The Learning Cycle: Model & Steps

Instructor: Kristen Goode

Kristen has been an educator for 25+ years - as a classroom teacher, a school administrator, and a university instructor. She holds a doctorate in Education Leadership.

This lesson will look at the learning cycle as a process that can be applied in the elementary classroom and beyond. We'll outline each of the three steps: exploration, concept development and concept application.

Turning Questions Into Learning

Children love to ask questions: why is the sky blue? Where does the snow go when it melts? How does the sun actually rise? Sometimes we, as adults, struggle to provide answers to these questions. But teachers see these questions as opportunities for learning!

How do educators turn a student's natural inclination for asking questions into a learning experience? They apply inquiry and discovery to the learning process. The learning cycle is an instructional model that allows for this to happen.

What is the Learning Cycle?

The learning cycle is a sequential process for both learning and instruction. It places focus on a series of steps that encourage a more thorough understanding and a deeper application of content. It also pushes students toward inquiry and discovery in their learning. The learning cycle gives teachers a process for instruction while giving students a formula for learning.

While several variations have been developed over the years, the original learning cycle was created based on ideas Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget had in regards to how children learn. Piaget's goal was to match content mastery with a student's cognitive development process. This model, known formally as the learning cycle, consists of three basic steps: exploration, concept development (sometimes called invention), and concept application.

The learning cycle
The Learning Cycle

Steps of the Learning Cycle


In the exploration phase, students are briefly introduced to a topic and then given an activity to complete either on their own or in groups. Begin this phase by connecting the activity to prior knowledge and experience.

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