Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Posturing - a Barrier to Learning

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allHannah and CatrionaHannah and Catriona posing for the photo
The attitude of the know-it-all learner is well known to anyone who has been teaching in the classroom for even a short term. It’s also recognised by trainers, tutors and coaches and is often a difficult barrier to dismantle.

In my varied experiences in education and training, I was often left wondering what it is that brings about an attitudinal obstacle in the first place. Its source is usually difficult to reveal, for its origin can lie in many different parts of the human psyche.

Unless its cause can be identified, there is little the teacher can resort to, other than dismissing it with reference to taking a horse to water.


Here are three of the causes I have identified over the years.

The greatest barrier to learning something new
is the belief that it has already been learnt.


This barrier to learning is most commonly met in the classroom and needs a teaching strategy that I call unteaching. It is met in some form by every teacher when introducing a new topic to a class. A deal of dismantling of the misconception and erroneous belief in the mind of the learner is required.

One useful path to achieving this is in revealing to the learner, in the nicest possible way and without them losing face, that their knowledge or belief may be wanting in some important detail. Once the major part of the learning obstacle is removed, its remnants are eradicated through the art of good teaching and the application of appropriate pedagogy.

“I’m expected to know all this
and I can’t show my ignorance.”


This is a too common situation in learners, at all levels.

I once had a job as a computer coordinator for the student database of a prominent university. My boss was the Registrar who shouldered convincingly the responsibility of being knowledgeable about everything to do with the database and the student data contained there.


That responsibility was the biggest impediment to assimilating anything new that needed to be learnt. While it was my duty to pass on required student information to the Registrar, and I did this successfully through verbal reports and other means, I often felt powerless to convey effectively any technical knowledge that the Registrar also needed.

The transactional analysis of that situation is explained admirably in Thomas Harris’ celebrated book, I’m OK – You’re OK.


“What are you? Ignorant or something?”

Peer pressure in a classroom environment can often engender an ability in ignorant learners to appear convincingly knowledgeable. This unlearn syndrome can also exist in the workplace.

I have always claimed that one of the reasons I learnt more than I might have done is because I’m forever asking questions.

At work meetings I am usually the first to ask a question. For as much as what I ask may be met with tones of derision and ridiculed by some, I am always amazed at the proportion of people who are grateful to hear the answer - if there is one.
In some instances when I ask my evident question, it turns out that few, if anyone, know the answer, and it starts a debate.

“It’s possible that my whole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others” - Ashleigh Brilliant.


 Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

5 comments:

Janet Clarey said...

This also made me think of the hostile training group -people that are required to attend training they don't agree with (Saturday morning or after hours or something) and show up with 'attitude.'

Anonymous said...

We (Tutors/ Teachers/ Trainers) need to take care as we are not immunised against modelling this sort of behaviour ourselves, perhaps fed by the (mistaken) belief that we need to be the font of all knowledge on our subject or the expectations of our students who are used to the 'sage on the stage' approach to teaching.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Haere mai Janet

Allan Pease's Body Language and related researches maintain that by simply adopting the stance that relates to the attitude, the mind's attitude can be set accordingly - a strange phenomenon involving tactile spatial perception.

I am very familiar with the 'attitude' you describe - it takes a lot of skill, creative thinking and hard work on the part of a facilitator to overcome those barriers! Finding the right carrot for the Saturday session can be a key to overcoming that one - and it's never without cost but it's usually worth it.

Tēnā koe Anonymous

Unfortunately it's not just limited to tutors/teachers/trainers, but I take your point and agree with you. The tutor/teacher/trainer, in adopting that role, has also to be aware of (not) creating barriers to their own learning.

The traditional authoritative culture in teaching and learning not only prevents the tutor/teacher/trainer from learning, it perpetuates misconception and erroneous belief to (other) learners. This is critical for an organisation purporting to be moving to the future.

Catchya later

Clark said...

Ken, I guess I'd argue for a few other barriers, and happy to hear your feedback:
"I'm so anxious about it I can't focus, so I'll appear superior", "You haven't convinced me this is important, so why bother", and "I can see why it's important to some, but not to me, so shine it on".

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Haere mai Clark!

My intention in the post was to identify posturing of the know-it-all learners who adopt an attitude either because they genuinely believe they know it all, or who wish to be seen by others as knowing it all.

They are the most regularly met barriers that I’ve identified in people, in the workplace or classroom, who otherwise would be willing to learn.

By identifying the barrier in an individual it may be possible to pitch the preamble/introduction and eventually the teaching to overcome the barrier in some way.

Barriers to learning, as we both know, are legion, and Janet identifies a major barrier when she comments about “the hostile training group”. While it wasn’t my intention to list all learning barriers in this post, I am aware that any barrier is a problem both for the learner and the teacher/tutor/trainer/coach.

But, you have nevertheless brought forward some dinkum posturings here. I thank you for the opportunity to respond to these.

I'm so anxious about it I can't focus, so I'll appear superior.”
This posturing is a form of protection for the learner who probably isn’t as anxious as they might make out. I see it as an easy out and saves the learner from the effort of trying to learn.

Appearing superior usually means the would-be-learner rises above the whole potential learning experience and becomes more interested in being seen to be knowledgeable than being seen to be concerned about what they don't know. It’s not unlike my first example “I’m expected to know all this and I can’t show my ignorance.”

I can see why it's important to some, but not to me, so shine it on.”
If this can be identified, the pitch is to convince that what’s to be learnt is important to the learner. This is close to the sales pitch a commercial business representative adopts.

The learner doesn’t necessarily have a closed mind to learning, more akin to a closed mind to buying, though some may argue that these are related and the one excludes the other. The “so shine it on” signifies that the would-be-learner is at least willing to spend time, even if it's just to be entertained.

You haven't convinced me this is important, so why bother.”
Identifying this tells that there’s more than just a deal of convincing needed here. The “why bother” bit signifies that the otherwise-learner would rather be doing something else.

This is perhaps the most difficult posturing of the three to overcome, and is not unlike, though not as belligerent as “the hostile training group” that Janet speaks of.

Catchya later