Experiential Learning

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Experience Trumps Theory: Reviving the Apprenticeship Model, click for article.

Now here is an article that I can really relate to: Author and entrepreneur, Scott Belsky compares the effectiveness of today’s education system to apprenticeships.There was a time  when the majority of jobs were based on the apprenticeship model and training took place in real time on the job. The instructor is a master of the trade with the role of a mentor taking on the training of less experienced apprentices. Practical work-based experience replaces classroom theory and valuable lessons are learned through trial and error.

In modern times the apprenticeship system still exists but mostly in the trades sector. The point of this article is that perhaps adapting more of the experiential learning that comes from real-world, hands-on training could greatly benefit the classroom aspect.Perhaps giving college credit for experience gained out of school and making internships more of a integrated part of the overall program to encourage legitimate work and life experience. A co-op is a structured method of combining classroom-based education with practical work experience and is also a way to provide academic credit for work-based experience.

‘As we moved more learning into the classroom, we compromised the intense learning that happened in the field.’

Belsky also explains a ratio he learned of with regards to leadership development:

‘The 70/20/10 model for leadership development. The model suggests that, when it comes to training leaders, only 10 percent happens in a classroom through formal instruction, 20 percent is all about feedback exchange and coaching, and a whopping 70 percent is experiential.’

This is an interesting way to look at the development of leaders and perhaps the type of apprenticeship that I am familiar with as a carpenter may have a similar ratio of theory, training and practice. As an instructor, it will be important for me to focus on the experience based learning that student apprentices are accustom to, especially when teaching the drier theory side of the trade. I chose a trade as I was not keen on going to school and I feel that is a common attitude among tradespeople. Utilizing past experiences, promoting observation and reflection will be a valuable way to teach apprentice carpenters as they most likely prefer a job site or shop over the classroom learning.

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Cognitive Science for Learning

 

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The Feynman Technique 

During my initial research on cognitive science, I was struggling to find  an article that I could really relate to. I took to finding inspiration from fellow students of the PIDP 3100 by reading various blogs and learned of Richard Feynman from Brent DiGiuseppe’s blog, Never Stop Learning.

Richard Feynman was a well-known, Noble Prize winning theoretical physicist who assisted in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. Ranked as one of the top ten scientists of all time by British journal  Physics World, Feynman developed a simple mental model to help learn, remember and simplify concepts.

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What I really like about this method is that it is any easy and effective way to teach yourself and or others using four quite simple steps.

1 Chose a concept: Chose a concept or idea that you may not fully understand, write it down .

2 Practice teaching or explaining the concept: Once you have a basic understanding of the concept write the explanation down in a way that you would explain this new knowledge to someone else. This will help solidify the points that you fully understand and give you a chance to review anything that is more of a challenge.

3 Identify gaps and refer to source material: If you are struggling with any part of the concept go back to the books or any lecture notes to ensure a full understanding in order to explain what you know.

4 Review and simplify: Read and review your concept explanation and keep in mind that simple wording is more effective than wordy text book style description. Read aloud as if you are teaching your concept to class that is unfamiliar with the information that you offer. Creating an analogy is also a good way to help visualize a concept by simplifying the language into a more familiar format.

I could see myself adapting the Feynman technique to my own learning and to instructing others. These 4 steps will be very helpful in understanding more complicated theories of adult learning.When it comes to instruction I will use this model to ensure that my explanation of carpentry methods and theory is simple and effective. It would be good practice for me to follow these steps to ensure that I am comfortable with the classroom topic delivery and capable of presenting it without causing any confusion to my students.

For more info read this article on the Feynman Technique-Scott H Young.

Motivation in Adult Education

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As adults, what motivates us to learn ? This is something I have been asking myself for a while as I struggle to find the motivation to write this blog post ! Yes, it is late and yes I have the holiday season as an excuse (sort of). But now it’s crunch time and I have set a goal that I need to see through. As students in the PID program, we have a common goal to learn how to effectively teach a skill set that we have been passionate about for some time. At times it can be a challenge to push through on your own but the reward is well worth it as you improve on yourself during the process.

I am typically not drawn to the top ‘however many’ list style articles but Get Your Audience Pumped: 30 Ways to Motivate Adult Learners has many great strategies. Without getting too deep and philosophical about motivation, this article by   

Here are the top 3 that stood out for me as ways to motivate that I could use as an Instructor.

1. Create useful and relevant learning experiences. Adult learners appreciate immediate relevancy. It’s a great incentive when training is immediately valuable and helpful to one’s work or personal life.

2. Build community through social technologies for learning. Implement a social media strategy as part of a learning experience. Use social networking applications and services to build groups with a common interest or goal. Sharing knowledge and experience through informal networks is a motivating and natural way to learn.

3. Create an experience, not just a course. What can you do to make a course unforgettable? Create an online and offline learning experience. Market your course to the audience to create buzz, get buy-in from key people, throw a related event, incorporate sophisticated activities to enhance learning, provide personal support for those having difficulty and provide follow-up.

What I have gathered from this list of suggestions as a whole is that it is important to make learning an experience rather than a chore. When students are engaged and actively learning, motivation comes naturally. As an Instructor I will need to develop methods to make regular course material lively and interesting. It will be crucial to keep the audience captivated therefore motivated and coming back for more.

Skype conversation with my PIDP learning partner.

Last weekend I spoke with Jennifer, my learning partner via Skype. We had a nice chat about our first month of the PIDP 3100 Foundations of Adult Education course discussing how we are both managing to complete our assignments while also maintaining full-time jobs.

Jennifer is an instructor of Physics who has earned a PhD and has years of experience as a post-doctoral researcher. We have vastly different backgrounds with the common goal of learning to be adult educators. Jennifer’s path to adult instruction is that of a long-term student dedicated to a scholarly path compared to my route as a journeyman carpenter via an apprenticeship and work-based training.

One of the adult education trends Jennifer has utilized in her field is that of exploratory learning. In her specific example of this, she explained to me how in a lab situation her students would be provided with only the tools and material needed for the lab. The steps to complete the lab are not provided and therefore the students are required to pull from what they know to teach themselves the concepts needed to conduct the lab at hand. This was a style of learning that I could relate to and would also enjoy using in a carpentry class in the future. I could specify an example of a building project ( ie: a scale size floor frame system) and provide the tools and materials but the students would have to come up with the steps and process to achieve a finished project.

Jennifer’s roles and responsibilities changed from when she started at the college and was just putting on labs to slowly moving into teaching the lecture components of some of the courses as well. As lectures can tend to be somewhat dry and one-sided Jennifer found that she was keen to involve more lab interaction into the theory portion of the course. Jennifer also recently became “regularized” faculty and therefore has more of a permanent position with her college. With that position comes more time and responsibility of course management including designing her own assignments and tests.

For me, pretty much everything will change once I take on any teaching or training as it will all be a new and completely different to what I do for work. I have a lot to learn about how to instruct the theory side of my trade in a classroom setting. I really look forward to taking all that I learn from the PIDP and applying it to instructing in the real world.

 

Creating a positive learning environment

 

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Creating a positive, safe and respectful learning environment might be, in my opinion, the most important first step. Giving students a sense of community within the classroom can help build self-esteem and promote self-efficacy, commonly defined as the belief in one’s capabilities to achieve a goal or an outcome. Positive support from the instructor and classmates can be crucial for a student to succeed. More on Self-Efficacy:

I have learned some valuable ideas from this article on a supportive learning environment and I plan to put them into practice in my classroom. I really like the idea of promoting a strong classroom community by intentionally building networks and supportive relationships right from the first day of class. Pairing up students or using small groups and even entire class activities right away to promote interaction between students and instructor to form connections and achieve a feeling of comfort.

For myself as a potential carpentry instructor I may have a class of apprentices with a variety of different work related backgrounds. Also, carpentry courses tend to be only six weeks long so the turn over of new students is high. It would greatly benefit myself and my students to start each course session with introductions where students could talk about their related background and discuss which type of carpentry they would like to specialize in. This would work as an initial ice breaker and quick insight into each students history with the aim to build on the class communication through the entire course.

Another idea discussed is connecting students with the greater community via field trips, guest speakers and current event discussions. Taking class trips to different types of job sites from residential to heavy industrial would be a good way to do this and may help the student relate to each others different backgrounds. Perhaps taking a tour of a lumber mill to see how wood is processed to open up the discussion of efficiency in material usage. Having local building inspectors speak to the class with a question and answer period could be good practice in building confidence and communication with municipal representatives.

These are just a few practical examples to encourage a supportive  learning environment but there are endless ways to keep the classroom positive. As an Instructor it will be my duty to provide a welcome, encouraging and positive learning environment that will motivate students and help build the confidence they need to be successful.

Creating a Safe and Supportive Learning Environment

Characteristics of Adult Learners

It is no secret that adults are vastly different from children therefore the ways that they learn needs to reflect these differences. A child is pretty much dependent until thinking for ones self is discovered. As adults we desire a more independent, self-directed style of learning in which the responsibility of teaching and evaluation is shared between teacher and student. A mature student is typically rich in life experience and values and has chosen the path of education to grow and expand on this existing foundation. An internal motivation exists that gives an adult learner the appetite to gain more relevant knowledge that can be used to solve problems that may come up at work or in life.

When it becomes my time to instruct there is a good chance that a majority of apprentices may be younger adults. As much as it is hard for me to admit, social media will likely be a viable tool to help keep a younger generation entertained. A class page where students can post and discuss relevant topics, bringing their own ideas, interests and concepts to the discussion would be possible route.

The art of swapping stories from the job site along with sharing tricks of the trade that have been learned in the field could be a practical and engaging way to have students learn from each others experience. Semi-formal discussion on the variety of ways to  do the job would be an interesting way to learn, build confidence and get to know fellow students.

Trends in Adult Education

Sometimes the toughest part about being an adult learner may be just taking that initial plunge and getting started. For most people there already isn’t enough time in a day for life’s responsibilities and the thought of adding the load of a course or any additional training can be daunting. On top of the time there is the factor of money for tuition and books, perhaps time away from your current job. There is some risk involved in continuing your education as an adult and it most certainly can be looked at as an investment. For some lower skilled workers with minimal qualifications the risk and investment may seem too much whereas a higher skilled adult may be more inclined to take advantage of job-related training.

As this article by Torben Drewes and Tyler Meredith suggests, it is easier for younger adult learners to receive financial assistance. Their study presents a fictitious example comparing two families with similar incomes and assets and shows how the ratio of financial need covered by an aid package can be a fair amount less for a mature student.

I would have to agree that changes could be made to increase the access to Adult Education for the ones that need it the most. Fully understanding the needs unique to Adults is essential. Ensuring loans and grants are available as well as reasonable to afford on a lower income in order to gain the skills to become more valuable in the work force. An apprenticeship program overhaul that would make trade school more efficient and practical would also be a welcome change.

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