The Learning Pit

“The Learning Pit has become one of the most powerful and popular heuristics of learning over the past 20 years.”

Professor Barry Hymer, University of Cumbria

The Learning Pit encourages everyone to step out of their comfort zone.

The Learning Pit encourages everyone to step out of their comfort zone. It was created by James Nottingham (2007) to support a culture of challenge, curiosity, reflection and resilience. It is popular amongst educators and parents as a way to encourage and structure questioning, reflection and metacognition. You will find millions of references to the Learning Pit online, with books, blogs, news articles, videos, and school reports drawing attention to its usability and impact.  Read more

Opportunities to Hear About the Learning Pit:

Access the Pit Podcast recordings to hear James Nottingham explaining the purpose & history of the Learning Pit
Sign up to the Challenging Learning Webinars for an in-depth exploration of the Learning Pit

Quick Links

About The Learning Pit

Books

Free Graphics

Lesson Ideas

Videos

Quick Links

About The Learning Pit®

Books

Free Graphics

Lesson Ideas

Videos

An Introduction to The Learning Pit

Learning Pit - classic version 2

Step out of your comfort zone

Learning occurs when you step out of your comfort zone. And yet, many people are hesitant to take this step for fear of making mistakes or revealing their weaknesses.

That’s when the Learning Pit can help: to encourage and reassure learners that taking risks, asking questions, and trying new things can help them develop their abilities and deepen their understanding.

Learning Pit - classic version 2

Step out of your comfort zone

Learning occurs when you step out of your comfort zone. And yet, many people are hesitant to take this step for fear of making mistakes or revealing their weaknesses.

That’s when the Learning Pit can help: to encourage and reassure learners that taking risks, asking questions, and trying new things can help them develop their abilities and deepen their understanding.

Learning Pit - classic version 2

Step out of your comfort zone

Learning occurs when you step out of your comfort zone. And yet, many people are hesitant to take this step for fear of making mistakes or revealing their weaknesses.

That’s when the Learning Pit can help: to encourage and reassure learners that taking risks, asking questions, and trying new things can help them develop their abilities and deepen their understanding.

Learning is a struggle

The Learning Pit draws attention to the idea that learning is a struggle, intentionally showing thoughts of confusion and frustration.

Its purpose is to reassure, not scare, so that when learners find themselves floundering, they can take comfort from knowing that is a normal part of the learning journey.

Learning Pit - sketch

Learning is a struggle

The Learning Pit draws attention to the idea that learning is a struggle, intentionally showing thoughts of confusion and frustration.

Its purpose is to reassure, not scare, so that when learners find themselves floundering, they can take comfort from knowing that is a normal part of the learning journey.

Learning Pit - sketch
Learning Pit - sketch

Learning is a struggle

The Learning Pit draws attention to the idea that learning is a struggle, intentionally showing thoughts of confusion and frustration.

Its purpose is to reassure, not scare, so that when learners find themselves floundering, they can take comfort from knowing that is a normal part of the learning journey.

Learning Pit - classic version 1

James Nottingham developed the ‘Learning Challenge’

James Nottingham developed the ‘Learning Challenge’ (2010) to help fellow teachers guide their students through the Learning Pit.

Using the steps described in his books, lessons become more conceptually rich and thought-provoking; make better use of questioning and metacognition; and ultimately lead to deeper understanding.

Learning Pit - classic version 1

James Nottingham developed the ‘Learning Challenge’

James Nottingham developed the ‘Learning Challenge’ (2010) to help fellow teachers guide their students through the Learning Pit.

Using the steps described in his books, lessons become more conceptually rich and thought-provoking; make better use of questioning and metacognition; and ultimately lead to deeper understanding.

Learning Pit - classic version 1

James Nottingham developed the ‘Learning Challenge’

James Nottingham developed the ‘Learning Challenge’ (2010) to help fellow teachers guide their students through the Learning Pit.

Using the steps described in his books, lessons become more conceptually rich and thought-provoking; make better use of questioning and metacognition; and ultimately lead to deeper understanding.

An everyday version of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development

James Nottingham created the Learning Pit as an everyday version of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (1978). It also has parallels with the SOLO Taxonomy (Biggs & Collis, 1982).

By going through the Learning Pit, participants can develop a Growth Mindset (Dweck, 2006) and boost their self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977).

Learning Pit - classic version 4

An everyday version of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development

James Nottingham created the Learning Pit as an everyday version of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (1978). It also has parallels with the SOLO Taxonomy (Biggs & Collis, 1982).

By going through the Learning Pit, participants can develop a Growth Mindset (Dweck, 2006) and boost their self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977).

Learning Pit - classic version 4
Learning Pit - classic version 4

An everyday version of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development

James Nottingham created the Learning Pit as an everyday version of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (1978). It also has parallels with the SOLO Taxonomy (Biggs & Collis, 1982).

By going through the Learning Pit, participants can develop a Growth Mindset (Dweck, 2006) and boost their self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IMUAOhuO78&feature=emb_logo

Learning Pit Workshops & Keynotes

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Mentions in the Media

BBC Radio 4, UK
The Learning Pit reference begins at 40:13
The extended piece about ‘Snowplough Parents’ begins at 37:26
with Andrea Samadi

The Learning Pit on Social Media

Blogs About the Learning Pit®

Cambridge Assessment International Education
Education Week
Midlothian, Scotland
NACE: National Association for Able Children in Education
Chemical Education
Laughology
Educate Bravely – Educators rock

 

Educate Bravely – Re-imagining learning

 

Educate Bravely – My journey over sea to develop some

 

Classroom Blogs – Hawthornden Primary 4 blog

 

Classroom Blogs – Room 5 and 6 South Hornby School blog

 

Classroom Blogs – Two teachers one blog
The Learning Pit – MisskDolan blog

Trademark and Copyright

James Nottingham and his company, Challenging Learning, have been granted the trademark for “The Learning Pit” by the Intellectual Property Organization (IPO). This confers the exclusive right to use The Learning Pit® in:

  • Educational services; educational consultancy; organisation of study tours.
  • Business management consultancy in the field of leadership development.

James Nottingham and Challenging Learning grant permission to use the term “The Learning Pit” and the associated images found on this site for educational, non-profit purposes only. No commercial use is permitted unless with written permission from James Nottingham.

In all cases, you should use the following reference:

The Learning Pit by James Nottingham
www.ChallengingLearning.com

When writing about The Learning Pit, you should also refer to at least one of these books by James Nottingham:

  • Nottingham J. A. (2010). Challenging Learning. Berwick Upon Tweed: JN, pp183-215
  • Nottingham, J.A. (2016). Challenging Learning (2nd ed.). Abingdon, UK: Routledge, pp109-126
  • Nottingham, J. A. (2017). The Learning Challenge: How to Guide Your Students Through the Learning Pit. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

When drawing your own representation of The Learning Pit, you should use the following:

Illustration by (your name)
From the Learning Pit by James Nottingham

We advise you to ensure the right-hand-side of the Learning Pit is higher than the left, so as to give the correct impression that going through the pit will result in an enhanced understanding. For example, the illustration on the left was the first draft seen in a classroom in the Middle East. The version of the right is the amended version which is much more accurate.

Common Questions & Answers

What’s the difference between the Learning Challenge and the Learning Pit?

James named his original model the Learning Pit. This idea has captured the imagination of millions (hence the 250+ million references online to the Learning Pit). The main purpose of the Learning Pit is to encourage students to step out of their comfort zone, be less fearful of cognitive conflict, and use less-formal language to describe the uncertainty they feel when in their Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky, 1978).

Later, James developed the Learning Pit into a four-step lesson structure (Concept; Conflict; Construct; Consider). As he did this, he introduced the name the Learning Challenge. He also used this name as the title for his in-depth book on the subject, The Learning Challenge: Guiding Students Through the Learning Pit.

Thus, the Learning Challenge is the teaching framework that includes the Learning Pit; whereas the Learning Pit is the point in the Learning Challenge in which learners feel a sense of cognitive conflict.

With all that said, don’t worry too much: refer to it as the Learning Pit or the Learning Challenge! So long as it supports your teaching and helps you encourage your students to step out of their comfort zone and go on adventures in thinking, then it doesn’t really matter what you call it!

Where did the Learning Pit come from?

James Nottingham created the Learning Pit®. His inspiration had two main sources (though in truth, probably dozens of sources – as is the way with creativity). The first was his experience of Philosophy for Children (P4C) as a way to teach young people how to learn as much as what to learn. This ‘spoke’ to him in a way nothing else had. He had hated school – partly because of personal circumstance, but also because of the resentment he felt towards jumping through irrelevant and outdated hoops. Thus, P4C was the much needed and welcome oxygen his frustrated mind had been seeking for so long.

This passion for P4C was almost certainly heightened by timing: James was introduced to the approach by Chris Rowley in 1993 during which the first national curriculum for England & Wales was being rolled out – and with it, the tyranny of ‘tick-box teaching’. In its wake, creativity and reason were pushed to the edge of school life, which only served to galvanise James further to place P4C at the very heart of his teaching. Unfortunately, this attracted unwanted attention from those who believed P4C to be contrary to grades and standards (despite the overwhelming evidence that P4C contributes positively towards grades as well as to its central focus of developing critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinking).

So, James sought ways to justify P4C, not only to its detractors but also to his students who, despite their love of the approach, weren’t sure whether being deliberately confused by their teacher was a good thing or not! And so it was that James sat bolt upright when he heard Dr John Edwards describing Tuckman’s theory (Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing) using his Model of Transformational Learning (later published in People Rules for Rocket Scientists, 2007). The illustration Edwards used had a pit in it and thus James experienced a ‘eureka’ moment: this idea of a pit could be adapted to explain why cognitive conflict enhances learning! With Edwards’ blessing, James developed this model into what people now know as the Learning Pit (and later still into the Learning Challenge).

‘Standing on the shoulders of giants’ seems applicable here: Matthew Lipman and Ann Margaret Sharp (creators of Philosophy for Children); Chris Rowley (lecturer at Charlotte Mason College); John Edwards (University of Queensland); Roger Sutcliffe, Steve Williams, Sara Liptai, Karin Murris, Will Ord, Barry Hymer (all of SAPERE.org.uk); Jill Nottingham, Martin Renton, and George Telford (all of Challenging Learning); Phil Thompson and his team at Ideographic.co.uk for creating the many illustrations – all of these people have played their part in helping to shape what has become one of the most popular and enduring heuristics of learning to emerge in the last twenty years.

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