Education is an individual journey and the educator needs to help in the journey

In the last post, I discussed how education is an individual journey.  In this post, I wish to extend this concept further, but from the educator perspective.  I discuss how the educator could engage with individual learning styles to assist the student gain educational mastery.

Mastery is an interesting term.  According to Bloom (1968) students can master what they are taught and it “is the task of instruction to fond the means which will enable our students to master the subject under consideration”.  Bloom asserts that to assist the student in achieving mastery, educators must “search for the methods and materials which enable the largest proportion of our students to attain such mastery.”

From my own educational journey, I attribute my success to finding out how I best learn and engaging with learning material and tasks with my preferred learning modality.  I was able to engage with this modality while undertaking formal learning, and by incorporating the knowledge into what I know and what I do, by being how I am.

The construct of identifying and engaging with a dominant learning modality is contentious in the education sector.  So much so, with some, that when I proposed to do my doctoral thesis on this topic, I ran into many, many roadblocks and was eventually coerced away from this to my current topic of critical thinking.

Notwithstanding this resistance, I have, over the past 8 or so years, spent more time focussing on individual learning modalities when I teach.  To save space and time, you can look at Fleming’s work on VARK here; or Kolb’s Learning Styles here, as examples of individual learning styles.

I favour the VARK approach as it relates to the individual and works with who they are.  This is not to say that others are not efficacious, but I have had great success having people engage with VARK and engage with a structured approach to learning.  (VARK is built upon the works of Richard Bandler and John Grinder’s NLP.  I was exposed to NLP in the mid 1980s and somehow the bits I this work have crept into my teaching approach).  I have also had great success, personally and with others, in utilising some principles of SuperLearning.

Again this approach is controversial, but I know of over 250+ students I have worked with over the past 7 years who have been successful in their studies and achieving mandatory pass marks.

For those who do not know me, I teach at a state-based police academy in Australia.  Our mandatory pass mark is 70%.  Failure at attaining this mark twice in an educational phase may result in your employment ending.  This higher than average pass mark, combined with the amount of information, skills, and practicums that are squeezed in over 33 weeks creates a significant amount of pressure and stress.  Especially for those who have not been in a formal learning environment for some time.  Given the future occupational demands and the short time we have to engage with them, it is imperative that educators need to find ways to reach students to assist them in developing mastery of a subject/topic.

Our mode of presentation for law and policy is primarily lecture.  While it is acknowledged that other educational methods are also appropriate and effective, time is our enemy.  To ensure I engage the learners in my room, I have developed various methods to ensure I speak and act across the learning spectrum of visual, audio, read/write, kinesthetic.  This includes the use of the oft dreaded PowerPoint.

My PowerPoints, in the main, are used by me as an aide memoir and contains key words and prompts for me and the students.  I have also integrated videos, YouTube clips, real-life scenarios mostly based on court cases, visual and emotional prompts and questioning of the students.  I allow the students to draw on their personal life experience and guide them to the correct understanding and application of the law and policy based on their experience.  I use humour, stories, and my personal experiences to get them to not only understand, but be able to apply the law and policy appropriately.  Most recently I have started to call my approach, Shock and Awe Edutainment.  I am certainly different to most instructors – I suppose on many levels.

I often cringe at educators who state “I don’t use PowerPoint, because I am tired of death by PowerPoint”.  I often think that this approach is selfish, as it makes it about the educator and not the student.  My response is generally, “well how unfortunate for your visual students who may be disadvantaged by not having something on the screen to reference when they are teaching”.  This often causes them to bristle, and I move on before conflict ensues.

The approach I have developed appears to me to be the most efficacious manner to reach all of the students in the shortest possible time.  But, as I am concerned about the students, I often wonder if what I am doing is truly an effective educational approach.  Yes, people pass our exam; most squads pass with a consistent average mark over 80% (even if someone fails to make 70%).  But, as I also argue, passing an exam is only one measure of teaching success.

But as I do what I do, not for me, but for them and I always wonder whether the students have been able to integrate the learning into their day-to-day operation.  Have I made an impact?  Will they get it right when the time comes to ‘do it’?

Most recently, I have had some positive reassurance that my approach works.  Early this year I worked with a large group of recruits to assist them in identifying their dominant learning preference, and guiding them through the after-hours revision and learning with a structure that helps them to chunk the revision down into meaningful tasks.  A few weeks ago, the squad finished all of their exams with an average over all exams of 90% – a very impressive result.  While they put in the effort and got the marks, several indicated that if it wasn’t for my assistance and the approach I demonstrated they honestly felt that they would not have made it.  I have also had a number of students from my TAFE days I run into recount stories from my classroom, what they learnt, and how they have practically applied the learning.

This is both humbling and reaffirming.  But as each squad is full of different personalities, I need continually adjust to each new group.  I wonder how many other educators do this?

So, what do you think?  Think back over your learning journey, when did you find learning easy?  Was it because the educator engaged you?  If so, how?  If you are an educator, what do you do to reach your students?

Let me know in the comments area.

Until next time, stay safe.

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