Creating a Positive Learning Environment

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I’ve recently read a little bit about transformative learning.  While it remains incredibly difficult for me to make a connection between the theory and my current practice (i.e. developing curriculum with transformative learning as a goal and assessing whether transformative learning has occurred) the one thing I can totally get behind is creating a classroom space that helps foster transformative learning opportunities.

I started some research into how to create a positive learning environment and came across an excellent paper called, Maximizing Student Learning Through the Creation of  a Positive Classroom Environment.  I particularly liked the fact that the research was conducted on adults in a post-secondary institution.  While the article is quite lengthy, it really helped address all of the questions I had about the topic.

What I found most interesting about the paper was the results of a survey completed by adult learners about the factors that they believed created a positive learning environment.  As it turned out, the factors that made up the majority of the total points of the survey were “human-centered” (HC) – things like accessibility to the instructor, entertaining environment, and great classmates.  “Academic-centered” (AC) factors only accounted for 35% of the total survey points and included things like great textbooks, computers in the classroom, and great field trips.  This was quite surprising to me because my perception was that it would have been the other way around.

In any event, the top 6 factors that the adult learners believed accounted for a positive learning environment (and the points they scored) were as follows:

  1. Great Instructor (HC)  115
  2. Clear Academic Goals (AC)  103
  3. Challenging Class/Program (AC)  88
  4. Open Communication Throughout the Class (HC)  79
  5. Fair Testing and Grading (HC)  61
  6. Open Discussion (HC)  60 

This shed some really interesting light on positive learning environments, because as it turns out, it’s not so much about what you hang on the walls or how you incorporate technology (though these things can certainly help), what it really comes down to is the human interaction.

Skype Call With My Learning Partner

I just finished a really fruitful discussion with my learning partner, Lauren Ashbee.  (Note: The picture above is for reference only – not a screenshot!)  Despite a pretty hectic travel schedule and a crazy difference in time zones (10 hours apart!) we finally managed to connect.  And I’m glad we did.

We talked about some trends in our respective fields and in adult education.  Things like online and mobile learning platforms – especially MOOCs – WHMIS 2015, and Masters level education in Dental Hygiene.  We thought it all summed up pretty neatly in the fact that training all Canadian workers in the new WHMIS 2015 requirements would be a perfect opportunity for a MOOC!

Because we both work in health sciences, we’re also feeling a push for higher education from our respective professional associations.  This may also prove to be an opportunity for online, self-paced learning since so many of us are already well down our career paths and simply don’t have the time to enroll in a full-time Masters program.

Overall, I could sense that we are both really motivated to become better instructors and better facilitators by incorporating the trends in adult education and applying them to the trends in our fields.  And for that I suppose we’ve come to the right place:  the PID!  I envy the fact that Lauren is after the PID so early in her teaching career.  I really wish I had enrolled long ago.  I’ve learned so much already in just 4 short weeks and it was great to discuss it with someone like Lauren, who has such similar aspirations and motivations.

Characteristics of Adult Learners

The characteristics of andragogy are well established.  The following short video provides an excellent overview:

This recent article also summarizes the characteristics of adult learners quite nicely, with an emphasis on how to encompass these concepts in an e-learning environment.  I want to focus on one of Knowles’ principles of andragogy for a moment:

“Adults need to be involved in the planning of their instruction and overall educational plan”

I thought about this principle in relation to a recent teaching engagement I had. A community health organization asked me to teach a small group of resident medical students on the topic of occupational health.  Because the training had to incorporate a very specific set of subjects that would be tested by way of a national exam, the course outline that I was provided was very prescriptive.  In other words, it didn’t seem like the students had any involvement in the planning of their instruction.  Here is an exert of the outline that I was provided:

Course Outline

Since I managed to build some flex time in to the schedule, I decided to give the students an opportunity to be involved in the planning of their instruction.  I thought it would help motivate them right off-the-bat.  So I asked them to work individually to rank each topic, from 1-5, in terms of their current knowledge and experience; and to indicate the top 3 subjects that they were interested in learning.  Here were the compiled results:

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 This was really helpful for a number of reasons:

  1. Topics that I would be able to draw on their experience to help teach and perhaps facilitate more self-directed learning assignments were identified (i.e Biological Hazards);
  2. Topics that I would have to provide a bit more guidance and lecturing on were also identified (i.e. Environmental Surveillance); and
  3. Topics that the students thought were important to them were prioritized (i.e. Approaches for Diagnosis and Worker Surveillance)

Overall, I thought this helped the students feel like they were involved in the planning of their instruction.  It helped identify their motivations as well – whether it was because the topics were immediately relevant to their jobs (i.e. Approaches for Diagnosis) or because of a lack of knowledge or general interest (i.e. Health Promotion).  I was able to take the results and plan the instruction accordingly and I really felt like the students were off on the right foot after this exercise.

Trends in Adult Education

One of the main trends in adult education is undoubtedly the self-paced online forum (see: PIDP at VCC).  People with full-time jobs and perhaps even parents of young children (see: me) are increasingly demanding access to learning content and systems at anytime from anywhere.  It’s a bit bizarre to think of a classroom or even a stationary home computer as being a burden or an inconvenience, but according to the e-Learning Industry, adult education is headed towards entirely mobile friendly platforms.

“Mobile learning, also known as mLearning, is not simply eLearning on a mobile device. The eLearning material for mobile learning is specifically developed for mobile devices and the proper course content conversion demands skillful Instructional Design that is compatible with mobile devices. eLearning has become a fiercely consumer driven industry and the developers of eLearning contents focus on prioritizing the client’s needs.”

The other interesting trend in adult education that the article mentions is gamification, which aims at making learning fun and may even include ways in which to compete with your friends or through social networks.  Duolingo and Lumosity come to mind as primary examples making use of this trend.

It also reminded me of this fantastic TEDTalk about the potential to solve real world problems if we could find a way to harness the time and effort that game players committed towards their fantasy worlds:

What if such games were developed with the sole purpose of learning new content and were accessible entirely on your mobile device?

 

Trends in Occupational Health and Safety

One of the biggest changes to the field of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) in Canada right now is the implementation of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), which will amend the current Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) requirements.

To help with the transition, the amended legislation is referring to the updated requirements as WHMIS 2015, since the new requirements are directly related to  what the previous laws were the subject of.

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The changes, however, are significant: new hazard classes; new pictograms; and a new format for Safety Data Sheets.  Anyone working with or near a chemical will be required to undergo additional training in accordance with the new requirements.  This will lead to a massive adult education opportunity as a significant portion of the 18 Million employees in Canada will be impacted by the new legislation.

I just hope that this training – which in my view, will be done primarily online in a self-directed manner – will adopt the fundamental principles of adult education to ensure that it is as effective as possible, especially considering the potential risk of exposure to hazardous materials.

 

My Philosophy on Adult Education

After having completed Zinn’s Philosophy of Adult Education Inventory Questionnaire, I’m able to glean a bit of insight into my personal beliefs about teaching in a post-secondary institution.

What I found most interesting about taking the questionnaire, was that in certain sections I strongly agreed with all of the statements, even though each statement was clearly dedicated to a different philosophy:

My primary roles as a teacher of adults is to

So I figured that my results would probably be fairly balanced and I guess the experience I’ve had as an instructor so far has led me to believe that all learners are different and the best way to teach is through a variety of methods.  As it turns out, I’m a progressive behaviorist with strong liberal undertones.  The humanistic philosophy wasn’t too far behind, with radicalism bringing up the rear:

My PAEI Ratings.pngAs my future focus is leaning pretty heavily towards facilitating an accredited curriculum in a self-directed and self-paced online learning environment, I’m not too surprised by the results.