Relationships and Student Expectations
While the introduction to the theories has been brief, we have examined many elements of motivation that are important to consider when working with adult learners. As we approach the end of the term, take a moment to reflect on the various theories and how they may influence your future teaching or facilitation
Introduction: Relationships & Expectations
In the first topic (The Adult Learner & Lifelong Learning), the importance of how students—in particular adults—feel about their learning situation was raised. Humanistic psychology emphasises the affective rather than cognitive or social factors in learning. The term affective generally refers to motivational and emotional factors influencing learning. A Humanist perspective suggests that how students perceive and feel about their learning is crucial to their ability to fulfil their potential as learners. The nature of student-teacher and student-student relationships is also vital in this.
The first reading by Burns (1996) presents some ideas about what individual differences may influence learners’ feelings and perceptions about their learning. The next reading (Tennant, 1991) looks at the teaching-learning relationship in adult education from the teacher’s perspective. Finally, in the paper by Ferris and Gerber (1996), TAFE students’ enjoyment in learning is investigated. Six qualitatively different ways in which enjoyment in
learning is experienced are identified. These may be linked to other issues raised in previous topics (e.g., personal experience & motivational aspects).
Burns, S. (1996). The learner – the components of individual differences. In Artistry in training: Thinking differently about the way you help people to learn (pp. 43–48). Warriewood, NSW, Australia: Woodslane Press.
Tennant, M. (1991). Establishing an ‘adult’ teaching-learning relationship. Australian Journal of Adult and Community Education, 31(1), 4–9
Ferris, J., & Gerber, R. (1996). Mature-age students’ feelings of enjoying learning in a further education context. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 11(1), 79–96.
Tennant (1991) talks about the emotional underpinnings of the student-teacher relationship. Given that we all have feelings about student behaviour at times, what ways have you developed for appropriately dealing with these feelings, aside from addressing the behaviour?
Tennant (1991) argues the relationship between teachers and learners in adult education is characterised by a widely held view of openness, mutual respect, and participative democracy, and that this is not a feature of school-based education.
He also argues however that there are instances where student behaviour irritates, or where the teacher has aspects of their role where they encounter guilt. This seems to arise because teacher-student roles in the adult environment have conflicting notions of hierarchy (teacher-student) and equality (adult-adult). A middle path is suggested by Tennant where clarity of roles is emphasised.
Although apparently ambiguous, this (negotiated, transitory) middle-path does seem workable from personal experience. Perhaps it is result of the particular teaching I engage in (postgraduates) but there is always an implicit recognition that I could be a member of one of their classes. The feelings of 'fear' or 'guilt' in the manner which Tennant refers to have - and are - being removed through a process of teaching methods, course content, post-course mentoring, and continuous improvement.
Whilst I have heard some horror stories from other prac students and teachers themselves, I am thankful that I have not really had such an experience where I have had a real ongoing problem regarding student’s behaviour. That being said, however there has been several times when a student has chosen to test me with their behaviour. In these instances, it is important that I remember I am the adult, and not to engage in and allow any negative situations where the student is able to continue to act out. At times I have seen that by addressing their behaviour it provides them with the response they are looking for. I have found a simple warning such as “Micky if you continue to act out I will see you at recess” is often enough, as the student realises you will not engage in his/her time wasting attempt. Also in these instances I have found it is instead better to isolate the student from any facilitators (i.e. other students that encourage, promote and enable the negative behaviour.) Also I have found that non-verbal cues (i.e. presence of the teacher standing directly next to them) ‘the look’, and / or the removal of any object in hands that is encouraging negative or disruptive behaviour is often an effective way to minimise such behaviour whilst not disrupting the flow of the lesson.
However it is not always appropriate to address the student's behaviour. Sometimes, if the student has had unusually negative behaviour, it is important that we consider the external factors that may be causing the student to act as he/she is. Perhaps there are problems at home, or a change in their life such as separation, new family member. There may have been playground issues I am unaware of.
It is important that we consider the student as a whole, not just within the classroom context.
Given that, as Burns (1996) states, students may have a multiplicity of reactions to the educational activities we set, is there any feedback that is 'too stupid' to be seriously considered?
As teachers, it is our responsibility to deal with complex people and behaviors. Understanding student behavior and its diversity is a step toward understanding experiences with learning activities. I think any feedback is a positive step, no matter how ridiculous it may initially seem. The type of feedback we receive can also help us understand the student providing the feedback. If their feedback appears 'too stupid' then there may be a problem concerning the student and their learning experience.
Some feedback may be inappropriate or irrelevant but I don't think it is ever 'too stupid'. I think it feeds back to being able to relate to the student and understanding the differences between individuals. Any type of feedback provided by the student can highlight where they sit in regards to the central theories that relate to differences in the human behaviour in individuals. This could related to their personality traits, their values, how they think (and learn) and the resulting effect on their behaviour of the past experiences of the student (Burns, 1996).
There are a couple of ways that this question can be answered in the negative.
a) The teacher has done such a poor job at explaining the curriculum material that the student has gone completely off on the wrong track (guidance metaphors abound!) and has misunderstood basic concepts.
b) The education system which placed a student in the class has done a poor job of screening and has ended up with someone who doesn't have either the ability or background knowledge to participate in the course in a meaningful way.
c) The student is actually a genius and is asking a question which is of such depth and so fundamental and contrary to prevailing opinion that it appears to be stupid, but is actually revealing and so insightful that will fundamentally change how the discipline is taught (e.g., John Snow's theory of disease).
There is also one positive answer to the question.
d) In a open and public teaching situation where there is no screening of attendance, and the teacher does have a very good track record in the subject in question, and there are no savants in the audience, yes, then questions can be asked which are completely wrong - and maybe "not even wrong" (to use Pauli's colourful phrase)!
Ferris & Gerber’s article describes the feeling of enjoyment that mature aged students get from studying at TAFE. The students all worked full time and studied part time. One of the reasons the students mentioned that aids their enjoyment is the ability to practice and develop their new knowledge and skills in the workplace whilst working. University students generally don't work full time whilst they are studying. How would this impact full time students’ feelings of enjoyment of the content of the unit given they don’t have the ability to practice and develop their knowledge and skills as they learn them? How as a teacher could establish a learning environment to compensate for this?
Ferris, J. & Gerber, R. (1996) The learner – the components of individual differences. In Artistry in training. Thinking differently about the way you help people to learn (pp 43-48). Warriewood NSW, Australia: Woodslane Press-
Like the other respondents, the emphasis is on practical projects where theoretical knowledge is applied to a real-world situation. However this real-world situation must be something of interest and importance to the learner, so in which case a high degree of flexibility is required in the project questions. After all, they are meant to be teaching the application of the theory, not a solution to a specific problem.
As an example, many computer science textbooks have sample questions at the end of each chapter, which generate practical examples of a theory. A famous example, oft-repeated, is the Towers of Hanoi. This is a neat mathematical puzzle which illustrates the concept, but doesn't have much practical use. An example of the latter would be a sorting algorithm, something which every programmer on the planet is likely to encounter at some point, and with which efficiency is paramount, depending on the size of the data file.
The phrase "TAFE is better than a university in its teaching, because students in the part-time course can work and study at the same time" really struck me as well, as my entire student life (which is now well into its second decade!) has been mixed with working. At first I thought the remark to be quite strange based on my own experience, but then recalled that Murdoch was one of the few institutions in the 1980s that took external studies quite seriously and, of course, part-time study is a lot easier when many of your workplace is on campus. So it did make a lot more sense in that consideration and, as you say, today universities have much more flexible teaching arrangements at least partially a result of improvements and widespread adaption of information and communications technology.
On a related note, with regard to learning style preferences, a workable strategy is to take a multimedia engagement approach. By this what is meant is offering reading material for reference, teaching-by-showing, collaborative activities, and learning-by-doing. The combination of approaches satisfies most learning style preferences as broad categories and encourages learner engagement.
Thanks for a well considered summary of the readings. Given that I have identified that I do very have a humanistic approach to education I can certainly agree that considerations to a learner’s feelings and perceptions are an important consideration. I loved the opening comment in the Burns reading “Professional trainers are in the business of people. They are in the business of changing or modifying human behaviour – affecting the skills or actions, the thoughts, even the emotions and feelings of other people” because in my perspectives is it so accurate. I do think that as a teacher or educator you are often in an important position where you can have either a positive influence or a negative impact on the student. This includes both in the current context of your interactions with the students but also in terms of shaping their future attitudes or behaviours towards learning experiences.
I also agree that considering academic literature is an important part of understanding the variety of human behaviour. But I would claim that this cannot be done in a vacuum and that you need to reflect on actual experiences you encounter to truly have a good understanding of the theory behind what may be driving certain behaviour.
As a workplace facilitator I read Tennant’s work with interest. In my work environment, there is the political dimension both within the individual teacher/trainer and student relationship as well as wider at an organisational level. Often there are underlying agenda’s from differing parties about the type of training offered and the way it is delivered so there certainly power plays that exist. It is one of the things that frustrates me about my job – the staff have an extremely hard job to do in a complex and demanding environment so in my view we should be offering high quality, relevant and well developed training packages. More often than not this however is impeded by the ‘many fingers in the pie’ coupled with budget and time constraints; often means you are left with mediocre materials and content to deliver. Given I do have a clear conception of the role I am able to cope with these situations but have certainly seen many other trainers struggle to find their feet. It is challenging enough to aim to be an effective teacher or trainer without the additional pressure of working with ill designed products!!
I can certainly relate to Tennant’s comment about teaching and learning being so emotionally charged as it deals with our self perceptions. I remember when I first started working as a facilitator I would try extremely hard to what I saw were the needs or expectations of all learners I came across. When I was not able to effectively engage a student it would really bother me and I would spend significant time trying to analyse why and work out how to solve it. When I finally woke up and came to the realisation that ‘you can’t be everything to everybody’ and truly clarified my expectations of myself as a teacher and what I should expect of students; I became a much more confident and effective teacher.
Further Professional Development
The topics covered in this unit have been concerned with basic theoretical assumptions underlying the learning and teaching of all students, with adult learners being considered more specifically. We have also considered the implications these assumptions have for the instructional approaches and specific strategies used by teachers of adults. The final readings encourage you to continue as reflective practitioners.
Bloor, M., & Butterworth, C. (1996). The portfolio approach to professional development. In J. Robson (Ed.), The professional FE teacher: Staff development and training in the corporate college (pp. 44–55). Aldershot:
Cox, B. (1994). Evaluation of the quality of teaching. In Practical pointers for university teachers (extract pp. 107–124). London: Kogan Page.
Ramsden, P. (1992). What does it take to improve teaching? In Learning to teach in higher education (extract pp. 253–257; 265–269). London: Routledge.