If you were to ask your students at the end of a course week, or at the end of a course, what they learned – what do you believe their answer would be? Would it be something they have read, a memorable class lecture, an engaging class discussion, or insight gained as a result of all of these classroom elements combined? As an educator, do you believe that learning is an ongoing process throughout the duration of the course, or do you find that it occurs at specific points and as a result of specific prompts?
It is assumed that a classroom, an instructor, a textbook, and assigned learning activities will ensure that learning occurs when students are enrolled. Consider the purpose of learning objectives or outcomes when the course is developed. The objectives establish a purpose for the course and measurement for assessments so that students can demonstrate learning has occurred. All learning activities are designed specifically for the purpose of ensuring that learning objectives are met.
Yet learning does not occur in a linear manner, within the prescribed number of course weeks, or with the assigned learning activities. Even the established course objectives do not guarantee that students will learn according to what has been planned. What is the critical element? The classroom instructor. The instructor’s role is essential not only to classroom management, but to creating conditions within the classroom and the minds of the students that are conducive to learning. These are conditions the course objectives and learning activities alone cannot create.
Additional Questions About Learning in the Classroom
As I have been thinking about the process of learning, I have developed a list of additional questions that I would like to pose to help other educators also consider how students learn.
How do you define learning? Is it a matter of students acquiring information, completing assignments, earning a grade, participating in class discussions, completing a course, or something else? Do you consider outcomes measured by the learning objectives to be temporary in nature or do those goals indicate that something long-term has occurred when students are able to demonstrate mastery or completion of each one?
Does every student learn something in your class? This is important to consider as it is almost assumed that learning is going to happen, as if there is a guarantee it will take place for every student who makes an attempt. You can also consider the amount of effort a student puts in and whether or not that will influence their ability to learn.
Do some learning activities promote learning better than others? For example, when a student answers a discussion question, has this student demonstrated learning or is a response to an instructor’s follow up question a better indicator? Are written assignments as effective, or more effective, than class discussions for helping students demonstrate what they have learned? Are some types of assignments more effective than others for serving this purpose?
My Perspective as a Student and an Educator
I obtained two of my degrees in a traditional college classroom environment. What I remember most are some of the class projects I had to complete, along with some of the written projects – especially the culminating project for my MBA program. I wrote a business plan and I was required to conduct the research necessary to launch the new business, which really put to use everything I had studied. As a result of this project, there are concepts and an application of theories that I never forgot and this helped to inform my work as an educator.
I obtained the remainder of my degrees in a non-traditional or online college classroom environment. The most challenging degree was my doctorate degree as there was nothing for me to memorize and no tests for me to pass. I earned my grades by conducting research and completing projects, especially written projects that applied the information I gained in a manner that I was creating long term knowledge. I remember those projects very well, especially my research study, and the work I began during that doctoral program I continue today. The knowledge I gained has been applied to my career, along with the books, blog posts, and articles I have written.