The University of Texas at Austin
School of Undergraduate Studies
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33rd Annual Honors Colloquium Opening Plenary

How We Learn . . . and How We Don’t


Why do some students learn while some fall behind? What happens in the brain when we learn? In 1959, Jerome Bruner correctly observed that “The school boy learning physics is a physicist, and it is easier for him to learn physics by behaving like a physicist than doing anything else” (1960, p. 72). Since that time, research in psychology and neuroscience has deepened our understanding of the fundamental principles of human learning. Yet much of what we do in public and private education at all levels of instruction seems to effectively ignore these principles. What’s up with that?


Dr. Robert (Bob) Duke is the Marlene and Morton Meyerson Centennial Professor and Head of Music and Human Learning at the Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music, College of Fine Arts at The University of Texas Austin. Dr. Duke is a University Distinguished Teacher Professor, Elizabeth Shatto Massey Distinguished Fellow in Teacher Education and Director of the Center for Music Learning. His research on human learning and behavior spans multiple disciplines, including motor skill learning, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience. His most recent work explores procedural memory consolidation and the cognitive processes engaged during musical improvisation. A former studio musician and public school music teacher, he has worked closely with children at-risk, both in the public schools and through the juvenile justice system. He is the author of Scribe 4 behavior analysis software, and his most recent books are Intelligent Music Teaching: Essays on the Core Principles of Effective Instruction and The Habits of Musicianship, which he co-authored with Jim Byo of Louisiana State University.