The process of learning is more important than content

The quote I will be reflecting on for my final journal entry for PIDP 3100 is that “[t]he process of learning, which is centered [sic] on learner need, is seen as more important than content; therefore, when educators are involved in the learning process, their most important role is to act as facilitators, or guides” (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 284). I will respond to objective, reflective, interpretive, and decisional questions with regards to this quote.

Objective

I have learnt that although as an instructor I take on many different roles and I have students at different stages of learning, the role of facilitator serves the broadest range of students, while still including the experienced, self-directed learners. When discussing my roles and students’ learning stages I will refer to the application of the Staged Self-Direction (SSD) model to a course by Grow (1991, p. 143). This application describes learners as dependent, interested, involved, or self-directed and instructors as authorities, motivators, facilitators, and delegators. As a facilitator, it is important that I group students together in teams and work closely with them to apply the content of the course to real world problems. For example, when students are learning about database management systems, which are programs for working with organized data, the content is not very valuable to the students unless they work with an actual database. I could group students together and supply the groups with databases from various employment sectors. The students would discuss current and future issues with the database system with each other and I would consult with each group to provide my insights and give them an opportunity to have some individual attention. To finish the activity, each group could report back to the class so that we could all learn about the discoveries made in relation to the assigned databases.

One issue that catches my attention from this quote is the potential unawareness of the dependent learners in the class. According to Grow’s SSD model there is a mismatch between the facilitative instructional role and the dependent student learning stage. I can see why this incompatibility is apparent because of the potential loss of individuality for a dependent learner in a group setting. For students in this situation they might feel isolated, anxious, or stressed from these group experiences. I always hope to identify these students through their social behaviour in class and try to motivate them in a way that avoids any resentment towards myself or other students.

Reflective

Students are not the only ones learning in the classroom. Educators should be involved in the students’ learning through activities such as discussions led by students and discovery learning. I find discussions that are student led can be initiated through their experiences. One discussion I enjoy having with my students is about whether payment technology can match their individual needs. I ask the class if anyone has had a situation where they could not use a specific payment method to buy something. Students who share their experiences usually describe the event that took place and how they solved their problem. I encourage the students to think about why the organization has these payment policies and how it affects competition. Every semester, discussions such as these enable the students and I to learn together.

Discovery learning is a technique where the learners gain knowledge through their own discovery. This is not a technique I have attempted, and “findings suggest that unassisted discovery does not benefit learners, whereas feedback, worked examples, scaffolding, and elicited explanations do” (Alfieri, Brooks, Aldrich, & Tenenbaum, 2011, p. 12). If I was going to introduce discovery learning techniques in my class I would have to work closely with the students for their learning to be constructive. Information systems instructors in New Zealand introduced digital storytelling to their classes (Bromberg, Techatassanasoontorn, & Andrade, 2013). A project was assigned where students complete a group plan of their digital story topic, present their digital story in class with discussion questions to engage other students in the class, and submit individual learning reflections and peer reviews of other student stories. The project received mainly positive feedback from students through surveys. This would be an interesting assessment to try in my classes, but I should be cautious in its implementation because of potential conflicts with my department’s official course outline.

Interpretive

My “Aha!” moment was when I understood that the content we teach is secondary to the process in which the content is actually learnt. Many colleges and universities have a primary goal “to enable their students to be lifelong, self-directed learners” (Merriam et al., 2007, p. 105). As adult educators, we should focus on individual student development and help them take primary responsibility for their own learning (Merriam et al., 2007, p. 284). Critical thinking is one practice I use to encourage students to become more responsible for their learning. When learning Microsoft Excel, my students work through an example creating a budget for a struggling family. One problem the students encounter in this exercise is to determine a strategy for the family to save money towards a down payment on a house. When implementing their strategies, the students need to carefully analyze the consequential bank account balances of the family. Many students identify negative bank balances in certain months and I hope for the students to notice this irregularity is due to large expenses being made in certain months. More sophisticated saving strategies can then be constructed by the students to alleviate this problem.

I need to be aware that students with little to no technological background, who are good at learning, can understand the course content as long as they are motivated to do so. One demographic of students who struggle in my classes are mature age students. They commonly have many years of work and learning experience, yet they feel unprepared, intimidated, and anxious in class because of the involvement of technology. When introducing a new piece of software, such as Microsoft Word, I always begin with the basic operations of the software. I tell the class that I am assuming they have never used the software before, which I have found can relieve some stress for technologically inexperienced students. I also let the more experienced users in the room know that our discussion will be a good review and they may discover something they did not know before. The challenges with more mature students is when they still struggle after the introductory material. In these situations, I need to spend some one-on-one time with them during office hours or even direct them toward tutoring services if they require additional assistance.

A key insight I have had from this quote is that although the learning process is more significant for students than content, students’ mindset can be the opposite of this. For dependent and interested learners, they often expect content to be delivered to them by the instructor, and although they may be motivated and confident in the material, they are generally ignorant of the learning processes involved (Merriam et al., 2007, p. 117). Progressing these students to be more self-directed in their learning is a challenging process. An interesting idea by Nemec (2011, p. 72), is “[d]elivery of required content…through alternative methods, such as through reading, video, or in-person training, with all methods using the same evaluation tools to measure successful content mastery; learners would then have their choice of method.” Designing a course with these alternative delivery methods would also give the students the option of taking a class traditionally, hybrid, or online. As an instructor, this would require a lot more preparation, but for students, the freedom to learn however and whenever they desire greatly increases the possibility for improvements in their self-directed learning. 

Decisional

I need to ensure that the students know my roles as an instructor and what is expected of them as learners. Most of the time my teaching is directed towards interested and involved learners. I need to find out from students if their learning needs are being met by my instructional role. When dependent learners are feeling lost and left behind, I need to provide review sessions or exercises, remind the students of my consultation times, and direct students towards university supported learning services and resources. My university provides two great services, namely, a learning centre and an early alert program. The learning centre provides free, one-on-one tutoring from students who have proficiently completed their courses in previous semesters. This service provides a less intimidating experience for dependent students who may not be comfortable discussing their problems with an instructor. The early alert program is a service that provides learning assistance and information about tutoring services for students. Admission to the program is by instructor recommendation with the purpose of identifying students having difficulty in their classes early in the semester. Students in this program have their learning problems identified as soon as possible before they become unmanageable.

For the more experienced learners, motivation is an important part of class engagement. I always mention why a concept is important and how it will benefit students in the future, but I should start providing them the resources to this information so they can discover the true potential of the knowledge they are gaining from my classes. One such resource is an analysis of job postings in Canada that shows Microsoft Office as the number one hard skill required by employers (Lombardi, 2013). Top soft skills were problem solving, being detail oriented, and oral and written communication skills. Newspaper articles, YouTube videos, and the sharing of student experiences would also be beneficial to the students for motivation and interest. I look forward to sharing these findings with my students in future classes.

References

Alfieri, L., Brooks, P. J., Aldrich, N. J., & Tenenbaum, H. R. (2011). Does discovery-based instruction enhance learning? Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(1), 1-18.

Bromberg, N. R., Techatassanasoontorn, A. A., & Andrade, A. D. (2013). Engaging students: digital storytelling in information systems learning. Pacific Asia Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 5(1), 1-22.

Grow, G. (1991). Teaching learners to be self-directed: A stage approach. Adult Education Quarterly, 41(3), 125-149.

Lombardi, A. (2013, April 9). Canada’s Most In-Demand Skills – Jobs. Trends. Insight. Retrieved from Wanted Analytics: http://www.wantedanalytics.com/insight/2013/04/09/canadas-most-in-demand-skills/

Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Nemec, P. (2011). The Self-Directed Learner. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 35(1), 71-73.

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About simoncrothers

I am an Australian who moved to British Columbia, Canada with my family in 1998. After completing my undergraduate degree in mathematics and computing science at Simon Fraser University, I moved back to Australia for several years. During this time I completed a Masters in Computational Mathematics and began my teaching career in mathematics at the University of New South Wales. In 2010, I moved back to Canada and taught computer science at Douglas College for three years. I am currently regular faculty in the Computer Business Systems department at KPU. I have also taught some courses in the Business and Quantitative Methods department at KPU. In my spare time I like to spend time with my wife Jami, who I met in Australia, our three year old daughter Lillian, and our newly born son Aiden. I also like to indulge in the occasional video game and I am involved in various self-employed web development projects.
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