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A Definition for Intentional Learning
Intentional Learning Theories
Improving Intentional Learning
Designing Intentional Learning Environments
Intentional Learning Resources

How do successful professionals learn today? They have the ability and a recognition of the need to engage in intentional learning. How does one learn to learn intentionally. The first obvious challenge in addressing this outcome is the definition of intentional learning itself. What exactly constitutes intentional learning? How can one distinguish someone who is an intentional learner from someone who is not? What are the key attributes of intentional learners?

A Definition for Intentional Learning

In their seminal article about intentional learning, Bereiter and Scardamalia (1989) use the term intentional learning to refer to using strategic thinking "processes that have learning as a goal rather than an incidental outcome" (p. 363). They describe successful intentional learning as the expenditure of effort in pursuit of personal cognitive goals, over and above the requirements of tasks when the tasks could be accomplished by far less expenditure of effort. They suggest intentional learning results from persistent constructive problem solving towards innovation and goal attainment.

The American Accounting Association 1 defines intentional learning as a persistent, continual process to acquire, understand, and use a variety of strategies to improve one's ability to attain and apply knowledge. This process is supported by a questioning spirit and a intentional desire to learn. We describe the process as intentional learning, that is, learning with committed self-directed purpose, intending and choosing to learn and how and what to learn. Intentional learning involves five attributes of learning: questioning, organizing, connecting, reflecting, and adapting."

In the report, Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning as a Nation Goes to College,2 states:

Becoming such an intentional learner means developing self-awareness about the reason for study, the learning process itself, and how education is used. Intentional learners are integrative thinkers who can see connections in seemingly disparate information and draw on a wide range of knowledge to make decisions. They adapt the skills learned in one situation to new problems encountered in another—in a classroom, the workplace, their communities, and their personal lives. As a result, intentional learners succeed even when instability is the only constant.1

The report also notes:

The intentional learner is empowered through intellectual and practical skills; informed by knowledge and ways of knowing; and responsible for personal actions and civic values... Mastery of a range of abilities and capacities empowers intentional learners as they maneuver in and shape a world in flux.... Intentional learners possess a core of knowledge, both broad and deep, derived from many fields... Through discussion, critical analysis, and introspection, intentional learners come to understand their roles in society and accept active participation.2

Three aspects of intentional learning are the (1) decision to engage in committed, persisted learning effort (self-motivation), (2) the ability to apply and manage strategic cognitive efforts to achieve goals (self-direction), and the (3) extent to which the learner takes responsibility for learning autonomously. Intentional learning depends on one's conception of knowledge, how to connect meaning and use that knowledge to act or create, and the learner's perception of the intended task, activity, or instructional situation. Intentional learners choose to be in charge of their learning. In an intentional learning environment, the teacher's role is to mentor or coach and the learner's role is to question, connect, reflect, and apply knowledge to create, act, and achieve.

Intentional Learning Theories

In addition to Scardamalia and Bereiter, the theoretical basis for the intentional learning derives from diverse contributions by key researchers working in the area of psychological and developmental educational research, including discussions about emotions, intentionality, metacognition, learning and social efficacy, expertise building, holistic thinking, locus of control, persistence, perception, intentional learning, metalearning, conation, cognition, achievement and intrinsic motivation, constructivism, and self-regulated learning (see references): Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1993; Pintrich, 1995; Schraw & Dennison, 1994; Cheng, 1993; Corno, 1993; Flavell, 1992, 1979; McCombs, 1991; Bandura & Wood, 1989; Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1989; Pask, 1989; Snow, 1989; Zimmerman, 1989; Ajzen, 1988; Schmeck, 1988; Weinstein, Goetz, & Alexander, 1988; Brown, 1987; Bandura, 1986; Corno, 1986; Davidson, 1986; Kuhl & Atkinson, 1986; Biggs, 1985; Deci & Ryan, 1985; Glaser, 1984; Kuhl & Blankenship, 1979; Dennett, 1978; Deci, 1975; Weiner, 1972; Tolman, 1932).

Additionally, this research relies on individual difference theory and foundations steming from the neurobiology of learning and memory research, including Zull, 2001; Ledoux, 2002, 1998 and many others. This research particularly emphasizes the fundamental impact of emotions on cognition, learning and living, particularly the human capacity for fear and pleasure and the need for individuals to feel empowered and in control. More info?

Improving Intentional Learning

It is important to explore effective approaches for helping students become more intentional learners, and ways to create intentional learning environments.

The report Intentional Learning: A Process for Learning to Learn in the Accounting Curriculum describes how most students can be helped to develop the attributes of intentional learning. Accounting professors who want to encourage these attributes should consider the characteristics of their students that either help or hinder the learning process.

Activities for Learning to Learn

Enhancing Critical Thinking

Intentional Learning Orientation (LO) Strategies

Learning orientations describe an individual's disposition to approach, manage, and achieve learning intentionally. Learning orientations are dispositions to approach, manage, and achieve learning. The LO Construct provides measure to assess learning ablity and readiness to learn. The construct identifies key learner-difference variables and serves as an underlying foundation for a Successful Intentional Learning Model. The intentional Learning Orientation Questionnaire (LOQ) measures how learners generally and intentionally approach learning (e.g., classroom or online learning ability) and performance. It is a 25-item online survey that identifies an individual’s orientation to learn by looking at the dominant psychological factors that influence intentional learning and performance.

Transforming Learning Orientation:
Performing Learning Orientation:
Conforming Learning Orientation:

What is Learner Autonomy and How Can It Be Fostered? Dimitrios Thanasoulas

Designing Intentional Learning Environments

In intentional learning environments, learners are encouraged to exercise greater responsibility for their learning to make learning automatic through practice and feedback. Activity, practice, and feedback is scaffolded as needed to support differences in learning and expected outcomes. Such an environment will foster learners' creative use of metacognitive processes related to holistic thinking, critical thinking, and problem solving and will have application beyond the learning environment.

Martinez, M. (2001). Mass Customization: Designing for Successful Learning. International Journal of Educational Technology.

Intentional Learning: A Process for Learning to Learn in the Accounting Curriculum. Accounting Education Change Commission

Knowledge Forum: Today's most successful research teams, businesses, hospitals and classrooms have one thing in common: they know how to transform individual ideas into collective knowledge.

Intentional Learning: Experiences from the Field: This appendix includes some experiences, suggestions and successful practices of accounting faculty who have attempted curricular change. Most of these example are related to AECC grant projects or have been shared by readers of this monograph.  

Intentional Learning Resources

American Accounting Association. Intentional Learning: A Process for Learning to Learn in the Accounting Curriculum. (Sarasota, FL: American Accounting Association, 1995).

Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) Greater Expectations National Panel, Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning as a Nation Goes to College (Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2002),, pp. 21–22.  

Ibid., pp. 22–23.

Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M (1993). Surpassing ourselves: Inquiry into the nature and implications of expertise. Chicago: Open Court.  

Bereiter, C. & Scardamalia, M. (1989).  "Intentional Learning as a Goal of Instruction," in Knowing, Learning, and Instruction, edited by L. Resnick.  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: Hillsdale, New Jersey, pp. 361-392.

Curricula Designed to Meet 21st-Century Expectations by Alma R. Clayton-Pedersen with Nancy O'Neill Association of American Colleges and Universities

Educating Intentional Learners: Association of American Colleges and Universities, Conference 2004

Intentional Learning Bibliography (1998). Center for Positive Practices

Intentional Learning Bibliography (1999). Margaret Martinez

Intentional Learning Orientation Newsletter:

Martinez, M. (2003). Know Thyself: Taking Charge of Your Online Learning. In K. White & J. Baker (Eds.), Student Guide to Successful Online Learning: A Handbook of Tips, Strategies, and Techniques . Boston: Allyn & Bacon, (pp. 65-78).

Martinez, M. (2004). Adaptive Learning: Research Foundations and Practical Applications. In S. Stein, S. and S. Farmer. (Eds.), Connotative Learning. Washington D.C.: IACET.

Resnick, L. (ed.). (1989). Knowing, learning, and instruction: Essays in honor of Robert Glaser. Hillsdale, HJ: Erlbaum.

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