Emerging Trends and Roles of the Adult Educator

Abstract

The article, “Reconstructing Vocational Education and Training for the 21st Century: Mindfulness, Craft, and Values” by Terry Hyland addresses particular to vocational training in the UK in comparison that in mainland Europe.  The article also references similar issues in United States and in my experience in the construction industry suggests that similar issues exist in Canada.  Hyman touches on a number of issues in unique ways to improve the vocational training.  To address a few of these issues concerning the author, which include status of trades and technical workers relative to white collar workers, and lack of advancement to higher skill levels—Hyland looks to Buddhist principles of “mindfulness” to create a focus on craft and aesthetic as well as looking at social theory and what he refers to as “right livelihood”.

Insights and Trends

Part of Hyman’s change involves the use of “mindfulness”.  Mindfulness is a way of looking at the world; “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally” (p. 4). This focus would be expected to lead to a reinforcement of values of craftsmanship and increase the value of aesthetic when viewing the activity of work and the end product.  Instructors, in Hyman’s opinion, need to explore aesthetic possibilities for all kinds of work (p. 9).  There are trades which already lend themselves to this, such as the joinery trade, but to implement this with some of the more technical trades (such as instrumentation) my require some creativity on the part of the instructor.  This is an important and sometime overlooked aspect of trades training as it will lead to increased pride in skills and therefore encourage continuous development of skill beyond the intermediate level required to complete apprenticeship training.  Hyman believes that behaviorist and competency-based training work against this and should not be used in favour of apprenticeship (p.11).  Apprenticeship follows the cognitivism model, and supports learners developing their “intellectual, affective, and motor skills” (Merriam, 34).  Following this model, I would as an instructor take the time to understand the learner’s stage of cognitive development.  I can make use of cognitivist based steps when planning lessons: passing on the information and testing facts of the theories, then allowing the learners to demonstrate their comprehension.  The students could participate in activities which provide evidence of their ability to understand, apply, analyze, synthesize and then evaluate the material.

Hyland recognizes that there exists a hierarchy of career choices which unfortunately serves as a deterrent for students considering vocational training.  The issue exists in Canada as well, and while over the past several years as there is an increased awareness in training options and the potential for career growth and income it is something that can still be improved upon.  In his view, this can be addressed by implementing a focus on craft and aesthetic and values in students.  My own experience supports this.  Further, this hierarchy also encourages workers who have chosen the vocational path to move out of the path quickly to supervisor and management roles.  The end result is an under-skilled workforce, with a quick turnover to white-collar occupations related to the initial training.

Hyman’s work touches on social theory education models where continuing development of knowledge and skills have an intrinsic value.  The instructor provides coaching, but mindfulness must come from the learner.  It is a form of self-actualization, or the drive to better one’s self without external motivation.  Considering mindfulness, the instructor must act as facilitator to learners become apt at paying attention to the world around them without distraction and without the need to pass judgement.  Where opportunities exist within the curriculum instructors need to actively add this to their lesson plan.  Working on adjusting the focus of lessons on the aesthetic, both of the activity and the end result, can aid in this.

Hyman encourages a differentiation between work and labour to aid growing focus on craftsmanship.  Work is a necessary part of life; it has intrinsic value.  It is part of an instructor’s duty to help their students learn, understand and embrace this in order to better function in society.  Labour, on the other hand, it done only for monetary rewards.  While the pair share in that they take time and energy to perform, the approach to the task distinguishes the two.  Articles like this which look to learning traditions outside the normal sphere employed by educators risk being dismissed for their eccentricity.  However, there is diversity in students and different students will respond to different models.  As an instructor, I need to address the diversity of my students; I need to provide exposure to different types of learning in order to best develop all learners.  Some learners respond very well to traditional methods that are used in vocational training such as behaviorism and cognitivism.  But others will need something else.   For them, having other motivational tools in my learning toolbox will aid these learners development.

Web-Conference

My partner, Jason Parnell’s article was “Nine Strategies to Spark Students Intrinsic Motivation.”  The article came from the blog Faculty Focus, which publishes articles on teaching strategies for the post-secondary classroom.  The article concentrated on strategies to shift from an extrinsic reward-based mindset to the intrinsic value motivation.  This shift in turn would have the effect of transforming reluctant learner into an engaged, once they are intrinsically motivated.  According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs students need to have their lower level needs met in order to be able open themselves up for learning.   As instructors, it is our role to be approachable and do what is within our means to aid students and reaching these needs.  The blog post contained nine tips to for instructors help learners become intrinsically motivated:

  • Encourage students to draw on past experiences to facilitate a dialogue.
  • Encourage students to share their own learning expectations and goals.
  • Provide announcements and emails with information about the resources available.
  • Provide real life applications.
  • Use visual aids or even field trips that enhance the student’s learning.
  • Invite guest speakers that are experts in the field.
  • Make class assignments are relevant to future careers possibilities.
  • Teach students to reflect and take control over their own learning by using weekly reflections and think about their own performance.
  • Empower students by teaching them where to find materials and how to use available resources.

Our discussion on this topic brought us to the realization the many of these items involve creating a safe and supportive classroom setting.  In this respect, instructors need to help students meet these basic needs when possible.   This trend showed up in many other readings, and this shift in turn will encourage higher level intrinsic motivation within the student.

Jason looked at a second article as well.  It was study a “Motivating Factors for Adult Learners in Higher Education”.  The article starts with a description of motivation:  “Motivation cannot be seen, touched, or measured directly, but several schools of thoughts believe that a positive relationship exists between motivation and adult learning”.     It went on to describe a situation where if we match two individuals with identical ability, opportunity and conditions to achieve, the motivated person will always surpass the unmotivated.  It is therefore critical to address the learner’s motivation through whatever means available.  It also had a good definition for motivation.  “It is what stimulates and sustains a learner toward accomplishing education goals over time”.   All in all it was a good rundown of what motivation is and how it affects us as students and instructors.

The study went on to study 203 adult learners of various backgrounds.  They conduct many surveys, interviews and questionnaires to collect information.  They settled on eight motivating factors of adult learners, list below in order of student’s priority:

  • Academic Advising
  • Conductive Learning Environment
  • Self-Directedness
  • Progressive Assessment and Timely Feedback
  • Interactive Classroom and Effective Management
  • Relevance and Pragmatism
  • Quality of Curriculum
  • Quality Instruction

The study went on to describe what each of these was and during all the communication formats with the students had them rank each as a factor in their motivation.   Our discussion reflected surprise that quality of instruction and curriculum were among the least motivating factors for students.  Yet academic advising, learning environment, the ability for self- direction and progressive assessment were ranked highest factors for the students.  This demonstrates that the instructor’s role is more than just providing quality instruction and knowledge of our subject matters.   We need to be progressive, encourage self-directed learning and offer advice on students’ academic and real world careers. Even if instructors know their curriculum, but their instruction was based on pedagogical skills from the K-12 education system their classroom will not be a successful learning environment.   To motivate adult learners, instructors need to base their teachings in andragogical principles and trends are becoming that institutions provide regular professional development to provide and enhance those skills.

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Resources

Battista, L., & Rubble, V. (2014, January 13). Nine strategies to spark adult students intrinsic motivation. Faculty Focus.  http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/nine-strategies-to-spark-adult-students-intrinsic-motivation/

Hyland, T.  (2014). Reconstructing vocational education and training for the 21st century: Mindfulness, craft, and values.  SAGE Open, January-March, 1–15.  http://sgo.sagepub.com/content/4/1/2158244013520610

Merriam, S., & Bierema, L.  (2013). Adult learning: Bridging theory and practice (1.st ed.).  San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Sogunro, O. A.  (2015). Motivating factors for adult learners in higher education.  International Journal of Higher Education, 4(1), 22-37.  http://dx.doi.org/10.5430/ijhe.v4n1p22

Journal Entry #4

“[L]earning from one’s experience involves not just reflection, but critical reflection.”

We reflect constantly on what takes place around us.  Reflecting in order to learn from our experiences must be done at a deeper level.  According to Stephen Brookfield, who’s work has contributed to this chapter, there are three phases required to get this deeper form of reflection: 1) identify assumptions, 2) assess the accuracy of those assumptions, and 3) repair the assumptions.

This quote suggests that  learners, especially ones tending towards self-motivated learning, need tools for more critical self-assessment.

This quote demonstrates the rational and the need for self-evaluation as a tool in learning.  A student who regularly has to grade themselves based on probing self evaluation will not only learn from the course work, but will learn through the assessment and carry the skills needed to critically reflect on future learning.

I intend to make use of this in coaching apprentices.  As there are no marks that a journeyman can issue to their apprentice, reflecting on the end product and the path that lead to it is a useful thing.  Getting the apprentice to probe to these deeper question will take some additional time and effort, but will aid them in the future, especially as we expect continuous growth from them.

Journal Entry #3

“The flipped classroom is…essentially reversing the traditional order…this approach fits adult education’s values of active learner engagement and self-direction.”

My first response to this was “what is a flipped classroom?” Going to the text, a flipped classroom is where the theory is delivered online and practical exercises are completed in a face-to-face setting with the instructor.  While the terminology was new to me the practice was not.  A one week course I attended last spring on Heritage Conservation made use of this: prior to the start of class there were assigned reading and a presentation based on a reflection exercise which tied the reading and the student’s experience.

Considering the classroom experience from the Heritage Conservation course, I found myself reflecting on the result of the pre-reading and he exercise.  The Class was diverse: there were fine arts students in graduate programs, architects and planners with varying degrees of involvement in heritage, a couple of museum curators based out of heritage designated buildings and two of us in carpentry.  The focus of the presentations were equally diverse.  Some drilled down on construction specifications, practices and design while others dealt with high-level conservation theory for works of art.

The resulting presentations were entirely self-directed and as such they became a very interesting learning experiences in themselves.  A great range of views and practices were expressed, with emphasis on stakeholder participation.  It further helped express one of the course’s main themes: holistic approaches to the practice of heritage conservation.

British Columbia’s vocational training model does not readily lend itself to this type of pre-class preparation.  To utilize, it would have to start once the program started.  It could very well be an excellent tool.  I would picture a scenario where I could send the learners home with media packages demonstrating a particular carpentry module (it could be something as simple as a YouTube video hanging a door) the day before the class, then starting the next day with an interactive group review or evaluation on the content to ensure the critical point were absorbed.  This would leave the balance of the day for practice of the skills and could also permit increased time for troubleshooting common issues.

Journal Entry #2

“[A]n educated person is one who has learned how to learn…how to adapt and change.”

The quote reflects the frequent reasoning used or Arts based education.  The subject matter becomes less important when you look at learning from this direction.  In my experience as a Carpenter, it is relatively easy to learn a skill by steps, and as long as ideal conditions continue to exist, a tradespersons can perform that skill without impediment.

I think we need to be careful not to put the cart in front of the horse.  As educators we need to establish a technical base-line.  If that same person does not learn the theories and conditions behind said skill, then their value becomes limited.  Too often in the construction industry we see people with less than necessary understand in the basics of construction attempt to adept the understanding to a problem.  This can result in the solution causing more problems than the initial issue.

As when I contemplated the quote for my first journal entry, I see how humanist philosophy has impacted learning theory today.  The basis of Humanist learning theory is that learners are empowered to make their lives better through self-improvement.  It is something that endorse to an extent.  Instructor must keep in mind, however that diversity exists.  If instructor focus only on teaching in a humanistic style, some students will be left behind.

It is important for the instructor to expose the learner to that theory and test through problem-solving exercises to practice adapting the skills to different situations, which is often emphasized in Arts education.  For this reason those with Arts based education (such as myself) can often have a tougher go at the start of our careers as we learn work-specific skills which were not part of our education, but as they come with well-developed learning skills they can adapt and eventually excel.

Journal Entry #1

“There are few educators who would disagree with the principle that lifelong learning is a good thing but the important questions are about the types of learning that the concept promotes, the life that it encourages us to lead, who benefits from this and the nature of the society that it upholds.”

Lifelong learning is a pervasive concept.  It is reinforced in workplaces and by the educational community. The question must be asked, though, where should this addition learning take society?  More must come from an individual’s learning than self-serving short-term requirements.  Knowledge shared has much greater value that knowledge hoarded.

Lifelong learning has been something I have been very conscious of throughout my career.  I have considered sources of learning, and the path that my ongoing exploration will take me.  But where the departure is where the benefit to society and the nature on the whole?  I do not have an ultimate answer to this yet; further reflection on how I use my education must be completed.  A good first step is to readily share my knowledge when the opportunity presents itself.

Part of my role in encouraging lifelong learning will need to include leaving my students with some direction that they can go for the next step in their learning.   As a facilitator of adult learning, I will need to keep abreast of learning opportunities in my field (Construction).  This can include tradition paths like completing related degrees such as tradespeople completing BCIT’s management training like the Bachelor of Technology in Construction Management, or attending continuing education programs that allow for mid-career moves which utilize past experience like VCC’s Provincial Instructor Diploma Program.  Academic education is not the only source of lifelong learning.  Short-term workshops can gain new skills and certifications.  Making use of other experienced co-workers or employer’s practicing in similar fields can be a source of development as well.

Lesson Planning #5

“Collaborative Lesson Planning”

Collaborative lesson planning is where teachers plan their lessons in a joint effort as peer-to-peer professional development.  To do this a closed-circuit system can be set up in an unobtrusive way.  The student’s acknowledgement would be required for privacy concerns.  Later, in a group setting teachers critique the video with the emphasis on how to better instructional techniques.  The teacher is kept anonymous to keep away from judging the flaws of an individual.  Key areas to look at are classroom management, teacher-student interaction, and actual result was versus the intended.  These are utilized by the group for future courses.

Lesson Planning #4

“Active Learning”

Active learning is where student must think, create, or solve a problem; skills critical to vocational training.  This model also practices sharing skills and knowledge, which also has great value for future employment.  Using “Think – Pair – Share”, the instructor presents a problem which utilizes concepts for the unit and allows the students some time to digest and develop their own ideas.  Students are paired up to discuss their responses for a set amount of time governed by the complexity of the problem.  When the time is up, the instructor gathers the class and calls on groups to share their responses.

Lesson Planning #3

“Idea Paper 41: Student Goal Orientation, Motivation, and Learning”

Motivating students is critical to successful teaching.  This article divides learners by goal orientation: mastery or performance; developing mastery of a skill or concept or ability to demonstrate proficiency.  For continuous learning mastery should be the focus.  The two strategies in a vocational setting would be to demonstrate how the subject matter has value to them by looking at where the skill or concept is used “on the job”—easily done for practical skills, but equally important where mathematical concepts must be grasped.  Then, breaking the content into manageable portions where there is a reasonable and safe expectation to succeed.