I’ll be curious to see what I think of this blog as I get further into the program and as I have more experiences in the training field to pull from. I think that’s why I’ve struggled so much with the blog this week. I’ve been having trouble coming up with instances I could relate to this question. Therefore, the thoughts I express here are shaped heavily by the readings and the discussions we’ve had in class more so than by what I’ve experienced first-hand, but here we go.
There seems to me to be merit in Weimer’s idea that “how faculty teach is intrinsically a function of what they teach and how students learn in that discipline” (p. 14). First and foremost, the teacher should present the content in the manner in which it – the content – is best-suited. This provides a sort of “natural” learning environment that should help most students grasp the content. For example, to teach how to solve an algebra equation, you wouldn’t lecture on how to solve for ‘x’; instead it would be more natural to work it out step-by-step on the board.
For something less concrete, say teaching the art of negotiating, the natural setting for learning might be role-playing to help students understand how to react in certain situations. The teacher can demonstrate the role-play with one of the students and then have the students interact with each other, changing partners to get different experiences.
In both of these examples, teachers have the responsibility for introducing the content and explaining the learning goal. That shines a light on what students then need to take as their responsibility to make sure they achieve that learning goal. So going back to the algebra equation, the teacher can say, “Today, we’re going to learn how to solve quadratic equations. At the end of class, you should each feel comfortable solving an equation on your own.” Then the teacher can proceed with walking through the steps to solve the equation. The responsibility then shifts to the students to self-identify what parts they don’t understand and to ask for more explanation.
Uh-oh… I can already see where this is going to break down because some students will not want to reveal that they don’t understand something. All sorts of theoretical “soft” ideas come to mind such as the ability of the teacher to create a “safe” learning environment where students aren’t afraid to ask questions, but I’m imagining my 7th grade Algebra class and remembering days you couldn’t have paid me enough to admit I didn’t get it.
Last week we talked about how teachers tend to teach in the manner they were taught or in the manner in which they learn best. They naturally teach from their comfort zone. However, I feel that teachers need to take the responsibility to recognize when those approaches are not working. Weimer says they should “manage a repertoire” (p. xiv) of instructional techniques that create a “coherent, integrated approach to teaching” (p. xiv). In other words, teachers should know more than one way to skin a cat.
My sister is an instructional designer, and she talks about “blended learning”. I could look up a technical definition of the term, but I imagine it would go something like this – theory of incorporating multiple teaching techniques to reinforce the learning process. This sounds like a good start toward addressing multiple (although maybe not individual) learning styles. (It also sounds like good step toward creating significant learning because it presents the information and/or gives students the opportunity to consider the content in different scenarios.)
In an academic environment where teachers have a longer period of time to get to know their students, they can attempt to identify their learning styles and aim to create teaching activities through a blended approach that fits the majority of those learning styles.
But in a corporate environment, trainers may not have any prior knowledge of the students’ backgrounds or have any time to identify their learning styles during the training period. In that case, they should probably rely on the most natural learning environment for the content and using the learning style – or blended style – that seems to have had the best outcome in previous sessions. If there is (and there should be) follow up after the training, that assessment should help guide any modifications or enhancements the trainer makes to the learning style(s) for future presentations of that material or to that particular group.
There will always be those students who don’t fit neatly into the learning style of a class, but if teachers do as Weimer suggests and “position themselves alongside the learner and keep the attention, focus, and spotlight aimed at and on the learning process” (p. 76) they should be able to identify what’s working and who’s not getting it. However, Weimer also says that a “student cannot be forced to learn, and a teacher cannot learn anything for a student” (pp. 78-9). I believe the teacher has the responsibility to present content in the manner in which it is most easily accessible to the majority of students and has the responsibility to identify, either through observation or assessment, those students who are struggling. But students also have a responsibility to admit when they are not learning and, along with the teacher, discover the learning style that will work for them.