The Seven Laws of the Learner
I skimmed The Seven Laws of the Learner
in the bookstore one day and was so impressed that I actually bought
the book. Despite being entitled “Learner,” the book is really
about teaching: how can we teach so that our students
learn. The book is addressed to Christian teachers, in particular
preachers, Sunday school teachers, and Christian school-teachers,
however, many of the laws are relevant even to secular teachers. Every time I read it I am convicted and impressed with how I should be
teaching. As I have been taking notes, I have again been
convicted, realizing that my teaching has really not been following
these principles, which probably explains its lack of transformative
power. Wilkinson provides a lot of information, illustrative and
compelling stories, and steps to follow. Because these reviews
are ultimately so that I have access to the contents of the books, and
because there is so much content in this book, I have chosen to simply
present the notes (mostly verbatim quotes of the text). Obviously, the actual text will be much more compelling. If you
have any interest in teaching at all, I highly recommend this
book. You will laugh, you will cry, you will be informed; you will be challenged. You cannot read this book and walk away
Although this book is an easy read, it
pretty thoroughly covers the topics. Wilkinson definitely follows
his own principles of teaching. Every time I read this book I am
challenged and my eyes are opened. I think this could be a 100
- The Law of the Learner: The teacher is responsible for
making sure the students are learning; if they are not learning,
the teacher is failing
- The teacher is responsible for learning to occur. If learning is not happening, the teacher is not teaching.
- The goal is not covering material, the goal is learning.
- Teachers are accountable to God for their influence (James 3:1)
- Teachers are responsible, because they control everything: the subject, style, and speaker.
- Teachers should judge their success by the success of their students
- Teachers impact more by their character and commitment than by their communication
- Character will ultimately control content (particularly
relevant for Christian pastors: do not keep a pastor at a church
who is living immorally because he is a great speaker)
- Teachers exist to serve (meet the needs of) the students: think of yourself as a servant
- If you are nervous about speaking (and you prepared), it’s
because you are worried about what people will think of you; instead of them glorifying you, you are there to serve them.
- Teachers who practice the Laws of the Learner and Teacher can
become master teachers: gave the example of a man who was working
hard to improve himself at Walk Thru the Bible and became the top
- One teacher had Teddy, a hard to love kid with a uncaring
father. After being convicted by a gift Teddy gave her, she took
special care with him and the other kids who were learning
slowly. Teddy improved dramatically, and ultimately ended up
becoming a doctor and inviting his teacher to take the place of his mom
at his wedding.
- There are three Causers of Learning: the students, the subject, the style, the speaker, and the Holy Spirit.
- Three kinds of speaker/subject relationships:
- Content oriented (at a conference, heads for the books)
- Student oriented (starts asking about your family at the break)
- Style oriented (creative, enjoys how things are presented)
- “I don’t like my teacher, he doesn’t care about me, doesn’t know my name”
Problem is the student relationship. Learn their names, share
personal stories, maintain eye contact with the edges of the class, etc.
- “Lecture, lecture, lecture!”
Problem is style. Vary presentation (might need to lesson the
amount of content), open and close creatively (that’s what people
- “My teacher’s head is in the clouds; I don’t even understand what he’s talking about half the time”
Too much content. Lesson the amount of content and ensure that students are learning
- “All we do is fill in the blanks on the notes, we never get to ask questions”
Style: teacher apparently thinks that filling in the blanks is the most effective approach. Try new methods.
- “We never learn anything new”
Content: teacher is out of touch with the class. Double the amount of content, make sure to introduce new material.
- “Class is a zoo”
Teacher has abandoned his authority and leadership. Establish
guidelines of behaviors and agreed-upon consequences. Consistently practice the positive and negative consequences.
- Love your students consistently and unconditionally. (Teachers tend to love the content, the communication, or the lifestyle)
- Communicate the subject with the students’ needs and interests in mind
- Alter your style according to the situation: might
need to be gentle with someone broken-hearted but loud and in-your-face
to someone belligerent and unrepentent.
- Be content with your talents and gifts (don’t wish for someone else’s, that’s rebelling against God’s design); be yourself
- Constantly monitor your students’ non-verbal signs. Skilled teachers know how their students will do on the test, because
they have been telling him with their body language.
- Excel by using your strengths to compensate for your
weaknesses. A professor used his excellent memory to memorize his
students names/faces before the first day of class, to compensate for
not being as student-oriented.
- Rely on the Holy Spirit for teaching that is supernatural.
- Three kinds of teaching:
- Selfish level: students meet teacher’s needs. Teacher merely covers the material.
- Servant level: concentrates on meeting students’ needs and ensuring that they learn
- Spirit level: cooperates with the Spirit in all aspects of the lesson
- Story: had three students not doing well. Invited them to lunch, asked them “both of us are failing: you
and me. I don’t like failing, and I suspect you don’t,
either. Is my class that bad?” It wasn’t, they each had
personal issues that were distracting them. He invited them to
his home for pizza and a study of Joshua to find answers for their
problems (e.g. Joshua faced loneliness [was missing his high school
girlfriend] with Moses being gone through the power of the Lord). Had them share what they learned with the class. The class bonded
really well, and the three students did very well.
- The Law of Expectation: What we expect of our students will determine how well they do
- Was told that “section 2" was the best and brightest. Had a great time with “section 2" that year, they were really much
better than the other classes. At the end of the year, he
discovered that there was no “section 2" that year, the program had
been cancelled the year before. All the sections were the same,
it was his expectations that made the difference.
- Expectations exist in everyone about everything all the time
- Expectations impact us and others
- Ex. in 1900 the Census Bureau bought a new punched
card machine, and estimated that an employee could do 550 cards a day,
but employees couldn’t manage it. They needed more workers, but
put them in another building due to space constraints. They
didn’t tell them how many cards were expected, and they averaged 2100 a
day, with no physical problems!
- Expectations are rooted in the past, influence the present, and impact the future
- We all have preconceived notions about how students will
perform. “This one is a sloucher, they never do well” “That
kid looks really cocky, he’s going to be trouble.”
- Expectations are exposed through our attitudes and actions
- Teachers with low expectations tend to wait less for an
answer, call on someone else quicker, withhold helpful clues, give less
feedback, teach more slowly, less benefit of the doubt, be less
- Expectations influence the future, whether stated or unstated
- Experiment had 72 rats. Split randomly into two sets
with two sets of students. One set was told that the rats had
been bred specifically to learn mazes; the other half was told
that the rats were stupid, but to see how well they could do. The
groups could not talk to each other, and had to train the rats to go
through mazes. The first group did much better, even though rats
can’t understand language!
- Expectations empower others when guided by love.
- Blossom people: find the good things in your students
(or your children) and tell them what you think about them. Ex. Wilkinsons’ favorite seminary professor wrote on one of his
papers “Dear Bruce, this is an absolutely outstanding paper. I
believe you have the potential to be one of our country’s greatest
Bible teachers. It’s an absolute pleasure to have you in my
- Pay attention to the person, what they do
- Expose what the person did/has been doing: “you just did ____". Pause for it to sink in.
- Describe your emotions: “that makes me feel ___". Pause again, keep eye contact.
- Tell what you expect the future will be like: “I believe you are becoming ____"
- Endear yourself through appropriate touch.
The Law of Application: Teaching is about life change, not learning content, therefore, application should be at least 50%
- Employ opportunities purposely
- Can also use negative situations: “You got three Fs
in a row. That makes Mom and I feel frustrated and upset. I’m glad you got all those F’s out of the way, so let’s celebrate with
some ice-cream” (she did stop getting Fs shortly afterwards)
- Express expectations creatively (pray it, say it indirectly,
write it, call them on the telephone, send something unusual, send a
pizza to a underachieving student with a message on it)
- Pick words precisely
- Establish eye contact
- Communicate body language carefully
- Touch others appropriately
- Set expectations confidently. It also helps if they are specific and measurable.
- Story: got a terrible paper from Becky that was
crumpled up with a ketchup stain; F. Next paper he didn’t
write a grade, but said “I don’t think this represents your best
effort. I’m looking forward to what you can do.” The next
paper was a little better, so he wrote “Thanks for cracking the door a
little bit, I was knew I was right about you. How about the
priviledge of seeing what you can do when you apply yourself? I’m
on your team” The next paper was a C. “This is a tremendous
improvement and demonstrates incredible potential. I can wait to
see what your next paper will look like.” Still no grade. “Your improvement is nothing less than astonishing. Your insights
and the quality of your work are truly inspiring me. I believe
you are ready to show me everything you can really do.” Still no
grade. “I’m now standing on the top of my desk cheering! I
always knew you had it in you. I believe you’re going to become
one of our schools greatest Bible students, and it is a pleasure to
watch you grow in my class. A+" Becky turned out to be the
undisputed leader of that class! Eventually she sent him a letter
thanking him for being the first person to believe in her.
- The purpose of teaching is life change, but we tend to get
excited about the content. That’s like thinking the purpose of a
car engine is to rev really loudly at a stoplight; the purpose of
an engine is to move the car from one place to another.
- 2 Tim 3:16-17: The Word of God is given for two
purposes: so that the Christian will become 1) complete and 2)
- Four sources of application:
- Doctrine: communicates truth
- Correction: correcting false beliefs (doctrines)
- Instruction in righteousness: the training of children in cultivating morality
- Reproof: rebuke or punishment to bring back to the right path
- Application is the central reason for God’s revelation (God isn’t going to hand out a quiz on doctrine)
- Application is the responsibility of the teacher: we
aren’t just teaching content and waiting for the Holy Spirit to apply
it, because He has delegated that job to us!
- Application and information should be balanced
- The amount of content tends to be 90% around the world, only 10% application.
- Wilkinson examined sermons of Charles Swindoll, Charles
Stanley, Howard Hendricks were all about 50%. D.L. Moody’s were
over 70%. Romans and Ephesians (some of the most doctrinely heavy
in the NT) were 50%. James is 80%, 1 Peter 60%. Jesus was
- Of course, sometimes you need to be content heavy, sometimes application heavy.
- Application focuses Scripture on the students’ needs
- Application has maximum influence when the student sees its biblical basis.
- Application that has impacted the teacher tends to impact the student
- Prepare your lessons during the whole week before you teach
- Ask the Lord to apply the sepcific truth you are going to teach to your own life during the week
- Communicate with all of your mind, will, and emotion the applications the Lord has taught you from the Bible
- Application must ultimately lead the student from studying the Bible to obeying the Lord
- Explain the passage to the students
- Distill the principle of the passage. State it as a simple and motivating sentence.
Persuade and exhort so that the student becomes committed
- The role of the teacher is to clarify what the principle would look like if obeyed in their character or conduct.
- The role of the Holy Spirit is to convict of the necessity of obedience in specific ways
- Some suggestions on how to personalize:
- Picture the principle in different settings and circumstances
- Introduce the principle’s family
- Picture the principle have wonderful impact everywhere it is invited
- Tell gripping stories to illustrate the principle
- Primary reasons the Holy Spirit is not displaying His power through teachers
- Unconfessed sin in the teacher
- Stronghold of unbelief: the teacher does not believe that the Spirit will use him and do not seek Him
- Attack on the teaching by the enemy
- Not cooperating with the Spirit
- How to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He convicts
- Depend on Him
- When He moves, the person or audience becomes quiet, no
one moves, faces reflect conviction or deep peace/fellowship. At
this point you rest: release control of the class, become
quieter, soothing, become in the background, get physically close to
- When they start moving again, God has given control back
to you. Take control: raise your voice, intesify gestures,
increase pace. Direct your students to action.
Evaluate whether your students were committed enough to make changes
- Persuade through content: Christ desires obedience, not merely consent. Convince of the necessity to act.
- Persuade through communication and style: convince
them that you really believe it. (Jesus died teaching His
The Law of Retention: Students learn faster and remember
better if you organize the material in the way the mind can receive
- Ask God to develop an applier’s heart in you
- Prepare applications in relation to your students’ needs
- Plan all parts of the lesson to contribute to the application
- Lead your students beyond general applications to specific steps of obedience
- Illustrate the application with Scripture, history, personal experience, and imagination
- Employ an appropriate style when calling for
commitment. Ask for commitment in an appropriate way, don’t just
close in prayer.
- Strengthen applications with student accountability
The Law of Need
- Retention of facts by the student is the teacher’s responsibility
- Retention of facts is effective only after they are understood
- Retention increases as the student recognizes the content’s relevance
- Retention requires the teacher to focus on the facts that are most important
- Find the absolute minimum number of facts that must be
mastered; determine what is foundational. Focus your energy
- Retention arranges the facts so that they are easy to memorize
- Retention strengthens long-term memory through regular review
- Retention minimizes time for memorization to maximize time for application
- Overview the subject: read widely but quickly and
shallowly: encyclopedias, magazines, handbooks, tables of
contents, etc. Expose yourself to the breadth of the subject
- Organize the subject: categorize it into units of
thought and prioritize them: essential, helpful but not required,
might be helpful, minimal helpfulness, not helpful
- Outline the subjects. (Repeat the steps with the minor or sub points of the outline)
- Pick the most important things and get rid of the rest.
- Three options of “knowing” a subject; not all information needs to be learned equally well
- Surface awareness: “I’ve heard of that”. Test with multiple choice
- Average understanding: “I have a general idea of how that works” Test with essay or true/false
- Thorough comprehension: “Here are ten points about that”. Test via list of complete facts or intelligent discussion
- Make the material “mind-easy:" easy to understand, easy to memorize
- You cannot expect the mind to receive facts that have no logical order or relationship
- Review cements the materials.
- The primary way which everyone memorizes everything
- Only effective if the student understand the material
- Review should always be practiced in the same order with the same words
- Reviews should be more frequent and intense when the facts are first taught
- Continue reviewing until all the students have a complete mastery of the Irreducible Minimum
- Do the review with a variety of methods
- Represent the facts in a picture
- Express the facts in a story
- Transfer the facts by the alphabet
- Associate the facts with objects and actions
- Impress the facts with drama
- Note the facts through music
- Summarize the facts with graphs and charts
- You can see Wilkinson using this throughout the book: he
always has five steps in the methods, each of which can be summarized
with a single word that always begins with the same letter to aid the
memory. The book is written largely in outline format (it was
easy to format the notes!) He always uses a story to hook you in
the beginning and a story to illustrate the power of the law in the
conclusion. I find that I don’t tend to remember the laws, but I
most definitely remember the stories (just like he says).
- Fish don’t eat hooks, they eat worms. Likewise, students
don’t eat content, but they are attracted to what meets their needs.
- Jesus took two approaches: when hearer’s need was
obvious to him, he immediately tried to meet it. If the person
was out of touch with their needs, Jesus tried to surface the need and
then meet it.
- 5 steps
Need building is the responsibility of the teacher
Need meeting is the teacher’s primary calling
- Seize attention. You need to capture your students’ attention from wherever it was before class
- Stir curiosity. This holds their attention—they desire more information
- Stimulate a felt need. You don’t have to build a need, just involve an existing one
- Surface the real need.
- Satisfy the real need
- We should teach for our audience. Just because the
Bible is inspired does not mean that all of it is equally relevant to
Need building is the teacher’s main method to motivate students
Need motivates to the degree it is felt by the student
Need building always precedes new units of content
Need should be build according to the audience’s characteristics and circumstances
Need building may be hindered by factors beyond the teacher’s
control. If possible meet the need. If it is more serious
stop and talk about it. If possible, ask them to set aside the
issue until the end of class.
- The Bible does not have a need to be taught, people do. People need to be taught according to what their real needs are.
- Direct questions (“I’d like our class to meet the needs of
the members, could you give me a couple areas in your life you wish we
would address in the future?” “You have good relationships with
the class, could you tell me what the top needs are?”)
- Low-key interviews
- Anonymous questionnaire
- Examine interactions with family members
- Personal visits to student’s home/work
- Personal observation (questions in class, body language, attendance, class discussions, after-class activities/conversations)
- Can also examine the current best-sellers, magazines,
polls, talking to people who interact with the public (doctors,
beauticians, police, teachers, etc.)
- Determine the most important need
- Imagine the effects of having this need met in your students and the consequences of it not being met.
- Feel the need of your students
- Fulfill the need
The Law of Equipping: The purpose of the teacher is to equip the saints for ministry
- Describe the need in a factual presentation (information)
- Express the need through storytelling (identification)
- Sensitize to the need through drama (involvement)
- Increase the need through your delivery (intensity)
- Raise the need through music (inspiration)
- Exhibit the need with a diagram (imagination)
- Symbolize the need with a picture (illustration)
- Mindset (Eph 4:11-12)
- The primary purpose of teachers is to equip (not merely explaining what the Bible means)
- The primary audience of teachers (including pastors) is Christians (Eph 4:12)
- The primary result of equipping is Christians doing the work of the ministry and edifying the body of Christ (Eph 4:16)
- How God will probably evaluate teachers:
- The nature of the ministry that our students are involved in (“work of ministry”)
- The percentage of our class who are personally ministering (“every part”)
- The degree to which our students are doing the work of ministry according to their capacity (“its share”)
- The quality and quantity of the work done by our students (“effective working”)
- The percentage of growth in our class (“cause growth of the body”)
- Constant, normal, and spontaneous mutual ministry between class members (“edify itself in love”)
- Teachers are responsible for equipping. All believers are responsible for evangelizing.
- Story: a pastor of a rapidly growing church was burning
out. Saw Eph 4:11-16, committed to God to do exactly that. Staff and deacons identified all the people who met the 2 Tim
qualifications of leadership (147). Met with all of them
individually asking to equip them as ministers; all said
yes. After a year of training, commissioned them as
ministers. Next Mon the phone didn’t ring at all, and when he
went to the hospital to see a leader who’d had a car accident, 7 others
had come in saying they were his pastor! His workload dropped by
90%, and ministry increased by 1000%.
- Equipping is the responsibility of the teacher
- Equipping occurs best when the teacher assumes the biblical
role (i.e. a coach, not “information communicator,” not “star-player”)
- Equipping is best evaluated by what the student does after class:
- Equipping for evangelism:
- What percentage of your students shared the gospel with another person during the past week?
- ... your students led a person to Christ in the past year?
- ... new converts attending this past year are a result of evangelistic efforts, not the pastor’s preaching or staff involvement?
- ... last year’s new members are involved in a formal evangelism training class?
- ... new converts came through ministry in the neighborhood or work rather than through church?
- Equipping for discipleship:
- What percentage of your students are involved in regular
meetings with other laymen for spiritual accountability and growth (not
counting church functions)?
- ... your students are involved in teaching a Bible study/discipleship group outside officially sponsored church functions?
- ... your students have had at least six hours of teacher-training to equip them in the past year?
- ... the lay Bible study groups have spawned another group in the past year?
- How many different discipling courses or tacks has the pastor taught to provide a tool for the laypeople to disciple others?
- Equipping for personal spiritual vitality:
- What percentage of your students have regular (5+ times per week) personal devotions?
- ... your students have regular (3+ times per week) family devotions?
- ... your students have regular ministry where they serve the Lord at least once a week?
- ... your students tithe?
- ... your students would rate their spiritual life and growth as 7+ out of 10?
- Equipping should impact both character and conduct
- All work for the Lord comes out of our walk with the Lord. Our conduct is the result of our character.
- Equipping should focus more intensely on the most committed
- Equipping requires knowledge, skill, and long-term committment
- The ultimate goal of equipping is independent equippers
- If you want a perfect product, then perfect the underlying process
- 5 steps
- Instruct: present the necessary facts
- Illustrate: show how to use the information presented in the previous steps
- Involve: get the students to actually do it. Be part of the process at the beginning. Make sure they succeed.
- Improve: give the students instruction on how to improve
- Inspire: inspire the students to continue using the skill
The Law of Revival: The teacher is responsible for spiritual restoration
- Train your students until they are successful, independent users of the skill
- Reproduce yourself by focusing on students’ skill, not your
style. (Note that each of the books of the Bible has a different
style, yet all are inspired by God)
- Alter equipping according to your students’ characteristics and circumstances
- Increase students’ motivation by relationship, retribution, and reward
- Nail down the basics before developing advanced skills
- Encourage students more frequently during early training
- Reaffirm students’ value independent of their level of performance
- Matthew 25: How God grades us:
- God gave each of us different talents
- God tests our performance
- God rewards based upon ability, not quantity
- Commissioned by God (e.g. the prophet Nathan to David). All teachers are Nathans to all our David students
Show the broken commandment(s)
If they still won’t repent, show the consequences
- Confront via a parable (2 Sam 12:1-6), describing the nature of God (2 Sam 12:7-8), listing specific sins (2 Sam 12:9-10)
- Always use the biblical word for their sin (e.g. “adultery,” not “affair”)
- Do not move past this step until the person openly admits
their sin. It is often helpful to have the person list their sins
out loud; if they can’t, then you need to continue showing them
- When doing this with a large group, be specific about the
sins. Ask for some action on the part of the listeners (stand up
to identify with their sin, etc.) Don’t be afraid to wait a
- There will be consequences to ourselves, our family, the
Christian community, the non-Christian community (for example, they
might be encouraged to dismiss God), and God (He might be the most
personally pained as He sees His children sin)
- It should be personal, specific, realistic, visual, painful, and affect many people that the sinning person cares deeply about.
Just because someone is hard towards God and established in
their sin, does not mean we should write them off; instead, we
should be Gal 6:1 and work to restore them
Method: 5 steps
- Revival is spiritual restoration and is the spritual teacher’s responsibility
- Revival isn’t a sovereign act of God, it is our responsibility
- 2 Chron 7:14: note the “if.” Four conditions for revival:
- If My people will humble themselves, pray, seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will heal their land
- Gal 6:1: If we know of one in sin, and there is no
major known sin present hindering the Spirit, then we are to restor
- Eph 4:11-12: the word for “equipping” is the same root word as “restore”!
- Revival is possible only for those who have first experienced the second birth (you can’t be revived, unless you have first been vived)
- Revival is not a completed event but a continuing experience
- Revival can occur in the life of an individual, group, or
nation. Historically, they been large and local, instantaneous
and slowly growing, long and short.
- Revival always requires true repentence and the forsaking of known sin
- Revival always results in seeking and serving Christ with renewed fervency
- Revival reestablishes life’s proper priorities
- Revelation: we must reveal the disobedience to the Lord
Reprove: persuading them to personally agree that their behavior is sin
- The goal is that they would agree that the Bible says what they are doing is sin
- This step is the crucial bridge between the revelation of God and the repentence of the student
- There are four “reproving agents:" his own
conscience, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible. If they are ignored,
then we are the fourth and final agent. (There is probably a
fifth: God’s discipline, but we are trying to prevent that)
- Revival depends on repentence
- Repentence must include conviction (changing the mind)
- You may need to defeat a number of strongholds (mental defeat/areas of unbelief/wrong beliefs about God) first
- Repentence must include contrition (essentially, feeling remorseful). It allows the person to transition from hardness of heart to softness of heart
- Repentence must include confession. (“Confession” = speak the same thing [as God])
- The sins need to be confessed specifically and to a
person (in this case, probably you, and if applicable, to the people
- Recommitment must include confirmation (i.e. “I don’t want
to do this again,” not “I’m sorry about the past, but not sure about
- Recommitment may include covenant
- Recommitment should include consecration (that is, further commitment to Christ and a deeper walk with Him)
- Restoration may include compensation (if the sin was against another person)
- Restoration must include cleansing (i.e. getting rid of temptations)
- Restoration should include celebration (see Luke 15:10). Might be a large or small celebration
- Realize that revival is needed by most Christians most of the time
- Wilkinson has asked many congregations how many people they
think are out of fellowship with Christ, and the number consistently
varies between 50 and 80%.
- Earnestly seek revival through intense and persistent private
and public prayer. It is a condition of 2 Chron 7:14; see
also James 5:16
- Vary your delivery according to your students’ spiritual response
- Instruct your students in the knowledge and practice of spiritual disciplines
- Wilkinson’s seminary president said: “There are three
primary secrets of the spiritual life which will influence us more than
anything else. They are: first read your Bible every
day; second, walk by means of the Spirit; third, pray
- Verbalize the final call for revival clearly and expectantly. Be clear in your call to action
- Anticipate revival to be accompanied by intense spiritual warface
- Lay yourself before the Lord as a clean vessel committed to revival
Copyright © 2011 by Geoffrey Prewett