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Latent Learning: What It Is and How to Use It in the Classroom


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Imagine the following situation.

Let’s say that every time you go back home from work, there are two routes that you can use. The first one is longer, and it takes you about 35 minutes of walking. And the second one is much shorter, but you’ll have to walk through a dark alley, and reports say people often get mugged there.

You’ve never walked around that alley yourself, but you know well enough not to go there because you’ve heard reports about it. And you will choose a safer route, even though it will take you more time to get home.

This is a good example of latent learning, and you can also often observe this phenomenon in education. Today, we’re going to take a look at it more and see how you can use it in the classroom.

What is Latent Learning?

Latent learning is the knowledge that only comes to the surface when a person has a need to use it. You don’t think about the dark alley and don’t use your knowledge about it all the time. Only when you approach it, you know you have to avoid it.

The same happens in the classroom setting. For example, when a child is learning English as a second language, and is asked to compile a dialog, they will have no problem doing it because they know what structure a dialog has. You don’t need to remind them anything, they’ve learned this information latently.

We don’t always show the knowledge we’ve gained right away. Often, latent learning occurs by accident, and we don’t always recognize it until we get into a situation in which we have to use this knowledge.

With that in mind, it might not be obvious to you right now how you can use latent learning in the classroom. So, let’s take a closer look at this problem.

How to Use Latent Learning?

Applying latent learning in the classroom can be tricky, considering the nature of this phenomenon. Latent learning happens all the time, and it’s hard to predict which knowledge and skills your students may or may not have outside of what you told them.

Here are a few suggestions that can help you use latent learning in the classroom, but you always have to keep in mind the characteristic features of the environment your students are growing up in.

Write the List of Latent Skills

First of all, to apply latent learning in the classroom, you need to have clear expectations of what your students may or may not know at their age.

For instance, your students may already have the knowledge of what critical thinking is, but they likely have never used it before. With that in mind, you can give them an argumentative essay to see how profound their knowledge of critical thinking is.

To create a list of latent skills, consider the following points:

  • What latent knowledge have your students gained in the classroom setting?
  • Which latent skills have your students learned outside of the classroom?

Based on your ideas, map out the list of skills and knowledge you can practice with your students. It will help you create situations inside of the classroom, which will trigger students to use the knowledge they have but never applied before.

Ask Students to Explore Topics on Their Own

One other effective way how you can apply latent learning in the classroom is by using retrieval practice, which is an effective way to put latent skills to the test.

To use this approach in the classroom, ask your students to explore certain information related to the topic of your future class by themselves. They don’t have to know about the connection between this information and the topic of the class right away, but once they have to put their newly acquired knowledge to the test, they will be able to do it with minimum supervision.

Over to You

Using latent learning and tracking latent skills in the classroom setting is not an easy job to do. It’s hard to tell whether such learning occurred or not. Also, some students might have it, while others might not.

However, you can still use it during the classes, all you need is to observe your students and their behaviors. Based on your observations, make a list of latent skills and knowledge your students might already have and increase the number of occasions inside the classroom to practice this knowledge and skills.



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