Creating a Learning Environment
We spent a great deal of time discussing learning styles during our first class periods – specifically as relating to adult learning. The focus of this class as evidenced by the title – “College Teaching” – is geared towards the teaching of college students who typically are going to be in the under-30 age bracket. As potential college-level and adult education teachers, I believe we also need to consider the particular motivations of the college students in addition to their learning styles. The motivations may be very different and may not be necessarily age related. Although one certainly cannot customize the class to accommodate the expectations of all class members I do believe it is necessary to understand these specific motivations. It could be that their attendance is due to simply an interest in the subject, a desire to get away from their normal environment, to meet a work requirement or for professional advancement or they just want the social interaction that an adult learning environment provides. Is it possible that at the higher college levels and graduate levels that the “measurement” of the amount of learning that took place during the course could be directly related to this motivation? Seeking to understand this motivation is something that I feel is rarely addressed at the college level and in most adult education environments to which I have been exposed. Perhaps teachers should seek an understanding or at the very least an articulation by the student what his or her expectations are of the class and the teacher and a real assessment by both as to the purpose of the student’s presence in the class. Once again, I understand that as teachers we cannot always take into account everyone’s expectations but at the very least we can challenge the students to think about why they are there and what they expect to learn. In a way this is taking them through the experiential learning cycle prior to the start of the class. The challenge to the students would be to articulate what they expect to do with what they will be learning – how they intend to apply the “experience” of the class they are about to undertake. Perhaps too many times the students come to the classroom with the expectation that the teacher has 100% responsibility to “teach” the students. There is very little prior thought as to why they are here, what they expect to learn and what they will do with what they learned other than to meet some educational requirement – be it degree or work related. What we as teachers ARE 100% responsible for is understanding how to fully engage our students in the class and then how to apply that understanding. I feel the real key to effective teaching at the college and adult education level is to move them towards taking full responsibility for their own learning. We have to move them towards a high level of self-direction in their own educational process by the empowerment that comes from this full engagement and the acceptance of the responsibility I spoke about. As evidenced by the activities during our first two class sessions I believe this class will address the idea of engaging the students. We have discussed several tools that can be used to address different learning styles – what I think is the overall goal that is being expressed here is that we as teachers become “facilitators” of learning rather than lecturers. What I have experienced in my brief exposure to adult education in my current job is that the greatest learning may actually take place among the students rather than between student and teacher. The concepts presented so far in this class address this idea of teacher as facilitator. What I am hearing with the discussions on learning styles and our initial discussions on the purpose of education is that we as teachers must create the appropriate learning environment rather than simply be presenters of material and then quantitative assessors of the intellectual intake. We are hear to facilitate the learning process – the actual “teaching” is done by the students in the classroom. The discussion that is generated by the concepts presented allows the students to think out loud, so to speak, and thus provide them the opportunity to give and receive feedback on how they are processing the information provided by the teacher. This is where true learning occurs, I believe. That is when the student can be affirmed or confronted about ideas – in other words, for true learning to occur the teacher must challenge the students to think by creating an environment that encourages thinking and interaction. Perhaps a measure of a teacher’s effectiveness is the ratio of how much the teacher talks versus the students.
Another thought occurred to me during our first class meetings in which it was mentioned that in our early years we are more concerned with “acquisition” of skills. Thus college level teachers tend to present the material and evaluate the learning that occurred based on the content that was presented. I did wonder though whether the notion that younger college students are more concerned with “acquisition of skills” is the result of what they indeed want or is it that most elementary and secondary education is geared towards that type learning. Is it possible that younger college students have been conditioned to accept that type of teaching style? As young children we are constantly asking “Why?”. We are questioning the process more than the actual content. Do we develop teaching methods at that level to address the need to understand why something works the way it does or are we more concerned with filling the young student with “content”? After all, how can you evaluate how much learning has taken place – and thus validate and quantify our effectiveness as teachers – if you cannot measure the content level? Maybe as children we are more process-oriented than currently thought but we force them into a particular learning mode by presenting them with a teaching style that is more suited to the teacher than the student. Are children really more focused on the concrete rather than the abstract or is that the way they have been taught to learn?
Perhaps this will be addressed later in the class (or maybe it has been and my antennae were not up!) but I also wondered whether there is validity in considering if learning styles can also be gender-based. I have heard that studies of early childhood education show that teachers tend to adopt their teaching style to fit pre-conceived notions of males and females. For example, teachers tend to make girls raise their hands to answer questions while boys are typically allowed to shout them out. Also there are stereotypes that say boys are good at science and math and girls are good at verbal and reading comprehension skills. In my brief experience in the world of adult learning I have also observed that men tend to be more black/white and right/wrong oriented whereas women are more apt to see the gray areas and the subtleties behind every question. Men understand that there may be a diversity of opinion on issues and even respect everyone’s right to their opinion but in the end feel that there is only one possible answer to every question. These differences may very well fit into the learning styles we have already discussed but I do question whether there are differences that need to be explored as it relates to gender.
My overall first impression from the class is that I see that we as teachers need to understand the complexity of our responsibility as educators. Full engagement of students is critical to their success and ours. We need to get out of our traditional “boxes” and notions that teachers only teach. What I am learning is that we must consider student motivations and the way our students process information if we are truly going to be great educators.