It’s not the Teaching, it’s the Learning

It’s not the teaching, it’s the learning! There is a new paradigm in teaching and learning. Since the nineties, studies on teaching styles have broadly categorized teaching in three educational approaches. At one extreme, we have teachers who are centered on transmitting their knowledge. In other words, they think in terms of how much time they have to deliver their knowledge. Their main concern is about covering all the required subjects in their field in order to reach the expected learning outcomes. I am not saying that this right or wrong, but from what I’ve observed as an educational developer, this approach often engenders a sort of “survival attitude” for new faculty who have to put all their energy into their teaching and cannot focus on the students’ learning perspective.

This approach may evolve to the next one, in the middle of this scheme, which focuses on organization. How can I add activities to my teaching plan to force students to become active in the classroom? How can I engage them so that they cannot stay passive during my course? Has it ever happened to you to attend a workshop in which lots of activities were expected but in the end nothing much is left ? In a way, this is a transformational teaching style which hopefully leads the teacher to the third possibility.

In the third category, teachers don’t focus on transmitting knowledge or organizing activities in the classroom. Instead, they make find ways to make sure that learning happens. These teachers ask themselves questions such as “How can I check that my students are learning what they are supposed to learn in my class?” and “How will we evaluate and assess their learning together?” With this approach, a teacher who observes that the students are lost after 15 minutes will stop and try to find other ways to make sure the learning happens.

Some similar studies have been conducted to observe students’ learning styles. Here again, we can roughly make the distinction between three categories of learning: surface, strategic, and deep.

  • Surface learning is mainly observed among students who tend to minimize effort and personal investment or among students who don’t know how to learn any other way. Indeed, this type of learning may be the result of the student’s belief that this is how learning happens. Such students’ main objective is being able to regurgitate the material through rote learning, thinking that this is what is expected by their professor!
  • Strategic learning is mainly observed among students who are motivated but who don’t necessarily give meaning to their learning path. Their main objective is above all to be successful, even if passing exams implies adopting a surface learning approach.
  • Deep learning is mainly observed among students who are motivated and who try to give meaning to their learning path. They aim at not only passing exams but also gaining personal and intellectual development!

In today’s rapidly changing world, the ability to acquire deep knowledge and skills is more important than compiling a static knowledge.          As faculty, our task is also to teach our students how to learn how to become efficient in their learning and how to become self-regulated learners.

Never forget that most student learning occurs outside the classroom. This is both humbling and reassuring for the beginning teacher! In the end, what is important is learning, not teaching!




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