Annotations from Chapter 2, What the best college teachers do, Bain, 2004.

Berkeley, Monday, October 22, 2018 10:17 AM

My take-aways from this chapter is how do we learn.

Before explaining the main four types of learners, I want to say that the chapter was built about an example of students learning as Aristotelian physicists and Newtonian and how to questions themselves. I did not fully grasped that example.

William Perry and a group of psychologist at Wellesley College and Blythe McViker Clinchy defined the following four categories of learners:

  1. Received knowers: At the most elementary level, students think that learning is simply a matter of checking with the experts, getting the “right answers”, then memorizing them. Paulo Freire defined it as the “banking model”, where teachers deposit the correct answers into students heads.
  2. Subjective knowers: It is the second learning stage, which defines knowledge as matter of opinion. Subjective knowers make judgements. They can define if an “idea is right if it feels right”. Students at this level, if they receive a low grade, often they will argue that the teacher/evaluator does not like her/his opinion.
  3. Procedural knowers: Third level in the staircase of learners. They learn to “play the game” of the discipline. They recognize that it has criteria for making judgements and they learn how to use those standards u writing papers. Those usually are recognized as the sharpest students, but hold on, there is one additional step in the staircase. Such “knowing” does not, however, influence how they think outside of class. They simple give the teacher what she wants without much sustained or substantial influence on the way they think, act, or feel.
  4. Committed: separate knowers and connected knowers: At the highest level of the staircase, students become independent, critical, and creative thinkers. They consistently and consciously are looking ways of thinking and valuing ideas to which they  are exposed. They become aware of their own thinking and learn to correct it as they go. Clinchy and her colleagues found two types of knowers at the highest level:

4.1. Separate knowers: They like to detach themselves from an idea, remaining objective, even skeptical, and always willing to argue about it.

4.2. Connected knowers: They look at the merits of other people’s ideas instead of trying to shoot them down. They are not dispassionate, unbiased observers. They deliberately bias themselves in favor of the thing they are examining.

The four types of learners, although, it is an evolution process, for some specific goals, is needed to have a little bit of each. A separate knowers will need still to be a received knowers to provide the right facts.

Subjective knowers, while good thinkers, needs higher self criticism. When one is wrong it might be actually not wrong, not necessarily the evaluator is the one who does not like this learner.

Procedural learners, excellent students, likely to succeed in many challenges, but unlikely to take risks to argue against the system, theory, or rules.

My take-away from committed learners is that they are, but not limited to, deep and independent thinkers, avid readers beyond assigned readings, active learners, creators, supporters or arguers.


Bain, K., 2004. What the best college teachers do. Chapter 2. What do the know about. How we learn? Harvard University Press. pp. 22-47

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