Information Age Education
   Issue Number 201
January, 2017   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) publications.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, six free books based on the newsletters are available: Validity and Credibility of Information; Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

Learning to Do and Doing to Learn

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon


Education has many goals. One of its fundamental and unifying goals is to help learners gain knowledge and skill that will be useful to them as they deal with problems and tasks they currently face or are likely to encounter in the future (Moursund, 4/19/2015). Learning to learn and learning to make effective use of one’s learning cut across all disciplines of study.

I think of learning in terms of Learning to Do and then Doing to Learn. For example, students first learn to read and then they read to learn. This idea is fully integrated into our school system. In the United States, the expectation is that students will learn to read well enough by the end of the third grade so that reading across the curriculum can become a useful aid to their future learning across the curriculum. Long ago when I was in middle school (junior high school), the general plan was that more than half of school learning would come via reading.

A lot has changed since then. Not only do we have interactive computerized reading materials, we also have greatly improved video aids to learning. In some sense, reading has expanded to be reading and using other visual aids to obtaining information.

This IAE Newsletter considers the 4 Rs (Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic/math, Reasoning/computational thinking) and explores some of its Doing to Learn aspects. See my free book, (Moursund, December, 2016). My goal is to help make schooling more relevant to students (Moursund, 8/7/2014).

Reading and Writing

In this section I explore learning to read and write and then doing reading and writing to gain greater skill in reading and writing.

Reading and writing are human inventions—tools that one can learn to use. Over thousands of years, people have worked on the task of how to effectively help children learn to read. Nowadays, parents and other child caregivers are strongly encouraged to start this instruction for infants, and to continue reading to and reading with their children up through the first few grades of school.

As children begin preschool, they receive group instruction in reading. For most students, group instruction provided by schools is reasonably effective, but not as effective as one-on-one instruction provided by a parent, caregiver, or tutor.

Instruction in writing may also be initiated at home by parents and other child caregivers. However, very young children lack the hand-eye coordination that writing using pencil/pen and paper requires. But wait! Now quite young children can access a tablet computer or child-oriented toy that has a keyboard. A keyboard overcomes the hand-eye coordination problem and facilitates very early learning of writing.

Moreover, the tablet computer or educational toy a child is playing with can provide oral instruction and various types of feedback. While not the same as (not as good as) a one-on-one human teacher, clearly we can now make use of components of the 4th R at the preschool level to help a child get started in reading and writing. Teachers—even at the preschool level—now have to deal with some children who have had this early computer-assisted instruction aid to learning reading and writing.

A learner progresses in learning reading and writing by doing reading and writing. An essential aid to this progress is feedback. Consider a child who is not hearing impaired. The child can provide self-feedback. Learner-appropriate reading material contains words and content ideas that are part of the learner’s oral language. The child ask: “Does what I have just read make sense to me?” Computer-assisted instruction can also provide feedback. Such a learning aid instruction can read individual words, sentences, or the whole passage to a learner.

In summary, reading and writing are powerful aids to communication, writing, and thinking. Computers can now play a significant role in reading and writing instruction as well as in using one’s reading and writing skills.

Arithmetic (Math)

To parallel the discussion of the previous section, I will use the vocabulary learning to math and mathing to learn. We all have personal experience in learning to do arithmetic and other aspects of mathematics. Math is a required component of schooling typically up through three years of high school mth and continues to be required of many students even in the first year of their college undergraduate work. At all levels of instruction, teachers and their instructional materials attempt to in include uses of the math they are teaching. Math is taught both as a discipline in its own right and as a tool that is useful in doing things outside of the school classroom math environment.

My observation is that most math instruction is weak in the area of mathing to learn math and non-math disciplines. Part of the difficulty is that “real world” applications of math tend to be above the math knowledge and skills a student has acquired by the time such challenges occur. For example, consider pie charts (circle graphs) that illustrate and make use of parts of a whole. These are visually and somewhat intuitive to second graders. But actually creating pie charts requires math content taught at the fourth and fifth grades. Contrast this with the ease of use of software designed for the task. A second grader can learn to use this software. The computer technology is used to invert the order of the traditional pie chart curriculum. My colleague James Fey developed the idea of an inverted curriculum in the early 1980s (Fey, 1984; Moursund, 1/11/2015).

Learning 4th R Tools and Using 4th R Tools to Learn

In this section I use the expressions Learning to ICT and ICTing to Learn. This is hugely important to education. For a simple example, consider a film camera and a digital camera. Film is relatively expensive and usually takes several days to get commercially developed. A digital photograph costs nothing (once one has a digital camera) and is available instantly. Even a preschool child can use a digital camera, such as one built into a Smartphone. Think about learning to take digital photographs and taking digital photographs to learn about photography and in the study of many other subject areas.

In addition, there are a variety of computer-assisted instruction programs designed to help teach photography. These are learning by doing computer simulations that provide an excellent environment for learn by doing and making use of feedback from one’s own eyes (CameraSim n.d.; Canon, n.d.).

For a more dramatic example, see Virtual Reality in the Science Lab (Moursund, 6/5/2016). This IAE Blog entry begins with a learn by doing quotation:

"If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don't bother trying to teach them. Instead give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking." (Richard Buckminster Fuller; American engineer, author, designer, inventor, and futurist; 1895-1983.)

The emerging Maker Culture and Maker Movement provide good examples of learning by doing. Computer technology empowers students of all ages to use their talents invent and make new things (Wikipedia, n.d.). Quoting from that source:

The maker culture is a contemporary culture or subculture representing a technology-based extension of Do It Yourself (DIY) culture that intersects with hacker culture (which is less concerned with physical objects as it focuses on software) and revels in the creation of new devices as well as tinkering with existing ones. The maker culture in general supports open-source hardware. Typical interests enjoyed by the maker culture include engineering-oriented pursuits such as electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, and the use of Computer Numeric Control tools, as well as more traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking, and, mainly, its predecessor, the traditional arts and crafts. The subculture stresses a cut-and-paste approach to standardized hobbyist technologies, and encourages cookbook re-use of designs published on websites and maker-oriented publications. There is a strong focus on using and learning practical skills and applying them to reference designs. [Bold added for emphasis.]

Final Remarks

Information and Communication Technology is providing powerful aids to both learning and doing. Many of these aids can be used by relatively young students, and many suggest needed restructuring of both the content and the order of the traditional curriculum.

All teachers face questions such as “Why do I have to learn this?” and “What’s it good for?” I believe we educators can help answer such questions by developing curriculum that has an increased emphasis on doing—students making use of what they are learning. The 4th R can be smoothly integrated into curriculum content, instructional processes, and assessment at all grade levels. This can be done in a manner that empowers students—helps them to solve problems and accomplish tasks that they consider relevant.

References and Resources

CameraSim (n.d.). Learn & practice camera exposure settings with CameraSim. Retrieved 12/11/2016 from

Canon (n.d.). PetaPixel. Retrieved 12/11.2016 from

Fey, J.T. (Ed.) (1984). Computers and mathematics: The impact in secondary school curriculum. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Moursund, D. (December, 2016). The fourth R. IE-pedia. Retrieved 12/18/2016 from

Moursund, D. (6/5/2016). Virtual reality in the science lab. IAE Blog. Retrieved 12/18/2016 from

Moursund, D. (4/19/2015). Preparing students for their futures. IAE Blog. Retrieved 12/11/2016 from

Moursund, D. (1/11/2015). High school mathematics standards. IAE Blog. Retrieved 12/11/2016 from

Moursund, D. (8/7/2014) Making school more relevant to students. IAE Blog. Retrieved 12/11/2016 from

Wikipedia (n.d.). Maker culture. Retrieved 12/11/2016 from


David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology. He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See

In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and books. See Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(C)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is the President of AGATE.


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About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. Current IAE activities and free materials include the IAE-pedia at, a Website containing free books and articles at, a Blog at, and the free newsletter you are now reading. See all back issues of the Blog at and all back issues of the Newsletter at