Processes of Learning and Teaching

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Learning, what a bore! This was how I addressed the daily issue of attending school. If someone had told me then that learning could be fun and I would spend a good part of my adult life involved in ‘voluntary’ learning I would have said they were mad. How wrong was I! On reflection, I can trace my Post-16 learning experiences back to shortly after I left school when I joined the Army in 1985. For the next 10 years I was immersed in the ‘official’ training required for promotion and job related tasks.

This included a combination of military and engineering courses taken at various Army units across the United Kingdom and Germany. I was also surprised to see that there was a 6 year period in which I did not attend any formal training courses. In 2001 I started studying with the Open University (OU) and in 2004 I gained an entry level teaching qualification at a civilian college. In 2004 I was posted into an instructing job where I was required to visit Army units around the world to give varying levels of tuition into the use of an engineering Management Information System (MIS).

I have gained additional, but limited teaching experience at HMS Sultan where I help to fill a long term teaching vacancy. In this assignment I will look at the different learning and teaching methods used during my basic training and how they influenced my attitude and behaviour during my change from a civilian to a trained soldier. I will look at my Artificer training, which was the last formal learning I did before the 6 year break, to discover if any of the learning and teaching methods influenced my decision not to participate in further education.

When discussing the role of the teacher, Reece and Walker (2005) suggest two possible approaches to the design of a teaching program to make learning as quick and easy as possible. The first of these approaches, shown below, is dismissed as having a fundamental drawback but in my opinion captures the essence of how I was taught the core modules of basic soldiering when I was a ‘raw’ recruit. ‘A programme …. derived from an analysis of the students …. vocational needs which is implemented by you in such a controlled and organised manner that the student is almost certain to learn and is aware when the earning has taken place. ‘ (Reece and Walker, 2005, p3)

The military programme I undertook was derived from the vocational needs of a trained soldier. The job of the military instructors was to change and mould the behaviour of a large group of civilians in such a way that we became the trained soldiers required by the Army. The teaching methods employed many of the Behaviourist tools to change and mould my behaviour and attitude. In some lessons the learning was achieved by using a number of measurable short term targets whilst working towards the overall requirement.

The instructors frequently gave rewards for reaching the short term targets but would also punish poor performance. This ‘conditioning’ quickly shaped our behaviour and approach to the tasks in hand and we were soon motivated by the rewards (or lack of punishment) as much as achieving the required end state. Other skills, in particular Weapon Handling which ensures safe and speedy correction of a number of weapon faults, were taught using Rote Learning. The instructors were only interested in the learners memorizing the drills and retrieving the knowledge when necessary.

Each drill was repeated over and over again until it could be repeated at will and only then was the next drill introduced to the learners. As a learning experience this was not the most enjoyable time but as a teaching method it was ideal. Although this method of teaching required no original thought from the learner and there was no time given to process the information, the continuous repetition of the drills further conditioned me to react unconsciously to any given weapon state and edged me toward the final aim of firing a weapon safely.

But there must be more, I am more than a civilian who has been taught map reading, weapon training and other similar subjects. ‘I have five lessons to teach, what lessons they learn is entirely up to them. ‘ Nanny McPhee, 2005 The quote mentioned above was used by the character ‘Nanny McPhee’ to imply that some lessons are learned without there being a conscious awareness of the requirement to learn. The context of the quote (and the short conversation before) further implied that there may not be any knowledge of how lessons are being learned and without there being any knowledge that a lesson has been learned (until after the fact).

This approach to learning falls into the field of Behaviourism and generally describes the way I learned the attitudes and mental awareness required of a soldier. Whilst the basic training was structured I believe that there was a change in the teaching methods used on future military courses. My basic training was organised along the lines of the product/objectives model developed by Ralph Tyler (1971) with its ‘behavioral targets’ (Armitage et al, 2003, p201) but for me the future military skills courses more closely followed the process model developed by Lawrence Stenhouse (1975) (Armitage et al, 2003, p202).

The Stenhouse model changes the emphasis of the learning experience from a ‘listen I will tell you how to do it’ to a two-way interaction where the learners own experiences can be used to understand the new material. The common area however, is that the instructor remains the subject matter expert (SME) but Stenhouse saw the benefits of using their experiences and judgement as a means of increasing the learners understanding. My Senior Military Certificate (SMC) course gave me a good insight to this type of learning experience.

The course is delivered by ex-Infantrymen from various Battalions who bring a wide range of experience and are able to give the new and unfamiliar subject matter an edge of reality. The ‘how’ part of the process (Stenhouse) model allowed room for the instructors to develop the delivery to meet the learner’s requirements which sometimes meant that other learners voiced personal experiences. These changes in styles (instructors versus other learner) meant that my learning style was usually catered for.

As an after thought, I can see how one of the more experienced learners would say this course was nearer to a mix of the process model and the content model (Armitage et al, 2003, p202) because this model discusses the development of knowledge not necessarily an objective. Their existing knowledge was no doubt expanded and developed, at times beyond the course requirements. Becoming an electronics engineer was the main reason I joined the Army and I approached my Basic Engineering course full of anticipation and high levels of personal motivation.

As with my military training, my engineering training was a mix of formal courses and field experience which culminated with my Artificer course that put me at top of the trade tree. It was after completing this course that I took the next 6 years out of education vowing, for one, never to complete a degree. On reflection I think there were two areas of the course that made me feel this way and put some major barriers to learning up in my mind. Firstly the lecturers failed to enthuse me with any interest in the subjects and secondly the teaching methods left me unfulfilled with regard to understanding the material.

This course has discussed professionalism and introduced me to a number of teaching models that has allowed me to recognise the areas where the Artificer course did not make learning an enjoyable experience for me. Hoyle (1974) (PGCE Course Notes) talks about professionalism in terms of ‘strategies and rhetorics’ and goes on to discuss professionality in terms of ‘knowledge, skills and procedures’. As they stand I disagree with Hoyles’ definitions because he only talks in terms of external attributes and not in terms of human attributes and I don’t like the way Hoyle has grouped different attributes under two terms.

I think professionalism is a combination of all these external, learnable attributes plus those that make up a teacher as an individual. My idea of professionalism agrees with that Peter G. Clamp (1990 pp 53-56) who views professionalism as a state of mind. Among other things he talks about professionalism as ‘… stand[ing] on a firm foundation of attitude and behaviour’. I had a few lecturers on my Artificer Course that had either ‘bad attitude’, ‘poor behaviour’ or both.

Analogue Measurements was notorious for being a dull, mind-numbing subject but after a couple of lessons it was clear that the subject was okay, it was the lecturer’s bad attitude that was the problem. Learning is easier and more exciting when the lecturer involves the learners in the process. Two way communications via questions or open discussions are great ways to involve learners. My Analogue Measurements lecturer viewed questions as a sign of poor intelligence or the result of day dreaming and open discussion as a time wasting exercise.

The lessons soon took on a monotonous routine with some of the learners (including me) not grasping the idea of the subject and, sadly not having a method of exploring our lack of knowledge. This lecturer would often turn up late and on more than one occasion a bit tipsy following a pub lunch. This poor behaviour further reduced our respect for this individual but also reflected badly on the school as it appeared to be overlooked or worse accepted. Another particular lecturer appeared nervous and uncomfortable in front of the class.

He would talk to the floor instead of addressing the class, fidget when asked questions and he could not confront a learner who disagreed with his theories. His apparent lack of self confidence or disinterest in his own lesson meant we as learners quickly lost interest and motivation to learn this module. The lack of motivation spread to all areas of the subject and affected presentation and homework deadlines which were often missed without concern of any repercussions. However, my Artificer course lecturers did not all fall into these categories and many demonstrated high levels of professionalism in many different ways.

Clamp talks of a ‘Professional’ as someone who demonstrates professionalism in terms of competency, integrity and reliability. However, lecturers who turned up on time, demonstrated enthusiasm about their subject and was approachable made some of the lessons a pleasure to take. The other thing about my Artificer course I did not enjoy was the amount of time given to some of the subject and generally the whole course. It was said, and I have no evidence to prove it, that it would have taken 3 years to qualify as an Artificer Electronics if it were taught in a civilian college instead of the 14 months we were given.

The Advanced Electronics (AE) phase of the course was made up of nine modules (such as Analogue Measurements mentioned above) and lasted about seven months. Our timetable was a never ending jumble of these subjects and each lesson continuously blurred into the next. During this module of the PGCE course I have had the chance to read about many different learning theories but the one which caught my attention most was Klas Mellandors’ (1993) Learning Spiral. I read some articles about the five-stage learning spiral and found it related to some of the more enjoyable subjects I have learned and generally the style used on my Artificer course.

So why did I not enjoy some of the learning? Why did some subjects appear herder than others? The answer lies in the application of Mellandors’ spiral. On a modular course, such as my AE phase, it is important that the spiral is used to lead the learner from one subject to the next. If the application stage is used properly it can be used to lead the learner smoothly and logically into the next subject. This was not the case on my Artificer course where the modules were delivered haphazardly and no motivation toward an end state was obvious. The other glaring non-compliance with learning spiral was the time given to the Conclusion phase.

This phase should be used to allow the learner to fit the newly gained information into the existing knowledge and only then, Mellandor believes, does the new information become learned. I was never given any time to allow the information to sink in however I did get lots of examples to do. This makes me think that my tutors were using the old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ but whilst I was good at doing examples the information never sunk in for me to apply the knowledge reliably in other situations. Throughout my Post-16 learning experiences I have experienced many types of formative and summative assessment.

I have had oral assessments, practical assessments, multiple-choice, long answer, short answer and a combination of all these and other types. Brown et al (1996) discussed assessment as ‘a multi-faceted process that has several aims’ but my experiences have led to see assessment more as ‘a doubled edged sword’. One side of my sword is my ‘learning perspective’ of assessment and the other side my ‘teaching perspective’ of assessment. As a learner I have determined the requirement for assessment on the majority of courses I have taken falls in three main areas.

The formative assessment I have taken has provided me with a pass/fail result with an associated graded mark and the summative assessment as a means to gain an academic award or certification of competence. As a teacher I continue to see the validity of the academic and competence requirements but in addition I recognise that assessment can be used for feedback and evaluation purposes. By giving a learner useful and informative feedback on an assessment the teacher is providing them a formal acknowledgement of the standard of their learning and understanding.

I have used assessment and in particular the learner pass/fail ratio as a means to evaluate the effectiveness of my lessons. On a course I recently taught the pass/fail ratio was very poor and this led to me taking a long hard look at how I was performing. This situation fits nicely into the critical incident model described below. A personal (micro) event or experience that is surprising or extraordinary that brings about a shift in the way you think about and/or changes your practice.

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