Responses to Theoretical Constructs
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The field of education is abundant with theories on teaching, learning, and pedagogical philosophy. An educator coming into the field is bound to be disoriented in the immense body of available literature, that is trying to explore and suggest the suitable alternative to pedagogical practice. The literature on general learning or teaching principles is further expanded by children’s and adult learning differences, gender, multiple intelligences considerations, etc. Therefore, on top of the efficiency expected from the teacher on the everyday basis in the classroom setting, he/she is also required to operate within this complex world of theories and approaches. Taking into account various views of the leading theorists in the adult learning field, the only viable way to become a successful educator is to synthesize the ideas present in the relevant literature and develop a personal philosophy that is firmly grounded in core concepts and at the same time flexible enough to fit into multiple learning situations.
Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is the starting point of virtually any discussion concerning learning. In one of his famous quotes he says “The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done” (Piaget, 1896-1980). In the context of adult learning this quote acquires even more relevance and critical importance. As adults have a number of specific differences in learning, the Piaget’s words seem to play directly into those characteristics. For example, as noted by Knowles, adult learners are characterized by learning to achieve certain goals, directly related to their professional or personal life (1990). In other words, they fill their need by acquiring knowledge. This usually happens because they start experiencing the inadequacy of their current knowledge base for the tasks at hand. Therefore, learning process does enable men and women to create new things afterwards. Moreover, the process of learning entails a change in one’s attitudes, views, or habits. Also, for the adults, learning is about the combination of process, product, and function (Knowles, 1990). This is also consistent with Piaget’s idea because the creating of new things inevitably requires a kind of change in thinking process and the perspective. Overall, the Piaget’s idea of education looks rather convincing when applied to adult learners.
The issue of learning and program objectives is another important aspect to consider when talking about adult learning. Especially with adults, who benefit a lot from concrete, measurable goals that have logical reasoning behinds them, the development of sound objectives is a key. However, educators are often faced with several obstacles. Of course, every learner has her or his individual goals and needs. Grownups are usually more assertive it their demand to receive the teaching they need to achieve the learning they want. Moreover, the differences in motivation and learning styles are other problems that surface in the process of developing the outline for the course. That is why the teachers have to be extremely careful and considerate in their attempt to meet the needs of the students. All these differences result into a natural inability to create a standardized guide for teachers on how to develop learning objectives. As it often is in the educational sciences, the professionals are required to assess the situation on a case-to-case basis and often even adjust the program objectives as the learning process unfolds.
The role of a teacher in the adult learning process is somewhat different compared to the teaching of children. As adults have a slightly different set of inhibitions and insecurities the role of the teacher should be adjusted accordingly. Looking at the barriers in the adult learning, one can distinguish between internal and external ones. Some of the external barriers include difficulties connected to worsening eyesight or hearing, the change in status (e.g. marrying, having a child), motivation problems, etc. At the same time, the internal barriers include not accepting new perspectives, adhering to earlier learned facts and conclusions, anxiety of failure, etc. (Falasca, 2011). As one can see, the adult learners face different obstacles; and the role of a teacher-facilitator is inevitable influenced by them.
The very first step to become a successful facilitator is to create an environment where some of the students’ fears disappear in a natural way. This is where learning though inquiry and learning through modeling can became really helpful. Inquiry-based learning is not a new concept, and the effects of it were studied over the course of several decades. In one of the study involving teacher training the researchers found out that this approach helps to foster inference and promote critical skills. While the concentration on classroom management hindered future teachers’ creativity, the inquiry-based approach freed their ability to move beyond practical matters (Evan & Lu, 2011). The same principles can be applied to the adult learners. Whenever they are forced to focus on technical, prescriptive objectives they can lose the motivation and the vision of the overall goal, which is of utmost importance. Applying learning through inquiry principles can help the teacher shift the attention to the creative side of the learning process and encourage students to engage in the construction of their unique learning experience.
As mentioned at the beginning of this discussion, in the process of professional formation each educator develops and fine-tunes his/her own educational philosophy that is a product of literature review, personal reflections, and practical teaching experience. Personally for me the learning philosophy was definitely shaped by some of the leading theorists, including Malcolm Knowles. This theorist was very influential with his concept of andragogy as opposed to pedagogy. Indeed, examining the learning behavior of adult learners one can see the underlying differences between them and children. The identifiable goals, the clear vision for the purpose of learning, self-direction, relation of the learning to the real life experiences and needs all play an important role for an adult learner.
However, a successful learning philosophy should go to the deeper level and have some ideas at its core. In my philosophy, the views of Paulo Freire and his critical pedagogy have played a significant role. Although he doesn’t talk about adult learning specifically, the overwhelming part of his writings apply to this group of learners. In his Pedagogy of freedom (1998) Freire discusses the notion of the natural curiosity of the human being. According to him, the existing neoliberal ideology suffocates this natural desire to learn for the sake of learning (Freire, 1990). Observing adult students, it is possible to make a conclusion that some of them have a clash between the desire to learn for inner pleasure and learn for a practical goal. That is why one of the most important aspects of the learning philosophy should be the strife to awaken the natural curiosity of a person and create an environment where adults can learn just for pleasure without experiencing the guilt of wasting their time.
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Developing a learning philosophy is a challenging endeavor that requires careful examination of existing theories, constant critical thinking process, and establishment and affirmation of an educator’s personal values. Without a doubt, the field of education is far from formulaic sciences and presents eternal struggle to come up with the best solutions for various problems. Moreover, the responsibility that the teachers have for the learning experience of their students, adult ones or children, adds additional pressure. It is incredibly worthwhile, therefore, to draw upon the key thinkers in the educational science because this is like standing on the shoulders of giants in the conditions of uncertainty. What is more, adding new perspectives and examining new angles should be one of the primary concerns of a responsible modern educational theorist or practitioner.
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