Teacher Development and the Learning by Doing Principle

January 10, 2022

By Danielle Miller

The learning by doing principle is a widely known principle in education that refers to learning from experiences directly relating to one’s actions. This hands-on approach concludes that people must interact with their environment to adapt and learn. Philosopher John Dewey created and implemented the learning by doing principle by creating the University of Chicago Laboratory School. The mission of this school is to engage students through doing. For example, teachers give students real-life problems as part of the curriculum and present them with hands-on learning activities to find a solution. (“About Lab – University of Chicago Laboratory Schools”). Not only does it immerse students in their work, but it proves to have lasting effects as students begin to apply their knowledge outside the classroom.

This principle, however, is not only applied to students. American Educational Researcher, former principal, and superintendent, Richard DuFour, adopted the learn-by-doing principle and applied it to professional learning communities – teacher professional development. In his book, Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement, DuFour identified ways in which to create professional learning communities in K-12 schools. Professional Learning Communities are how educators come together to collaborate to enhance their teaching practices and student achievement. “DuFour linked increases in student performance to schools where Professional Learning Communities were present. Here, there was a shared vision of leadership, where each member of the teaching-learning community contributed, and where teachers collectively planned activities then reflected together upon completion” (Lonnie Melvin). He further identified that the key to student success was continuous job training for teachers. Continuous teacher training resulted in shared ideas, missions, a want for continuous improvement, and a willingness to experiment.

Simulations are advocates for the learn-by-doing principle. SchoolSims provides a risk-free environment through software simulations where participants have an opportunity to fail as they face difficult situations. Our simulations, which allow users to choose their own “adventure,” essentially accelerate time, allowing participants to decide on a course of action, implement it, and experience its consequences, all within the same exercise. It is an authentic learning by doing experience.

Melvin, Lonnie (2011). How to Keep Good Teachers and Principals: Practical Solutions to Today’s Classroom Problems. Rowman & Littlefield.

A.W. (Tony) Bates. “3.6 Experiential Learning: Learning by Doing (2).” Opentextbc.ca, Tony Bates Associates Ltd, 5 Apr. 2015, opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/chapter/4-4-models-for-teaching-by-doing/. Accessed 26 July 2021.

‌Wikipedia Contributors. “Richard DuFour.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Dec. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_DuFour. Accessed 26 July 2021.