Ten-ish weeks ago I signed up for a ten-week course on adult learning.
My assigned textbook, Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice set for itself a pretty ambitious goal, namely to summarize the past century or so of research into adult education. That’s a lot of research, I get overwhelmed just reading about it all. And especially given how at odds the various models and philosophies can be with one another, I do get the impression that the authors are trying to present each idea on its merits without judgement. Sometimes I feel as though their biases sneak through, but that’s probably just me projecting. That said, when they get to the chapter on ‘transformative learning’ they give it the hard-sell.
Transformative or transformational learning […] has become the most studied and written about adult learning theory since Knowles proposed andragogy in the 1970s. […] In fact transformative learning has “replaced andragogy as the dominant educational philosophy of adult education, offering teaching practices grounded in empirical research and supported by sound theoretical assumptions” (Taylor, 2008, p. 12).
That’s a heavy claim, which they continue to assert throughout the chapter. Overall, I get the impression that Merriam and Bierema really, really, like transformative learning.
Works for me, thinks I…
I truly and sincerely wish the title to this post were a joke.
Here’s hoping this post didn’t end up being a downer, ’cause that wasn’t the intent. It’s just some food for thought that I’m chewing on right now. I stalled somewhat in my blog postings but I’ve been picking up a second wind. This is good for two reasons:
- The obvious; I want to pass this course, and that’s more likely if I’m actually doing my homework.
- The serendipitous; this week’s post (last week’s post, actually) is supposed to be about learner motivation.
Motivation is, I think somewhat obviously, a key component in learning — so much so that an entire field of thinking (humanistic education) is predicated on the idea that learning can be defined in terms of learner motivation.
I’ve always felt that the humanists take things a step too far, but there’s no denying that the student who wants to learn has a massive leg up on the student who doesn’t.
So, how do you get the horses to drink?
How does the saying go?
Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.
A large proportion of my students seem to subscribe to that adage. As Mary M. Reda put it in her article “What’s the Problem With Quiet Students? Anyone? Anyone?”
The overwhelming majority of the students […] understand speaking in class to be a high-stakes testing situation in which they are expected to provide a right answer. The more pressure a professor creates through grading class participation, the more complicated it becomes for students to speak. By observing an instructor—how she interacts with the class, the kinds of questions she asks, and how she responds to their voices—they determine whether they are expected, in general, to reflect, speculate, and hypothesize aloud or to perform on an oral quiz.
(Emphasis mine. Read the entire thing here.)
Not all of my colleagues feel the same way about talkative students, but I for one have a strong dislike for quiet classrooms. I want my students to feel invested in the material, to feel like active participants in their learning. I want my students to feel as though their time is not being wasted. And if I can get the students talking I can gauge their comprehension and their level of comfort more effectively and far more quickly. But it’s challenging to get full classroom buy-in. What can often happen is that a group of five or six extroverts can take over the bulk (or entirety) of classroom conversations, leaving the majority of the class feeling left out. How do we convince learners that being ‘wrong’ is okay? That they will not be judged by their teacher or their peers? For that matter, how can we convince those peers not to be judgemental?