structure and causal connections.


Imagining produces abstract mental meanings that are otherwise hard to facilitate in words or drawing on paper. Since mental imagining is very personal, it creates strong association between the student and their image, which allows an effective imprint of materials in the student’s memory.


5. Learning by self-testing:

What How Why
Students test themselves about the learned material. They ask questions about previously studied material, and answer the questions themselves without referring back to the material. Self-testing helps in shifting the learned material from the short-term memory to the long-term memory.



6. Learning by self-explaining:

What How Why
Students explain the content of a lesson to themselves using their own words. They select relevant elements, organise them into mental models and relate them to their existing mental models.


Self-explaining allows students to rephrase the content in the way that they understood it, and reinforce it in their memory using their own words.


7. Learning by teaching:

What How Why
Students teach the material to other students.


Teaching is effective when students make sense of the material, rather than simply restating it to others.



Students prepare to teach, explains the material to others, and interact with others by answering questions.


Students learn to relate to other ways of thinking and tailor meanings to the other students.


Also, by answering questions students learn how effective their teaching was, and how others associate meaning with their way of teaching. This improves one’s own understanding of the material.


8. Learning by enacting:

What How Why
Students perform relevant movements and gestures to present the material. They search for meanings of movements and gestures, and attach the most relevant to the material. This helps students understand how their own actions are linked to the meanings of the materials taught.



In order to attend classes, students only need to be able to listen and to read. However, listening and reading alone may not help students apply knowledge in real life. With active learning through interpretive activities students apply knowledge by taking charge of their leaning, and practising with generating meanings relevant to them.

© Gil Dekel. 30 May 2016.

Creative Commons Licence
‘8 learning strategies that promote understanding: Interpretive Learning’ by Gil Dekel, PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

* The book ‘Learning as a generative activity: eight learning strategies that promote understanding’, by Logan Fiorella and Richard E. Mayer. Published by Cambridge University Press. New York: 2015.