In this post I will attempt to verbalize my practical theory of learning with the help of the following questions set by our instructors:
- What is most challenging or difficult in learning your subject?
- How can your subject be learnt most effectively?
- What kind of role do you have in the process of teaching and learning your subject?
- What kind of relationship do you want to have with your students?
I mainly teach Marketing at HAAGA-HELIA University of Applied Sciences in Finland. My subject is challenging because of a variety of factors: first, marketing is a complex discipline that is built on many other sciences (communication, cognitive psychology etc.); Second, marketing has an unlimited resource of information that continues growing. Information can become outdated in a matter of months. The above challenges of my subject keep me as a teacher constantly searching, consuming and practicing a variety of information and tools before I present them to my students.
In the question, how can Marketing be learnt more effectively I believe the answer is by understanding the basic theories and tools of marketing, being able to know how to use them appropriately in the right context (e.g. the right marketing mix for each case) and knowing where to collect all the information needed to implement their choices.
My role in the process of teaching and learning my subject is to act as a guide and a model for the behavior I expect my students to to learn. My role is also to encourage students to seek out information needed from various sources and critically analyze and synthesize them in a meaningful way.
The kind of relationship I aim at having with my students is one of mutual respect and open communication. I want the students to respect my expertise and knowledge, however I appreciate when they are able to argue and present their own ideas and opinions in a constructive dialogue. Despite the fact that I am relatively closer to their age than my colleagues, I do not aim at being their friend, which is a mistake often made by other colleagues. They try to be the students’ friends or mother/father figures which leads to confusion of roles and attitudes. If you treat a young adult like a child, they will behave like a child. If you treat a young adult like a friend, they will misuse that trust.
Reflecting upon my personal style of teaching, I see that the learning theories that have affected or shaped or give grounds to my teaching are: cognitivism, social-culturalism, and connectivism. My comfort zone is between the above three learning theories, let me explain why.
a. Cognitivism: the “know-what”
Cognitivism represents the “know-what” of learning. The cognitive perspective in teaching and learning is important because each person has an individual profile of characteristics, abilities and challenges that impact their learning such intelligence, creativity, cognitive style, motivation and the capacity to process information, communicate, and relate to other. Marketing professionals have an appreciation for cognitive psychology as it has contributed significantly to the development of marketing as a discipline.
As an educator I design my lessons enhanced with a variety of materials (prezi, images, infographics, music, sound, video, role plays, case studies, hands on projects) that appeal to the diverse group of learners present in the audience. I often use the VARK questionnaire as an indicator of the diversity of learning styles presents in our learning space. In addition, having practice dance and drama since childhood as a hobby I often engage my students in kinesthetic tasks and role plays.
Interestingly enough, after three years of teaching and conducting the VARK questionnaire in my courses, I have noticed the majority of my students at HAAGA-HELIA University of Applied Sciences are Aural and Kinesthetic. Here are explanations of the categories of VARK. The Kinesthetic preference can be explained by the fact that their choice to study at at university of applied sciences as the students “either learn through concrete personal experiences, examples, practice or simulation”. The Aural preference indicates that “learners learn best from lectures, group discussion, radio, email, using mobile phones, speaking, web-chat and talking things through”.
b. Socioculturalism: the “know-how”
Socioculturalism represents the “know-how” of learning. There is an interdependence between individual and social processes in learning, where the learners participate in a broad range of joint activities such as semester projects and internalize the effects of working together in multicultural teams, they acquire new knowledge of the world and culture.
The interactions between individuals with different knowledge levels; for example, experts and novices (professionals in Marketing and Marketing students) can facilitate the co-creation of knowledge which can lead to successful problem solving in the future when the students are working in the field. Socioculturalism talks about cooperative learning which is consistent with inquiry-based approaches (similar to the curriculum of HAAGA-HELIA Porvoo Campus where I work), in which teachers and students are both co-inquirers.
c. Connectivism: the “know-where”
Connectivism represents the “know-where” (the understanding of where to find the knowledge when it is needed) that supplements to the ones of “know-how” and “know-what” and all together constitute the cornerstones of my practical theory of learning.
Connectivism is “a learning theory for the digital age” which indicates the emphasis that connectivism gives to technology’s effect on how people live, communicate and learn.
As a digital native and a person interested in technology myself, I see this learning theory for the digital age growing in importance in the near future despite critique that argues that connectivism is not a learning theory but rather an instructional theory. I believe it will not only grow in importance but it will strengthen its presence and dominate the discussion as the world moves towards a society everyone has access to everything at their fingertips. The role of the teacher of the (near) future is to help learners’ ability to search, collect and synthesize information in a meaningful way and help them navigate through vast and often lacking quality sources.
The infographic below presents four learning theories:
VARK, learning theories,