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Teaching And Learning Higher Education

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Teaching And Learning Higher Education Powered By Docstoc
					Student learning in higher education is a function of both formal and informal
experiences. Formal learning takes place as a result of a classroom or related activity
structured by a teacher and/or others for the purpose of helping students to achieve
specified cognitive, or other, objectives. Informal learning encompasses all the other
outcomes of students' participation in a higher education experience. In both cases,
the more extended or comprehensive the experience, the greater the potential effect.
In a comprehensive 1991 review, Ernest Pascarella and Patrick Terenzini described
the ways in which college affects students with respect to many kinds of learning.
While they found that formal learning related to academic and cognitive skills, and to
subject-matter competence, informal learning was shown to impact on many other
areas. Complications arise, however, because of the number and variety of variables
affecting college learning. For example, while the differences between being a
residential student and a commuter student do not seem to greatly affect cognitive or
subject-matter learning, they are relatively influential with respect to psychosocial
change, intellectual and cultural values, independence, and similar factors. Is this
purely an on-campus versus off-campus difference? Age may be an intervening
variable in such cases, because one would expect older, working adults (a constantly
growing student population in all of higher education) to represent a substantial
percentage of students living off-campus. Given that less psychosocial change might
be expected with such learners–because their attitudes and values are already well
established–the observed differences between on-and off-campus learning could be a
function of student demographic differences such as age, as well as the environment
itself. For example, while the influence of college on the intellectual and cultural
values of resident students is significant, this effect derives much of its impact from
immersion in the college environment and the maturation of younger learners who
may not have had a broad range of experience. Adult, non-resident learners may have
more firmly-held beliefs and a broader range of experience and by simple maturation,
may already have developed more refined sets of values. Thus it is not simply
location that makes the difference, but the combination of location and characteristics
of the learners. The Theory behind the Practice When the first edition of this
encyclopedia was published in 1971, the prevailing approach to teaching and learning
was the behaviorist model. Developed by B. F. Skinner and others in the 1950s, this
model considered stimuli such as instructional events or activities, the responses of
learners to these stimuli, and contingencies or consequences based on those responses.
The basic proposition was that learning occurred when the desired responses were
elicited by the stimuli. Robert Mager's work with instructional objectives (precise
statements of intended behaviors along with measurement criteria) and Benjamin
Bloom and colleague's 1956 taxonomies (classification schemes) of objectives were
also major influences on the ways in which instruction was designed and delivered.
The taxonomic levels are knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis,
and evaluation. A practical problem for teachers is that there can be objectives for
literally every instructional activity and every kind of behavior–from acquiring basic
knowledge to classroom attentiveness and the development of value systems. While
behaviorism has been largely replaced as an instructional theory, the underlying value
of clear objectives, appropriate measurement criteria, and the specification of various
types of desired learning have remained as important basics for designing effective
instruction. Cognitive theory, essentially the position that learning involves the
learner's associations of new stimuli with existing concepts and categorization
schemes, regained some support in the 1970s and has continued to develop in its
applications since that time. Marilla Svinicki (1999) outlined five general strategies
for teaching that derive from the early theory: (1) directing students' attention through
verbal or visual cues; (2) emphasizing how material is organized, again with various
cues; (3) making information more meaningful by providing associations with other
material or applications; (4) encouraging active checking of understanding through
questioning and feedback; and (5) compensating for limits of information processing
and memory systems with smaller amounts of information, review, breaks, and
focusing attention. Metacognition, or thinking about thinking, went beyond simple
associations and brought learners more into the process of actively manipulating new
information and incorporating it into both their own conceptual schemes and those of
the subject involved. Svinicki suggests that instructors should model and describe
their own thinking as they work through problems, stress problem solving and other
activities that provide opportunities for practicing thought processes, and even teach
specific strategies when necessary. The teacher, as the expert in a specific field,
becomes a cognitive mentor and uses such techniques to help students move from
positions as novices in the discipline to more seasoned practitioners. Teachers thus
provide students with tools for understanding and dealing with future, more complex
material. Since efficient problem-solving strategies enhance performance, the
additional benefit is motivational: it increases students' expectations for successful
completion of the work and strengthens their beliefs about their ability to do the work.
Learner-centered instruction is a term that refers to attending to a learner's individual
needs, differences, and abilities, as well as to sharing responsibility for learning.
Research by Paul Pintrich (1995) has established that students who are able to control
their own behavior, motivation, and cognition are generally successful in college.
Such students self-regulate their learning in three ways. First, they exercise active
control by monitoring what they do, why they do it, and what happens–and then
making adjustments. Second, they have goals that mark desired performance levels
and they use these when deciding what adjustments to make. Third, they accept that
the control must be theirs rather than someone else's. These procedures revolve
around the important underlying concept that learners can exercise control and
influence educational outcomes, and that doing so has many benefits.
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