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Training for Learning

I wrote this for my university MA program. Here you will find a little bit about my life and my training and teaching philosophy.

In my daily work, well, in most of my daily work, I am in training sessions training 20 to 30 teachers to teach pre-school to grade 6 students. In university, from the 3 approaches to learning presented in Ertmer & Newby’s paper, Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing Features From an Instructional Design Perspective (2013) I studied Behaviorism specifically, though any undergrad year one introductory Psychology courses introduce all the theories presented. In my own approach to professional training I am more grounded in the constructivist camp than in those of cognitivism or Behaviorism.

I find the constructivist approach the most effective for training a diverse group of adults with a large variance in experience, knowledge and skill. The training is quite short, only 8 days, and I need to have active participants who can build upon what they already know and learn through experience during the training sessions. Because the training is quite short, I cannot take time to delve very deeply into the theoretical underpinnings of what I am teaching because there simply isn’t enough time for that. Also, one key element that makes my training effective is learner engagement. Since Constructivism stipulates that people learn through experience, I must provide ample time for trainees to apply the basic knowledge I have provided to the most realistic scenarios as possible. I need new teachers to “learn by doing” with a chance to reflect, receive feedback from myself and their peers, and then reflect some more. I am always looking for their “ah-ha” moments that show me they can understand how to apply the goal of the lesson to their own situation and experience within the training environment all with the goal of transference to the real-world classroom they encounter on a daily basis.

As for who I am training them to teach, 3 – 11 year old Chinese students, I focus developing teachers that are capable of applying Behaviorist principles in regards to classroom management, discipline, and motivation and reward scenarios and on cognitivism in regards to achieving learning outcomes. The reason I focus on these two theoretical frameworks is simple; the ages and abilities of the students require quite active behavioral discipline and classroom management for which behaviorism’s focus on rewards, reinforcements, and motivation to elicit desired responses not only works, it’s the easiest to implement, especially with pre-school children. Many of these same principles work great in explaining effective classroom activity design as well. As for cognitivism, I find that most useful in explaining how children learn and allows me to focus teachers on instilling skills in their young learners rather than knowledge that must be memorized. I want teacher to teach skills that students can, on their own, apply to new things and information as they encounter it. In other words, I want teachers to teach highly transferable skills rather than memorizable information.

Merrill’s paper, First Principles of Instruction (2002), I found quite good. Its focus on definition of learning, principles, and instructional phases, and with their application to real world training programs was quite easy to understand. As for the meat of the paper, it is my contention that “problem based learning” is the most valuable take away from the piece. In my own training, I see that I have followed this approach quite clearly. I use problems to get trainees to think and then collaboratively come up with solutions on a more than daily basis. In an effort to set up training on day one as efficiently and effectively as possible, I start with the activation phase by getting all participants to discuss a set of questions regarding previous teaching experience and their favorite aspects of teaching. The reasoning for this is twofold. One, I want them to realize where they and their new colleagues are starting from, and two, I want to know who my audience is so I can predict exactly what problems and abilities I will encounter over the 8 days I have them. For demonstration, I and my learners supply demonstrations on a daily basis. After each and every one, I provide time for trainee feedback and when it is their demonstration that has completed, I follow-up with my own. This gives everyone involved a chance to reflect. As the training progresses, each day’s knowledge and feedback is built on the previous.

A major theme of my training and of the content I proved is “learn by doing, making mistakes, and reflecting on those mistakes”. Though I do approach my training from a constructivist perspective while training teachers to employ behaviorist and cognitivist approach in the classroom, this theme remains throughout my training in as the example of effective learning both for them and their students. On day 1 after the opening group discussion, I pose the following question to the room: “How do children learn?” After they have discussed and shared their answers (which is another chance for me to assess my trainees and them each other) I move onto a slide with a picture of a bicycle on it and ask them about learning to ride a bike and lead them to “making mistakes” as my favorite answer setting the theme of the training for days to come.

References

Ertmer, P., & Newby, T. (2013). Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 26(2), 43-71.

Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43-59.

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