The Learning Cycle: Insights for Faithful Teaching from Neuroscience and the Social Sciences, By Muriel I. Elmer and Duane H. Elmer

The Learning Cycle

Insights for Faithful Teaching from Neuroscience and the Social Sciences

by Muriel I. Elmer and Duane H. Elmer

The Learning Cycle
  • Length: 240 pages
  • Dimensions: 6 × 9 in
  • Published: April 21, 2020
  • Imprint: IVP Academic
  • Item Code: 5383
  • ISBN: 9780830853830

*affiliate partner

How teachers teach is not necessarily how learners learn. Educators focus on content delivery, but much of the learning process involves affective and behavioral factors.

Veteran educators Muriel and Duane Elmer provide a holistic model for how learning takes place. Their learning cycle moves beyond mere recall of information to helping learners value and apply learning in ways that are integrated into behavior and practice. With insights from neuroscience, educational psychology, and learning theory, they address how the brain can become more receptive, how emotional environments affect learning, and how learning tasks and experiential exercises can help foster the development of skills and habit formation. They do so in the context of a thoroughly Christian framework that emphasizes not just knowledge, but character, integrity, and wisdom.

Learning can be accomplished in and beyond the classroom to move from content mastery to life experience. Here are sound avenues for helping your students become the lifelong learners God intends.

"In an unpretentious, transparent, conversational manner, Muriel and Duane Elmer both warn and instruct. Traditional, truncated 'talking is teaching' approaches to education are not merely inadequate, they can be spiritually malignant or even lethal. The Learning Cycle blends biblical insight, educational theory, and research into an accessible and powerful conceptual framework that has revolutionized my teaching and can do the same for yours."

Ralph E. Enlow Jr., president of the Association for Biblical Higher Education

"In our training course to help camp leaders create their own Bible study curriculum in Latin America, we discovered very few resources to help people apply Scripture. The Elmers' learning cycle revitalized our 2020 version of both teacher and student editions. Their book provides abundant insights for helping people obey truth, whether found in God's Word or any subject matter. Driven by a passion to close the gap between hearing and doing, the Elmers include practical strategies like asking students to do a barrier analysis by asking, 'What obstacles might you encounter if you obey this truth? How can you prepare to overcome them?' Their style of writing engages the reader, intertwining deeply personal experiences with insights from brain research and the social sciences. This book also crosses cultures perfectly."

Lisa Anderson-Umana, director of leadership development with Christian Camping International, Latin America

"I am very pleased you are holding The Learning Cycle by Muriel I. Elmer and Duane H. Elmer in your hands. My guess is you are a teacher, whether in a formal vocational setting, or as a parent, Sunday school teacher, or business leader. You know that the operation of teaching and mentoring is a complex one. How does one person ever hope to communicate with others given the challenges and influences each listener has pressing in on his or her heart and mind, and so conditioned by culture and circumstance? Drs. Muriel and Duane Elmer bring decades of study and experience to help readers of this book learn to be maximally effective in the high and holy craft of teaching. They model these things in their own lives. I know. I've worked with them in the past and have seen firsthand how effectively and empathetically they nurtured their students across a wide range of crosscultural settings. In fact, I have been a beneficiary of their work. I recommend this book to you knowing that they are the 'real deal,' and their book will inspire you to reach your students in an effective way."

Jerry Root, author of C. S. Lewis and a Problem of Evil, professor at Wheaton College

"Duane and Muriel Elmer are extremely gifted at helping ministry leaders grow to their full potential. This resource is practical and truly transformational if you apply what they are suggesting. My own ministry has been forever shaped by their insights. I'm so grateful that they have made this resource available so many more people can benefit from their experience and wisdom."

Mary T. Lederleitner, author of Women in God's Mission and Cross-Cultural Partnerships

"Muriel and Duane Elmer have been trusted wise guides to teachers, shepherds, and leaders around the globe for many years. The love of God and his kingdom fuels their endeavors including this volume. The Learning Cycle is a culmination of their life's work, sharing the wisdom they have gleaned from years of study, teaching, and service. A must-read for Christian educators."

Deborah Colwill, associate professor of educational and leadership studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

"The Learning Cycle provided the foundational principles for training and motivating twenty-one hundred Rwandese church members and over a thousand short-termers from Saddleback and also undergirded the strategy for change that made their Western Rwanda HIV Initiative so successful."

Gil Odendaal, former global director of the HIV/AIDS Initiative at Saddleback Church

"In the recognition of common grace, this book blends current research in social sciences and neuroscience with decades of teaching experience and theological reflection as it seeks to help Christian practitioners understand how to improve their teaching. It will be especially useful for theological educators who tend to have had little exposure to this kind of educational training and wish to develop as reflective practitioners. It was especially encouraging to see the final chapters on the topics of habit and character."

Marvin Oxenham, director of the International Council for Evangelical Theological Education Academy

"Why is it that the vast majority of what we are taught is soon forgotten? Why is education most often ineffective? Why do we assume that emotions are divorced from cognition? The Elmers make a strong case for teaching that leads to deep learning because it is initially meaningful and continues through the learning cycle toward the full development of the learner. They uniquely make the case for life-changing learning, supported by recent research in neuroscience, the social sciences, Scripture, and their own compelling stories as teachers. My hope is that this book will stimulate a gracious revolution of transformative teaching for thousands of educators."

James E. Plueddemann, author of Teaching Across Cultures, former director of SIM International

"If you want to critically reflect on how your teaching may lead students toward integrated life learning, the Elmers are here to help. They offer practical research findings and application within this renewed presentation of the Learning Cycle certain to elevate any Christian educator's craft."

Michael A. Ortiz, international director of the International Council for Evangelical Theological Education, associate professor of intercultural studies at Dallas Theological Seminary

"The publication of The Learning Cycle occurs in the context of challenging times for education and educators. Around the world, some question the value of education; others demand tangible results from educators and their institutions. With this current reality facing education, it is propitious for teachers to consider the nature and purpose of teaching and learning. Should teaching limit its focus to the transfer of information, insights, and knowledge to students, or should it seek to achieve transformed habits of thinking and doing in leaners? The Learning Cycle by Muriel Elmer and Duane Elmer is a substantive resource for educators wrestling with this question. It is required reading for anyone longing for teaching and learning to produce more than recall of information or mastery of insights."

Tite Tiénou, dean emeritus, research professor of theology of mission, and Tite Ténou Chair of Global Theology and World Christianity at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

"If you are an educator who cares that learners live out the truth you teach, this book is for you. Whether you teach as a pastor, teach children or adults, in Christian higher education or theological education—anywhere people want to learn—this book shows how your teaching can lead to the goal you so much desire. What sets this book apart are the learning tasks the authors provide at the end of each level of the Learning Cycle, providing a promising pathway to becoming a more skillful teacher."

Miriam Charter, retired associate professor of intercultural studies at Ambrose University, former director of PhD in Educational Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

"From their vast personal experience as educators to the current science of neurobiology and educational psychology, the Elmers unlock the mystery most teachers face in the classroom—student transformation. Focusing on how learners learn rather than how content is delivered, the Elmers walk the reader through steps assured to foster the renewing of the whole person. This book is a must-read for any serious educator who is committed to students' holistic transformation."

David Sveen, president of the Domanada Foundation

"Duane and Muriel Elmer's passion for transformative and lifelong learning is prudently interwoven in their version of the Learning Cycle as clearly delineated in this book. It is noteworthy that The Learning Cycle includes the affective side of learning, the intentional naming of barriers to learning, and the integration of God's Word to life, critical stages that are missing in other versions of the Learning Cycle. I was introduced to the framework when I was their student and found it to be very helpful when explaining the how and what of transformative learning. I have used it since in my teaching opportunities, incorporating it in curriculum discussions and in teachers' professional development workshops both in theological education and the local church. Every time it is offered, the Learning Cycle brings the aha of discovery. My sincere appreciation to Duane and Muriel Elmer for now putting the framework in a book so that more educators can benefit. I highly recommend this book and this valuable educational framework!"

Joanna Feliciano-Soberano, academic dean at Asian Theological Seminary, Overseas Council regional director for Southeast Asia

"Muriel and Duane Elmer have combined insights and lessons from their distinguished careers as teachers with some of the most current findings from neuroscience to produce a book that helps the reader become a better educator. They do so in ways that promote better cognitive understanding, changes in behavior, and growth in Christian maturity. Written in a relatable style and incorporating stories from their experience, they explain and illustrate how we can all become more effective in teaching for life change."

Evan Hunter, vice president of ScholarLeaders International

"From more than fifty years of shared teaching wisdom and experience, Duane and Muriel Elmer take us inside the Learning Cycle to expand our understanding and expertly unpack its implications for all of us engaged in the educational enterprise. Along the way, they offer tested insights from the social sciences and those freshly available from the exploding field of brain science. This is an essential read for novice and experienced educators alike."

Dave Conner, director of talent development at Duke University

"The Learning Cycle is a marvelous integration of recent medical understanding of how the brain works and what that means for teaching and training. Building on eight decades of teaching, Duane and Muriel Elmer provide this insightful guide in which they wonderfully demonstrate a deep understanding of the craft of teaching and a commitment to continual growth as they practice the craft. This will serve as an excellent tool to use with anyone serving in a teaching or training role—in ministry, business, education, and the like. I am already utilizing insights I gained to improve my own teaching and training, and offer my highest commendation for their work. Two thumbs up!"

Scott Moreau, academic dean and professor of intercultural studies, Wheaton College Graduate School

"I received this book as I was leaving to teach Majority World pastors and missionaries. My new minilectures with open-ended questions were met with joy! But it wasn't until the groups shared that I realized the level of openness, transparency, and integration of the material taking place. The Holy Spirit was working, and conclusions were reached beyond what I had even suggested. It was worth changing my ways. Thank you, Muriel and Duane, for providing this resource that will help us good teachers and professors become much more effective. The material is engaging, providing the right amount of brain research to convince while showing us how to make the necessary practical changes to accomplish our goal as teachers—transformed students."

Ron Kuykendall, St. Andrew's Church, Gainesville, Florida

"Elmer and Elmer are experienced educators who have learned all the steps and approaches that are essential to transformative teaching, and they share them here, clearly and winsomely. The Learning Cycle is a terrific resource for any educator who wants to remember that great teaching is always about teaching the whole person, not just an academic subject."

Christina Bieber Lake, professor of English at Wheaton College, author of The Flourishing Teacher

"The Elmers are present-day Esthers—for such a time as this! The Lord may very well be calling the church to 'forget [some of] the former things' because he's 'doing a new thing!' (Isaiah 43:18-19). Today's world needs the pandemic-emerging, more racially engaged church to make thoroughly equipped disciples. The Learning Cycle is an essential resource to help fulfill that Matthew 28:19 mandate. Statements like this describe exactly what our world needs: 'God intends for every human interaction to be a sacred moment. Any dehumanizing of the person means we have profaned that moment and done damage to God's image in that person.' We've seen Duane and Muriel live this out in real-life situations as they mentored and worked with us for over forty years, primarily in the corporate marketplace. Some of our clients can be rather contentious, and in response Duane and Muriel effectively demonstrate 'Jesus with skin on.' If you want to equip those you disciple with lasting behavioral, Christ-imitating changes, The Learning Cycle is a must-read."

Wayne and Cindy Shabaz, cofounders of CDAWN Learning



1. Laying the Foundation
2. Weaving Truth and Life

LEVEL 1: RECALL—I Remember the Information
3. Recall, Rehearsal, and Retention
4. Lectures that Transform

LEVEL 2: RECALL with APPRECIATION—I Value the Information
5. The Role of Emotion in Learning

LEVEL 3: RECALL with SPECULATION—I Ponder How to Use Information
6. From Content to Experience
7. The Power of Cognitive Dissonance

8. Identifying Barriers
9. Overcoming Barriers

LEVEL 4: RECALL with PRACTICE—I Begin Changing My Behavior
10. Transformative Learning
11. Learning Tasks Leading to Practice

LEVEL 5: RECALL with HABIT—I Do Consistently
12. Building a Habit
13. Sustaining a Habit

14. From Habit to Character

Author and Subject Index
Scripture Index


You May Also Like

Muriel I. Elmer

Muriel I. Elmer (PhD, Michigan State) is a retired adjunct professor for Trinity International University where she taught in both the educational studies and the intercultural studies PhD programs. She has taught nursing and intercultural communication at various institutions and has been an international consultant and educator for many cross-cultural organizations. She was the director of child survival programs and a training specialist at World Relief as well as a missionary in South Africa.

Duane H. Elmer

Duane H. Elmer (PhD, Michigan State) has taught in over seventy-five countries and has provided cross-cultural training to Fortune 500 companies, relief and development agencies, mission organizations, churches, and educational institutions. He previously served as director of the PhD program in educational studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He has also conducted peace and reconciliation efforts in several countries. His books include Cross-Cultural Conflict, Cross-Cultural Connections, and Cross-Cultural Servanthood. The Elmers live in Winfield, Illinois.