Last term I overheard a teacher conversation on pedagogy:
“It’s all about learning. You don’t talk about teaching anymore.”
I wondered about this. I thought, ‘what am I doing if I’m not teaching?’
It didn’t take me long to sort out the conundrum. It was to do with the perception of a teacher ‘filling jugs’ with learning. I’d never accepted this metaphor. I’d always believed that teaching was closer to learning than the metaphor suggested.
The conversation progressed and centred on the teacher:
There was an involved discussion before some resolution was found on the difference between knowing when something was taught, and recognising if something had been learnt.
Learning is explicitly to do with the learner. Isn’t teaching to do with the learner? Is there a difference between what’s taught and what’s learnt?
This post is about these two related spheres: teaching and learning.
How do you find out what’s already been learnt?
A good teacher asks questions. In introducing a new topic, searching questions are put to the learner to see what resident knowledge and skills abound. In doing this, the teacher may well find out what, if anything, is required to be taught.
It could be that parts have already been learnt. In which case, this exploratory conversation can serve as useful revision. It may also serve as an appropriate introduction to the next part of a lesson.
So it is (and should be) with elearning. By embracing the function of asking questions during an introductory part of a topic, the learner is permitted to establish where competency lies. Opportunity to tackle any associated learning deficiencies can be offered at this stage. Once a compatible group of competencies has been recognised, a learner should then be able to progress swiftly to the next sphere of learning.
How do you know when something's been taught?
The direct presentation of raw information in text or other visual data is so often confused with teaching. Coloured pictures, animations or videos, however well designed and accompanied by notes or other instruction, do not constitute teaching when displayed on their own.
So much more is needed to engage the learner, and to satisfy a learning objective through this engagement. The key to engagement is to ask questions or otherwise provide opportunities for the learner to participate.
There should be a pedagogical progression, interposed by strategic and appropriate occasions for the learner to take part in dialogue about what’s gone before. Exemplary answers are given if and when they’re needed. This so-called formative assessment achieves a number of things relevant to learning:
- assists the learner to think about the topic in context
- provides additional teaching for a learner who may not yet have grasped all of an idea or concept
- can confirm, and give the learner confidence, that learning is happening
- Through questions and associated dialogue a teacher can affirm that something has been taught; it must not be confused with what is learnt.
How do you know what’s taught has been learnt?
In the classroom, a series of questions making up a summative test, together with associated perfunctory aural questioning, can be used to establish the extent of knowledge and skill uptake.
Assessing some skills may require learners to demonstrate visibly the extent of their expertise. This may not be easily achieved in a written test. Assessment of practical skills requires learners to manipulate equipment or make observations from these or to do both.
In elearning, summative assessment can be just as involved. The use of video streaming or video recording, so that learners can demonstrate a skill, such as playing a musical instrument or speaking a language, can be part of summative assessment. Where appropriate, these are incorporated into NCEA assessments of distance learners in New Zealand.
There is an art in designing elearning resources, as there is in teaching.
Learning and good teaching are in balance with one another.
When the student is ready, the master appears – Zen proverb