Learning theory and environments
How do young people learn? How can youth programs best facilitate learning? Researchers and practitioners have contributed to an array of knowledge about how to maximize outcomes, with positive youth development as a core philosophy.
Comments on this page? Curator: Jessica Russo, Extension educator
Youth Development Insight
Our faculty blog about research, issues and trends in the field. Join the conversation!
Lots of recent events have me wondering how to encourage and foster empathy. Empathy is when one person is able to understand how another person is feeling. This sense of understanding is not something we are born with, it is a skill that we learn. The ability to empathize is critical because it allows us to understand other people. It's an opportunity to show caring and compassion; one of the 5 C's of positive youth development. And, it's an essential skill for creating an inclusive world. Read more.
We want so many things for our young people—confidence, a sense of hope, a successful future. But perhaps the greatest gift we can give them is a love for learning. A love for learning drives us to continually strive for understanding and can nurture a sense of hope and confidence as we arm ourselves with new knowledge that in turn can ensure a more successful future.
A love of learning probably won’t solve all problems. But it can have a deep impact on youth. What is that impact? And how do we instill such a sense of satisfaction in learning that young people crave more?
Over the past six years, the urban youth development office has administered an evaluation developed by me and Jennifer Skuza that focused specifically on the learning that occurs in its 4-H youth development programs. Read more.
See all learning theory and environments blog posts
Reports & journal articles
The purpose of this study was to examine academic outcomes of youth who participated in Minnesota's 4-H program compared to those who did not, and to understand how parent engagement and duration of 4-H participation affects youth achievement and attendance trajectories over five years. (PDF) 2014.
Prevailing narrative in the afterschool literature is premised on the idea that becoming a profession is required to build and sustain the field. Current strategies to professionalize do not reflect the complex and diverse nature of the work. This article uses critical theory to explore the imbalance of power in current discussions. 2013.
One of the ways that scientists have searched for the causes of mental illness is by studying the development of the brain from birth to adulthood. Powerful new technologies have enabled them to track the growth of the brain and to investigate the connections between brain function, development, and behavior. The research has turned up some surprises, among them the discovery of striking changes taking place during the teen years. These findings have altered long-held assumptions about the timing of brain maturation. 2011.
Research brief on youth engagement framework that includes Participation, Passion, Youth Voice, and Collective Leadership. (PDF) 2010.
Behavioral and Brain Sciences
This review of the comparative database from across the behavioral sciences suggests both that there is substantial variability in experimental results across populations and that Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) subjects are particularly unusual compared with the rest of the species – frequent outliers. 2010.
A white paper on how quality matters in multiple dimensions of nonformal learning in the nonschool hours. (PDF) 2009.
Research focusing attention on the need for engagement of under-represented and under-served teen-agers, 13 years of age and older, in engaging and beneficial programs and opportunities that help them thrive. (PDF) 2009.
A report about meeting the developmental needs of all young people by getting a clearer picture of their lives and the opportunities and challenges that shape their experience. (PDF) 2008.
An article that includes five elements of a new learning system, which contends that the nation's steady progress as an economy and as a society will end unless we profoundly change our thinking and polices about how children learn and develop. (PDF) 2007.
Includes the Continuum of Youth Engagement and Eight Principles of engaging youth in community change. (PDF) 2007.
The author discusses what it takes for youth and adults to "learn, listen, dream and work together as they unleash their collective potential to build the common good and to advocate in the community for the needs of both young and old, as defined by themselves, and address root causes through policy change." (PDF) 2007.
Adolescents often pursue learning opportunities both in and outside school once they become interested in a topic. In this paper, a learning ecology framework and an associated empirical research agenda are described. 2006.
What we're reading
From journals and the popular media. Selected by learning theory and environments educator Jessica Russo.
- Curiosity: It Helps Us Learn, But Why? : NPR Ed : NPR
- Digging into Digital Badges with DIY.org | DIY blog (video)
- Interest and Self-Sustained Learning as Catalysts of Development: A Learning Ecology Perspective | Barron | Human Development
- How Organizations Provide Learning Opportunities for Children and Families | Harvard Family Research Project
- Realizing the Potential of Learning in Middle Adolescence | Halpern, Heckman, Larson
- Neuroscience and education: myths and messages | Paul Howard-Jones | Nature Reviews Neuroscience
- Educators' misguided belief in 'neuromyths' hinders children's learning, expert says | MinnPost
- The Integration of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and Social and Emotional Learning | Bradshaw, Bottiani, Osher, Sugai | Handbook of School Mental Health
- Year-Round Learning: Continuity in Education Across Settings and Time Through Expanded Learning Opportunities Harvard Family Research Project Brief Series: ELO Research, Policy, & Practice | Harvard Family Research Project
- Identity Development, Personality, and Well-Being in Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood: Theory, Research and Recent Advances | Schwartz, Donnellan, et al | Handbook of Psychology
Our past presentations
Do youth today have or need a sense of purpose in life? Does it matter if they do? This webinar examines whether youth have a sense of purpose in life and what the research shows about the importance of purpose as well as the current state of efforts to support the development of purpose in all young people. 2012. Read more.
This webinar commemorates the 100th anniversary of many national youth-serving organizations with a discussion about this special issue of the Journal of Youth Development. 2012. Read more.
In this presentation Little describes promising research-based practices in working with middle and high school youth in out-of-school time (OST) programs, examining what programs can do to support participation, engagement, and positive outcomes. The presentation also includes a discussion of the potential role of OST systems in supporting effective youth programming. 2011. Read more.
Terri synthesizes what youth and adult practitioners, participants, and researchers say it takes to make the most of youth engagement opportunities to benefit participating youth, adults, organizations, and communities. 2008. Read more.
In this 90-minute video presentation, Wendy Wheeler highlights the practical elements and innovations that promote authentic youth engagement and collective leadership. 2008. Read more.
Research shows the amount of time young people spend in the outdoors has decreased significantly. This leadership video presentation addresses disparities and provides critical insights into the importance of reconnecting urban youth with our natural environment. 2008. Read more.
Ninety-minute video presentation focusing on the role of youth engagement in nurturing social trust in and in fostering the future of democracy. 2008. Read more.