Education is about developing know’en, not just knowing.

Welcome to 2015.

As I sit here and I type, I am thinking about my week.  I have returned home from spending a few days interstate and conducting a one day workshop on “understanding and engaging the adult learner” for instructing staff in a government training school.  The aim was to have instructional staff recognise the value of facilitation and engagement with learners, rather than the traditional didactic evangelical instructional technique.  You know what I mean.  Where the instructor stands behind a lectern, opens the book, and reads aloud like a Sunday sermon.

This was not a university or technical school or college, and therefore operates differently to those institutions.  The students elect to attend the school for career placement and development as part of their employment, and therefore bound by the rules and structures of their employment.  The syllabus is packed tightly in line with organisational necessities.  There is little time between topics for reflection and discussion say through a tutorial, or to revisit the topic by sitting in on another lecture.

During the workshop I met a group of dedicated, wonderful, passionate, and committed adult educators.  Even those who may not have fully embraced the construct of engagement clearly demonstrated that they cared so much about their students and the final ‘product’ (the student) they produce.  The school trains people in a specific role and the training and successful completion is compulsory.  So, in that environment students will learn – as I was told – “what they are told, when they are told, and how they are told”.

This statement led to an interesting conversation that can be best summarised as follows.  If I study what I am told, and I pass the required assessment task, am I only demonstrating an understanding and comprehension of the material at a surface level, and have I demonstrated that I only competent, but not capable?

I refer to this difference as ‘knowing’ and ‘know ’en’.  Knowing is surface level understanding.  I can know what is taught, I can apply it to the situations presented, and I can answer the exam/assessment questions to demonstrate to the instructor I can recall what they taught; but may not be able to create synergistic links between that topic and previous or future topics.

Know ‘en is learning at a deeper level.  At this level students not only comprehend the material and demonstrate my comprehension by discussing the new learning and linking it to past experiences, previous course topics and can envisage how future topics may link to this new topic.  In fact the understanding is such that they can generalise the new learning to a variety of situations and scenarios that they may not have encountered, but imagined through scenarios and/or case studies.

So, how do we encourage the movement from knowing to know‘en?  I suggested engagement techniques such as drawing on past experiences of the instructional staff and the students to tell stories.  Humans by nature are story tellers.  Think about all the times you sat with your parents/grandparents/ aunts and uncles and listen to how hard their life was and how we have it much better.  Then they go on to tell you about they managed to do things before technology and so on.  This is a form of learning; we learn our personal history from those times sitting and I bet you relay them to your children.  So, why not use this method to teach occupational learning?

Another tool I left them with was something I developed for my occupational students, which I have called the “one-step, two outcomes” approach.  For example, if a police officer requests to see your driver’s licence, that is the action.  The two possible outcomes are you 1) you produce our licence, or 2) you don’t.  If you do produce the licence, then the next action is to determine if it is valid.  The two possible outcomes are 1) yes it is, or 2) no it is not. And so on, and so on.

This approach leads the student though the required steps methodologically, and ensures nothing is missed, operationally and legally.  I have found this model very beneficial as it reflects exactly what happens in the field.  It may seem simple, but I have found that it quickly assists the students to develop a cognitive flow chart, and link the actions and responses to the appropriate legal or organisational protocols.

The other interesting thing with this approach is that it works for almost any topic.  I challenge you to try it.  If you do, let me know.  Also, if you have any other cool tools, tips or techniques, let me know.

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