Value and the Learning process

As a teacher, I often reflect on my role with relation to student learning. I ask myself what can I do that students can’t get some other way. In today’s blog, I would like to frame the question on the context of the learning cycle.

There are multiple ways that scholars have tried to model or describe the learning process. One is Kolb’s learning styles. He describes four quadrants that reflect a learner’s preference for taking in information and processing information. The corollary to the learning styles theory is that each learner should move from one quadrant to the next until all four quadrants are navigated. For example, if the learner begins with lecture attendance or reading (which could be observational or reflective in processing and abstract information that would be attained), the learner would start in the assimilator quadrant. The next quadrant asks learners to use the abstract information. Examples of this include practice problems, quizzes, and exams. The next quadrant is application of knowledge in a concrete or real world context. Finally, the learner moves into the last quadrant to reflect on the concrete experience. The end result is a return to the original quadrant with new learning material.

I did some surveys to look at learning styles of pharmacy students over the years. There was an overwhelming bias towards the abstract (as opposed to concrete learning). Many questions arose such as why this was – could it be recruitment, place in the curriculum, exposure to traditional teaching methods? I don’t know. From a pedagogical perspective, I think that teaching strategy has a lot to do with this. For example, many programs that I have been a part of traditionally assign reading, expect students to attend lecture to take notes, and pass an exam. There is a strong emphasis on course content. However, two key elements that I feel are consistently missing are practice using newly gained knowledge and feedback on performance.

Teaching effects learning. If the teacher expects learners to acquire a great breadth of knowledge, he/she should set up the course differently than if he/she expects the learner to use that knowledge.  On the contrary, some might argue that there are teaching methods that help learners gain knowledge while applying learning skills.  However, even in this scenario, the knowledge content is limited or defined in some way.  In order for the learner to learn, he/she must receive practice and feedback. These two elements reinforce student learning. I would argue that if we are not interacting with our learners as such, they may be better off sitting in front of a pre-recorded video to learn.

How can you plan in time to give students practice and feedback? In my opinion, this is a key role for a teacher that adds value to an education.