What is Mediated Learning and Why Does it Make a Difference

Differing from the old paradigm of providing instruction with exercises and questions before and after reading or writing, mediated learning meets the learner at the point of use. In the way we would help a child learn to ice skate, we would not just give the learner pointers as she is getting ready to step onto the ice and then again when she steps off the ice. To provide the most meaningful and beneficial instruction, we would skate alongside the learner. We would demonstrate, support, coach, give immediate feedback, and let go gradually.

Here is an example of a mediated transaction with a student who is struggling with a sequence problem:

Teacher: So what did you do in order to figure out the pattern and predict the missing numbers?

Student: I could’t get it.

Teacher: Problems can be challenging. (Empathizing) What is the task here? (Clarifying the focus)

Student: I have to figure out the next number.

Teacher: Do you have any information that can help you do that? (Probing for specificity)

Student: Not really.

Teacher: Have you ever predicted who will win a ball game? Is there information that helps you do that? (Probing for connections)

Student: Oh, I know the numbers that come before the missing numbers.

Teacher: Yes… . (Acknowledging)

Student: So I’ll read these numbers: 2,7,4,9,6,11,8, and 13.

Teacher: So those numbers show you what comes before the missing numbers, and they can tell you what comes next. (Connecting)

Student: They go up and down, higher and lower.

Teacher: Can you be more specific? How much up and how much down? (Probing for specificity)

Student: Let’s see. From 2 to 7 you add 5. From 7 to 4 you take away 3. From 4 to 9 you add 5…. I see a pattern!

Teacher: What are you going to do next? (Probing for focus)

Student: I’ll use the pattern to fill in the missing numbers.

Teacher: So you figured out how to predict by using the pattern in the information that you have. (Summarizing)

When we function in this capacity, we take on the combined role of coach and mediator. This behavior is pivotal in elevating students’ cognitive functioning. As a mediator we intercede between the learner and the content of what is to be learned; we are right there between the reader and the reading, the writer and the writing, the problem solver and the problem.