Thursday, August 29, 2019

"We want to be learners - not students" via @emasie

Elliott Masie.
Image source: The Masie Center.
I love it when Elliott Masie's "Learning TRENDS" newsletter arrives in my Inbox - I have been subscribed for over 20 years (you can subscribe here - he has been doing this since 1997!). There is always something new and thought-provoking in his letters to his subscribers, and today's is no different. Today he tells us about his end of summer learning thoughts, one of which is: "Brand Change - From Student to Learner". He recalls recently dropping out of a University on-line course as the "learning method was non-motivating" despite the content being "pretty good".  He added: "We want to be learners - not students". So - which term should we use for the people in our classes?

Thinking about this I am reminded of an occasion many years ago that we decided to stop calling students "students", instead we were to use the word "learner" here in the College. This caused some hilarity in the Students' Union where the abbreviation "SU" was commonly used. Instead of "Students' Union", "Learners' Union" was to be used - cue some jokes about "LU" (pronounced "loo"): are you going to the LU for a game of pool? It didn't catch on. Nevertheless, in some official documentation, we do use the term "learner" in things like module or course descriptors. In fact, I do a search in any of my documents to ensure that I have not accidentally inserted the word "student".

My preference is for the word "student" - after a lifetime of using this term, I'll not change now! While Elliott Masie's focus is in the main directed at corporate learning, we have a lot to learn from him in academia. As someone who now teaches on-line, I do find it hard to be motivating in my methods from beginning to end of class - it's hard work! Some of my students do drop out, like Elliott did. I don't have an insight as to why this is, but I suspect non-motivating learning methods are amongst a variety of reasons. Maybe if students were motivated to learn more, they would not drop out?

Learning is best achieved with motivated teachers and learning methods - not just on-line, but in classes too. Here are some some research-based strategies for motivating students to learn from provided by the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching:
  • Become a role model for student interest
  • Get to know your students
  • Use examples freely
  • Use a variety of student-active teaching activities
  • Set realistic performance goals 
  • Place appropriate emphasis on testing and grading
  • Be free with praise and constructive in criticism
  • Give students as much control over their own education as possible.
Source: Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching

The full list and explanations are well worth reading. I can't personally say that I do all this, but Elliott Masie certainly motivates me to adopt better strategies to improve student learning - thanks Elliott!. And the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching resource is a good place to start.

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