3. Session Reflection: Theories of learning follow from philosophical questions about education.

Watching Dallas McPheeter’s film ‘5000 Year Timeline of Learning Theories’ has given me a new appreciation for the way teaching has, and continues to evolve. Gaining a broader comprehension of learning theories has helped me evaluate and understand my own teaching practices and the impact this has on my students.

The theories of learning that resonate with me the most are ‘Hands on Learning’ and ‘Adaptive Learning’. I feel these theories are the most relevant to the type of work I do and I believe I can continue to utilise them in my own practice as a Learning Support worker.

The below quote best summarises my interpretation of ‘Hands on Learning’:

“If you tell me, I will listen. If you show me, I will see,
but if you let me experience, I will learn” – (500 B.C. China Lao – Tse)

Although this statement was made in relation to apprenticeships I believe it is also relevant in today’s educational context. It describes the notion that when a person is encouraged to experience something for themselves they are more likely to benefit than when they are simply shown or told.  This is one of the key philosophies that John Dewey describes in his 1920 text ‘How We Think’. In his version Dewey uses the concept of ‘Abstract’ and ‘Concrete’ thought to describe the same principle.

In ‘Learning Styles and Learning Spaces’ Kolb & Kolb also make a similar observation when they state, ‘making space for students to take control of and responsibility for their learning can greatly enhance their ability to learn from experience’.

Lao-Tse, Dewey and Kolb & Kolb’s points all describe clearly the idea of ‘Hands on Learning’ and emphasise how important it is in the development of our students. Hands on Learning has often been the most beneficial method for my students, however I have experienced situations where individuals have found this approach difficult to implement on their own. It is our responsibility as teachers to provide our students with the necessary tools to think and learn in a reflective way, but we must also remain aware that this approach does not suit everyone. In some cases, a combination of abstract and concrete learning will achieve the best results.

Howard Gardener suggests ‘our intelligence is measured vertically rather than as a general set of abilities meaning that teaching should be adapted depending on the learner.’

 The study of personality theories has been conducted for many centuries, however more recently it is Gardener who has expanded the study a great deal. He has identified seven key learning styles that demonstrate the diversity of student learning. I have found Gardener’s theories very relatable and interesting to research. I find he explained his discoveries in a clear manner which is easy to understand.

By devising the seven key learning styles Garnder aims to educate us that teaching must be tailored to suit the learner’s needs – we cannot rely on one format for every student. For example as someone who is creative and dyslexic I find the Visual-Spatial and Bodily-Kinesthetic styles of learning to be the most suited to me. At the beginning of this course I found the research and writing formats a particular challenge and I believe I will find the observational and practical expects much easier to process.

What is happening now and beyond? (a mix of the two)

Technology is informing the way we learn therefore it affects the way we teach. Technological advances and constant internet access provides us with infinite information at our fingertips. However as Aoun. J suggests we must understand not only what technologies can do but what it cannot.’

I believe because information has become so obtainable we as a society only consume it on a skin-deep level. Technology is now a mainstay in the educational world and we have the ability to know anything at any time. Although undoubtedly beneficial in some capacity I believe that this ease of learning means we have become complacent with what information we retain.

As teachers we should show our students that information goes beyond a cognitive state. Rather than searching for instant solutions we should encourage our students to use divergent thinking skills when responding to a brief. This deeper approach to learning allows students to not only obtain a good understanding of the facts but also gain the tools to use information to gain more knowledge. Eventually this will mean that students learn as much from a process as they do from an outcome.

This method links to constructivism and active learning theories which state that students are not ‘blank slates’ – they have knowledge that teachers are to identify and build on.

 

Kolb, A. and D.A. Kolb. (2005) Learning styles and learning spaces: Enhancing experiential learning in higher education. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 4 (2) 193–212.

https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/kirsten_hardie_final.pdf
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2QtSbP4FRg
http://www.tecweb.org/styles/gardner.html

Inclusive Teaching and Learning – Blog Task 2 – Faith

Religion in Britain- Challenges for Higher Education

‘It would be helpful for academics across many fields and other crucial staff such as counsellors and librarians and managers of residences and administrators supporting courses to have better knowledge of religion in Britain (and in the world) today …It would include better understanding of the way religion has figured in history and how it figures in social relations and policy today as well as of knowledge of different religions themselves.’ Page 20

This point in the text is something I relate to strongly. I am conscious that I do not have a broad understanding of religion in the UK today. As teachers we are always striving to update and gain knowledge in our subjects in an attempt to remain up-to-date with trends, skills and the industry. Unfortunately I do not feel we pay the same attention to broadening our awareness of faiths and religions in the UK today. The stimulus paper entitles Religion in Britain has highlighted to me how important this is. Student interaction is the first step to rectifying this issue. As universities and cohorts get bigger we must not let the lack of contact-time we have with each student affect the value of becoming engaged with their extracurricular lives. As a member of support staff working one-to-one I have the luxury of time to really get to know my students’ needs and preferences and I think this additional connection has had a positive impact on the way I teach.

Alongside focussed discussions at designated times I believe it would be equally valuable to make religion part of open and informal dialogue. One method of achieving this could be the introduction of text and references into the curriculum that encourage the students to learn about all religions. Religion is often talked about and taught in the same context as ethics and values, rather than on its own. As staff we should give the topic of religion more focussed attention and be more aware that it is very much in the ‘public sphere’.

‘…the burden of integration falls disproportionately on the minorities. If their members want to maintain any level of collective identity or solidarity, they have to work at it, while the majority do not.’

As teachers it is our responsibility to create integration within our academic communities. We should be doing this by encouraging multi-focus activities that cover religious (and other) boundaries. If we do not do this we may reduce the learning quality our students receive and perhaps more significantly may affect the connections they make with wider society.

An example of this type of activity is Angela Drisdale Gordon’s ‘Ice Breaker’ case study which can be found on the Religion, Belief and Faith Identities UAL website.  This interactive task encourages students to talk about personal interests and cultural backgrounds. It consists of students asking each other a list of questions and sharing answers with their peers. They cover a wide range of questions from ‘what is in your fridge?’ to ‘do you have a faith?’

This type of activity is a great opportunity for students to explain and share their personal preferences in an informal setting. It can cover topics such as name, gender, ethical viewpoints and religion. It also allows the teachers to be aware of their students’ needs. This is important because teachers are often the first point-of-contact between students and support services. Tutors also have the option of taking part in the exercise which promotes openness and equality between students and tutors.

This a good exercise for my students who often want to explain their identity to the class and would not have the opportunity otherwise. In regard to religion I would agree with Angela’s observation that there is a nervousness around the subject of faith. From my experience people are afraid of not knowing about certain beliefs. This exercise would provide a real opportunity for discussion within a safe space.

I have first-hand knowledge of how such an activity can promote understanding and acceptance among students. My current student was involved in a similar workshop in his first year which concluded with the presentation of a visual response to the questions asked. The 5-minute discussion which followed allowed my student to openly discuss his Asperger’s Syndrome to the rest of the group. He typically finds it very difficult to talk about his disability, but this exercise allowed him the environment to do so.

Both examples show the importance of conversation between peers and teachers to learn more about people’s identities. Aspects of which people sometimes struggle to discuss.

Creed Notes- Kwame Anthony Appiah.

Kwame’s theory that ‘religion is not just a matter of beliefs’ was the message that most resonated with me. Kwame explains that religion can be broken down into three sections; what you do (practice), who you do it with (community) and the body of beliefs.

I believe he is trying to teach that simply viewing a person’s religion by its beliefs can cause us to make assumptions that may not be true. Within every religion there are differing beliefs and values so we must remember to view people as individuals. Kwame enhances this theory by stating that when we focus on a person’s beliefs we overshadow the other two parts – practice and community. Each plays an equally important role in identity. Practice is passed down through family, and traditions can become part of life beyond a set of beliefs.

Kwame states: ‘When fundamentalists of religion say identity requires a set rule of beliefs or fixed readings of scripture they have fallen for the fundamental faculty’. Instead Kwame argues that religion is not simply a ‘set of rules’. Scripture is written in poetic stories that are interpreted and these interpretations change, or in some cases are completely abandoned over time. He uses the example of slavery to demonstrate this point.

Listening to Kwame’s theories has taught me how diligently we must avoid making presumptions around religion. We have a responsibility to avoid making judgments of a person based only on their religious beliefs – every person interprets faith, or lack of it, in a unique way. Taking a student’s beliefs as a means of understanding them would be misleading and damaging. We must remain conscious that religious identities have changed throughout history, as have community values. We must make sure our knowledge and understanding evolves too.