"As it turns out, using knowledge as it is being learned-- applying skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity to the content knowledge-- increases motivation and improves learning outcomes"
When I was a Junior in High School I had the fortune of being able to take a computer art class (a Photoshop class). In this half year course we learned, from an experienced professional/ art teacher how to use the very intricate Photoshop CS1 program. Reflecting back on the class, I feel that it was run in a very intelligent way. Throughout the semester were given a week's worth of classes or so to complete assignments with very strict rules. The rules, being as rigid as they were, forced us to use the program in a way that caused us to learn and become familiar with it. Thus, as the teacher was explaining the assignments/ how to use the program we would watch (often on the projector) and then try to use what we had just learned on our projects. For 90% of the class it was a trial and error process as the program wasn't all that user friendly. However, in trying to grasp what we were learning while using the knowledge we were in a way 'learning as we went'. Every member of the class, even behavioral kids, were motivated to produce an image they were proud of thus increasing the amount stat students accomplished etc. The actual use of what we were learning, as we were learning it, was unmatched.
Conversely, if the teacher had approached the class with the idea that she was going to lecture to us every class for the first half of the semester about how to use the program while expecting students to complete work the entire second half, many students would have turned themselves off.
This is, of course, an example of a very hands on (in a computer sense) class, however the idea applies to all areas of learning. Why can't a history teacher approach a class with the notion that students shouldn't be forced to 'master' the topic of American History before applying it? Why shouldn't teachers approach a class with the idea that students should be using things they learn actively on a daily basis, even if it causes mistakes to be made (as they haven't mastered it yet). I think if teachers instill the idea that application is the goal of education, many more students would find themselves 'mastering topics'.