Engaging this module

You are invited to explore this module by reading the content, watching the presentations and videos and responding to the suggested exercises and activities. You are encouraged to have a Bible and journaling materials nearby to take notes.

Approaches to Learning

In this part of the module, Professor Cindy Kissel-Ito will introduce us to different approaches to learning and how they can be used in educational ministry. You may want to have materials to take careful notes during this module.

Watch this short video to hear Professor Kissel-Ito’s introduction to this topic.

Johnson’s Essential Learning Theories

In Essential Learning Theories, Dr. Andrew Johnson – Professor of Literacy at Minnesota State University – creates a summary of four research-based learning theories: neurological, behavioral, cognitive, and transformative. We will be exploring each of the four theories and specific teaching practices connected to them that can be used in congregational settings.

Watch this short video to hear Professor Kissel-Ito talk about Johnson’s learning theories:

Neurological Learning Approach

Research has also shown that the brain physically changes while learning. Teaching theories that focus on the neurological approach to learning center around the brain’s ability to change, remap, and reorganize itself. Understanding, even a little bit, about how the brain works will help Christian educators develop lessons and learning experiences to support lifelong faith formation.

Watch this video to hear Professor Kissel-Ito introduce the neurological learning approach:

In the video, Professor Kissel-Ito recommends Holly J. Inglis’ book Sticky Learning: How Neuroscience Supports Teaching that is Remembered (Fortress Press, 2014). To hear an interview with Holly Inglis about the neurological learning approach, click here:

Reflection Exercise

  • In the video, Professor Kissel-Ito stresses the importance of teachers intentionally developing their own knowledge in educational ministry so that they can create effective learning experiences for their students.
    • What do you do to build your knowledge and experience as a Christian educator?

Visit the Association of Partners in Christian Education website for resources and information about our annual event – a gathering of over 500 educators and filled with workshops and keynotes all talking about best practices in educational ministry.

  • What regular faith practices are you engaging in?
    • An important part of nurturing disciples is modeling discipleship ourselves. To teach others to pray, we must ourselves be comfortable praying. To teach others to practice sabbath, we must ourselves have a sabbath practice.
    • The Christian Reformed Church in North America and Presbyterian Church USA both have created excellent faith practices toolkits:
Read Megan Collins’ article “Applying Insights from Neuroscience in the Classroom” (Edutopia, June 2021):
  • How could you incorporate some of the ideas she mentions for applying neuroscience in the classroom to your own educational ministry?

Behavioral Learning Approach

As we learned earlier in this module, Dr. Dale Schunk defined learning as an “enduring change in behavior, or in the capacity to behave in a given fashion.” One way that educators can create the conditions necessary for behavioral change in their classrooms or other educational environments is by setting objectives based on desired learning outcomes.

Robert Gagné – an educational psychologist who wrote a book called Conditions of Learning in 1965 – identified five major categories of learning outcomes that are still used by teachers and instructional designers today. The five basic learning outcomes are: 


  • Verbal Information 
      • Being able to state ideas, “knowing that,” or having declarative knowledge
        • For example: the ability to name the books of the Bible in order, list Jesus’ twelve disciples, or state facts about a Bible story (ex. there were 2 of each animal on Noah’s ark).  
  • Intellectual Skills
      • “Knowing how” or having procedural knowledge
        • For example: ability to use specific Bible study strategies, use different models of prayer, or lead parts of worship in a way that aligns with your tradition. 
  •  Cognitive Strategies 
      • Having certain techniques of thinking, ways of analyzing problems, and having approaches to solving problems.
        • For example: ability to synthesize two different interpretations of the same scripture passage, solving problems within the congregation using a missional lens (i.e., thinking “where is God at work here?”), or creating a new liturgy (writing prayers and choosing scripture and hymns that align with a specific theme). 
  • Motor Skills 
      • Executing movements in a number of organized motor acts such as playing sports or driving a car
        • For example: ability to sing a hymn in harmony, participate in a liturgical dance, or doing a prayer that involves coordinated body movements. 
  • Attitudes
    • Mental states that influence the choices of personal actions.
      • For example: ability to apply Christian values (forgiveness, love of enemies, servant leadership) to personal actions. 


Watch this short video to hear Professor Kissel-Ito talk about these five learning outcomes: 

At the end of this video, Professor Kissel-Ito explains “chaining” – a teaching strategy in which complex behaviors are broken down into smaller sequential steps for the learner. She mentions an example of a verbal chain: teaching the books of the Bible through repetition in a song. Click here to hear an example of verbal chaining:

Reflection Exercise

Using the curriculum or other study material you use for your faith formation program, choose one lesson. Read through the lesson and answer the following questions: 

    • What verbal information are you aiming for learners to retain from this lesson? 
    • What intellectual skills are learners gaining? 
    • What cognitive strategies is this lesson helping learners to develop?
    • Are there any motor skills being developed as part of this lesson? 
    • What attitude is this lesson helping learners to develop?

It is important to note that not all lessons will touch on all the categories of learning. In fact, some lessons may focus on only one. Within a whole curriculum, however, each category should be present.   

Cognitive Learning Approach

“Learning is a change in cognitive structures that occur as a result of instruction or experience.”

Dr. Andrew Johnson


Cognitive learning approaches focus on the acquisition and organization of knowledge in the mind. Watch this short video to hear Professor Kissel-Ito’s introduction to this approach. 

Professor Kissel-Ito invites us to watch a video created by Edutopia called “How Learning Happens: The Science of Learning and Development.”

As you watch the video, keep this question in mind: 

  • How could the approach to education discussed in this video enhance educational ministry in my context?

Cognitive Learning Approaches 

Professor Kissel-Ito mentions four cognitive learning approaches. If you would like to have a more detailed introduction to each approach, check out the videos listed below.  

Reflection Exercise

In the Edutopia video, they emphasized the importance of strong relationships in the classroom. Creating caring relationships of trust and support in an educational setting is just as important as what is being taught. A child learns better when a strong relationship exists with a teacher, mentor, or advisor. 

  • How do you encourage relationship building between the generations in your congregation? 
  • If you have a children’s program, what do you do to create caring relationships of trust and support between adult leaders and children? 

In the Edutopia video, they described what you’ll see when you enter a healthy classroom as follows:

    • Children will be actively engaged in their learning. 
      • They will be using critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
      • They will be putting ideas into action.
    • They will be using concrete objects (e.g., art supplies, blocks, puzzles, tools) to explore ideas in an active, hands-on way.
    • They will be socially engaged. 

Which of the above elements would people see if they entered the Sunday School classroom or other children’s ministry program in your church? What elements do you need more of in your children’s ministry program to create healthy and vibrant learning?

Cognitive-Contextual Approach

Multiple intelligences theory is a good example of a cognitive-contextual approach to learning. Professor Howard Gardner from the Harvard Graduate School of Education challenged the idea of a single IQ. Instead, he suggested that there are eight modalities of intelligence. Each person has all the modalities and, therefore, can learn holistically. However, our capacities in each of the modalities vary depending on our own unique strengths and the way we have been instructed and nurtured.

Watch this short video to hear Professor Kissel-Ito’s introduction to multiple intelligences theory:

In the video, Professor Kissel-Ito recommends watching a video of Professor Gardner explaining multiple intelligences theory. Here is the link for this video:

Reflection Exercise

Thinking about the eight modalities of intelligence:


    • Which ones are you strongest in? 
    • Which ones are you weakest in? 
    • Which ones do you find easiest to incorporate into your teaching? 
    • Which ones do you find the hardest to incorporate into your teaching? 
    • Which ones are nurtured most in the educational ministry of your congregation? 
    • Which ones do you need to incorporate more of in your educational ministry?

Workshop Rotation Model 

Multiple intelligences theory challenges us to think of different ways that material can be presented to learners. The Workshop Rotation Model is a good example of a Christian education model built on multiple intelligences theory.

Watch this short video to hear Professor Kissel-Ito’s introduction to the Workshop Rotation Model:

In the video, Professor Kissel-Ito recommends watching the following video about the Workshop Rotation Model for Sunday School:

Reflection Exercise

The Workshop Rotation Model is one example of a Christian Education curriculum that utilizes multiple intelligences theory. Have you encountered other curriculum or ministry programs that utilize multiple intelligences theory? How do they incorporate the various modalities of intelligence?

Transformative Approach

Transformative learning approaches are built on the belief that true learning involves change and growth at one’s deepest levels. Jack Mezerow – the founder of the concept of transformative learning – described learning as a process of change that transforms the frames of reference or the structures of assumptions through which we understand our experiences. He believed that learners could change their meaning schemes, beliefs, attitudes, and emotional reactions by engaging in critical reflection on their experiences.

Building on Mezerow’s work, David Kolb created a four-stage learning cycle that illustrates the process of transformative learning. Watch this short video to hear Professor Kissel-Ito’s introduction to transformative learning and explanation of Kolb’s experiential learning cycle:

Reflection Exercise

The main goal of transformative learning – growth at the deepest level – is also the main goal of faith formation. As Christian educators, we teach people how to be disciples so that they will be transformed internally (in their hearts) and externally (in everyday life) through relationship with Jesus. Learning how to be a disciple of Jesus is a lifelong process, and the transformation that happens is not a one-time event. We continue to change and grow as our relationship with Jesus develops over a lifetime.


  • Are you providing transformative learning opportunities for all ages in your congregation? 
  • Think of an experiential learning opportunity that exists in your congregation (e.g., mission trip, participation in worship leadership, serving at a food bank). Does this opportunity involve all four stages of Kolb’s learning cycle? If not, how could you add the stages that are missing to the learning opportunity?
    1. Concrete experience (doing / having an experience)
    2. Reflective observation (reviewing /reflecting on the experience)
    3. Abstract conceptualization (concluding / learning from the experience)
    4. Active experimentation (planning / trying out what you have learned) 

Transformative Learning in Educational Ministry

The “Teaching the Bible” course, taught by Professor Kissel-Ito at Union Presbyterian Seminary in the fall of 2021, is an example of transformative learning at work. Listen as Professor Kissel-Ito describes what happened in that online learning community:

In the video, Professor Kissel-Ito talks about Union Theological Seminary’s “Pathways” online courses. Here is a link to the course list:

Reflection Exercise

There is a lot more that can be learned about each of the four learning theories that Professor Kissel-Ito introduced in this module (neurological, behavioral, cognitive, and transformative). 


    • Which theory are you most curious to learn more about? 
    • What is one thing you can do right away to apply a new approach you’ve learned about in this module to your educational ministry?

Closing Blessing

May the teaching God bless you and keep you as you seek to nurture lifelong faith in your context. May you know God’s love deeply and share it widely as you serve. Amen.