LEARNING ACTIVITY RESOURCES AND IDEAS
There are a number of learning activity resources, ideas, and approaches that can be brought to the attention of learners as they begin the process of developing a learning contract. The purpose of this resource section is to describe the ones we have found to be both popular with learners and, from our vantage point as facilitators, important in promoting critical thinking and reflection by them on what they have learned.
Interactive Reflection and Information Collection Tools
It has been our experience that most adult learners prefer considerable practical or hands-on information. Thus, it often remains the facilitator's responsibility to ensure that some reflection time is spent by learners in terms of a thorough understanding of a subject, in becoming aware of available resources, and in thinking through how new information or knowledge might impact on personal practice.
We accommodate this instructional need by encouraging learners to select one of four tools we have developed or adapted for use as information collection tools. Each tool provides
opportunities for learners to carry out some personal reflection on what they are learning. In addition, in keeping with the foundational premise of individualizing the instructional process, the reflection is interactive in nature in terms of the learner simulating a dialogue with either self or the author of a piece.
Most learners will undertake trying out at least one of these tools after the intended purposes are described. It has even been our experience that in short term training sessions, participants appreciate receiving information on the various tools as devices they can utilize for follow-up work once the session or workshop is completed.
Interactive Reading Log
The intent of such a log is to read material and then utilize an interactive writing experience as a means for growth in knowledge, ability to think, and skill to express oneself. For example, in a beginning level graduate course, especially if the person is new to the subject matter, we would counsel a learner to stay fairly broad both in reading and writing about an initial exploration of available information. However, in an advanced course, when a learner already has considerable knowledge on which to build or is quite experienced with reading logs, or in a short-term workshop where
participants might want quite specialized follow-up activities, we encourage the design of a reading and writing experience that will provide in-depth knowledge over a confined area.
The purpose of the interactive reading activity is to place relatively greater stress on reading and interaction with the author and less stress on intensive or structured writing over a limited topic such as an abstracting assignment with a specified set of readings. The log is therefore not an outline and except for the suggestions provided below it is not a summary.
Knowles (1975) writes about an exercise in reading a book proactively that entails understanding what kind of road map an author might provide through such guides as a table of contents, dust cover statement, index, writing out some guiding questions the reader might want answered, and then reading those parts of the book that seem to answer the questions. Elbow (1973; 1981) describes a concept he calls "cooking" in which an interaction of contrasting and conflicting material in a document becomes central to getting at the heart of an idea or message. These type of techniques are described and the learners then encouraged to find a reading approach that will match their particular levels of self-directedness.
The approach to recording the interactive comments can be quite varied. Some people prefer to summarize certain passages and then perhaps make one or two observations before moving on to interact with the next portion. Some learners will record mainly personal observations as they read a document. Others will record not only personal reflections and comments but will also use the reading experience as a trigger for numerous future reading or research ideas. We, in fact, encourage digression, reading activity in several documents at the same time, and branching off into entirely unexpected areas for certain learners. Some learners will have the self-confidence and expertise to simulate through their writing actual debates with the author where ideas are challenged and counter-arguments presented.
The length and scope of the log varies with the type of reading materials selected and the intensity of the treatment given to each item by the reader. In one case the log might consist of widely spaced reactions to a variety of selections. In another case the log might include a number of longer reactions to fewer selections that have been carefully chosen for in-depth reading. We also encourage learners to think through whether or not they desire some type of feedback from the instructor.
The format for the product to be turned in for examination and feedback will again vary from person to person and should be based on planned intent as noted in a learning contract. For example, one person might choose to present one or two paragraphs of introduction explaining some reasons for the choice of reading selections, the interactive log of comments, and a summary or conclusion section. Another learner might choose to submit interactive notes on index cards taken while reading. Another person might present only the interactive comments derived during the reading effort. Still another person might choose to use a coding scheme which divides via color, printing font, or some off-setting technique the reader's comments from the author's words. This latter format can be especially helpful when the reader has set up the interactive experience as a debate or dialogue with the author.
The facilitator's role is to provide early descriptions of the technique and encouragement as the learner thinks through a personal approach to interactive reading. We attempt during the initial steps to encourage learners toward the acceptance of considerable personal responsibility in making various decisions about resources, approaches, and writing style. During the reading and writing efforts we make ourselves available to those who request time for discussion and feedback about the effort. It may be necessary for a learner to renegotiate personal plans or learning contract goals if a stumbling block is reached, a change in focus is desired, or a decision regarding moving from a broad to a more focused, in-depth approach is desired.
The final role for the facilitator is to provide feedback, if desired or contracted for by the learner, on the completed log. We tend to read through the log and write our observations, comments, and suggestions for follow-up reading or reflecting in the margins. Occasionally learners will prefer a face to face discussion over the interactive log report. We also attempt to make some comments regarding the choice of reading materials and provide some overall comments regarding our perceptions relative to the value of the experience for the learner.
This media-supported activity has both advantages and disadvantages. Advantages revolve around the fact that a voice or visual presentation provides opportunities for a variety of non-verbal and supportive stimulations typically impossible in printed material. A lecturer on an audio tape can use voice inflection, word emphasis, and specialized sound effects to add stress or make certain points. A video or film on some
subject can use several characters in illustrating a point, varied visual effects to enhance a topic.
However, in terms of disadvantages, it is difficult to create high quality audio or visual materials given typical production costs and the expectations many people have of media. In addition, access to media may be limited due to costs or equipment availability. It also frequently is difficult to hold a viewer's or listener's attention beyond a certain block of time. Subsequently, it may not be possible to provide much in-depth coverage of a topic via some mediated product.
Even given some of the above constraints, there are many films, audio-tapes, slide-tape learning kits, etc. available for the self-directed learner. The fairly recent and growing popularity of video tapes starring numerous entertainers or authorities on an expanding number of topics provides an ever-growing supply of learning materials. In addition, the growing interest in on-line conferencing systems and knowledge bases provides new avenues for stimulation.
Over the past several years we have collected a large number of our own materials through purchases, video tapes we have produced on our own or through special grants, and audio-taped conversations with a number of adult educators. A number of supplemental learning resources typically can be placed on media reserve in the university library.
Thus, we frequently are able to provide learners an opportunity to complete media logs. We suggest that they adapt the interactive reading log guidelines described above for the media log experience. Some people have even decided to use some type of mediated means for recording their thoughts, interactive comments, and reflections. We provide feedback to learners, if desired, in a manner similar to what is provided for reading logs.
We typically use a theory log activity in more advanced courses where learners have a fairly good grasp of the subject matter. This will not be an easy learning experience for many people but should be valuable in promoting an advanced understanding of the topic and corresponding research needs.
We see the role of the facilitator related to this learning option to be quite important. It is here where many learners try out their abilities to glean concepts from the literature and synthesize information. Subsequently, they typically need some feedback on how well they have done and how complete is their thinking. We try to provide written comments on whatever form the log or theory statements take and make ourselves available for conversations if needed. The material below (Figure R-1) illustrates the description we provide to learners.
Figure R-1: A Theory Log
· The assumption serving as a basis for this assignment is that each person taking an adult education course will need to "learn to think" adult education in terminology, in understanding, and in making application to one's current or proposed vocation. In other words, the instructor (1) is attempting to "socialize" or convert and (2) accepts responsibility for providing learnings over a content area representative of the catalogue description for the particular course.
· On your own, discover what is meant by "theory," at least in terms that are meaningful to you.
II. Activity and Presentation
· Throughout the course, including your work outside of class and the information presented in class, make notes to yourself regarding what you perceive to be theoretical concepts, salient points, truths, bridges to known theory, ideas to be tested, gaps in the knowledge, etc. The instructor will attempt to point out probable theory "pieces" throughout the course.
· During and/or toward the end of the course attempt to organize your notes and thoughts into some cohesive format. This can be in the form of a log, a statement, an outline, or whatever else is appropriate for you in expressing the grasp you have of the theory (or theory pieces) providing a foundation for the course content, including the absence of theory, needed theory, gaps, etc. This does not have to be a long statement unless you desire it to be. The purpose is to communicate some of your conceptions regarding adult education theory.
· Turn in your report/log/paper/etc. by the end of the course. Keep a carbon copy for yourself.
III. Educational Goals for the Activity
· That you gain experience in analyzing/deriving the theory underlying a content area, i.e., the body of basic knowledge.
· That you gain experience in stating the theory, in making contributions to the theory, and in determining where an understanding or determination of theory is still needed.
· This is not intended as an assignment to please the instructor but one that is hopefully designed for your own growth and understanding. Therefore, don't make the assignment a burden; it is intended to be a facilitating activity in terms of the promotion of learning.
· A pass/incomplete grade will be given in terms of the course requirements. In other words, I see my responsibility as course instructor to promote as much learning as possible regarding the subject. However, if this request simply does not agree with your needs or learning style please use some other technique.
· The following statements about theory may be helpful:
1. Theory--a generalization or series of generalizations by which an attempt is made to explain some phenomenon in as systematic a manner as possible.
2. Theory--set of assumptions from which can be derived a set of empirical laws or principles (that can be tested).
3. Theory can be used as a guide to action, a guide to collect data, a guide to new knowledge, or a guide to explain.
4. Theory is not a philosophy, a taxonomy, a dream, or something personal. You don't prove a theory--you build a theory by empirically testing a variety of related assumptions (expand, clarify, build).
Personalized Journal or Diary
The use of a diary or journal by adults to enhance learning is not a new phenomenon. However, until the past couple of decades it has been confined primarily to people using the activity in conjunction with professional writing, for religious, psychological, or meditative reasons, or for personal pleasure. Beginning in 1965, Ira Progoff, a psychologist and therapist, and his colleagues began seeing the value of personal journals in enhancing personal growth and learning. He has written several books related to the topic of personal growth, but the one most directly related to the journal writing activity is entitled, At A Journal Workshop (1975). Christensen (1981), Gross (1977), and Rainer (1978) also talk about the diary as a learning tool for adults.
Journal or diary writing usually involves the regularized recording of personal feelings and reflections on a topic. Typically there are no set rules for writing the journal with the content, structure, and style left up to the writer. We encourage learners to look on the
personal journal as a resource which facilitates the growth of self-awareness and self-reliance. Within the solitude of the blank page writers "can reflect on their life experience, contemplate future directions, and come to trust more deeply their own answers" (Christensen, 1981, p. 4).
We suggest to learners that they use Progoff's book as a guide if they decide to work on a personalized journal. His method involves more than just a straight forward recording of thoughts about the subject or a set of readings. It calls for active dialogue and feedback by the journal writer in reflecting on what is being currently written as compared with what was written earlier.
We have found the role of the facilitator most important in the early stage of diary or journal writing. It is then that the learner may need someone off which to bounce ideas or to provide encouragement. It has also been our experience that in later stages a journal may become more personalized, maybe even personal, and the learner frequently less desirous or in need of outside feedback. We regard this as a sign of personal growth, but always try to be available if feedback is desired.
Small Group Activities
We have found it valuable to involve learners in small groups whenever it seems feasible. Three techniques that seem to be effective in promoting learning are study groups. debates among learners, and teaching teams.
We are firm believers in synergism, the notion that one plus one can often equal more than two in terms of the energy, excitement, and products associated with people working together on some study group activity. A study group consists of two or more people (we have found four to seven to be the best in terms of group size) joining together to concentrate some learning efforts on a topic. If used to meet some of the requirements in a graduate level course, for example, the study topic typically focuses on a subject related in some way to the overall course subject and one that is mutually agreed upon by the group members and approved by the facilitator. We also have used the study group technique in a training workshop to help participants
design a procedure whereby they could carry out some study on a topic after the training experience concluded.
Once the group is tentatively formed they should meet together to explore further a probable topic, to determine workable meeting times, and to select a group coordinator (and group recorder if deemed necessary). This initial discussion period is quite important so that members can begin to take ownership of the topic selected and even decide to back out if the experience does not seem to be heading in personally satisfactory areas. In the graduate classroom we typically provide some time during the first few sessions for groups to form and to begin work on a topic. In a short-term workshop we would encourage that the group form and meet during a lunch break or immediately following the initial training session.
After the topic is selected, we suggest that group members determine some sort of a focal point for their study efforts. This might include establishing some specific goals, deriving of one or more specific questions they would like to answer through a study effort, and determining the nature of any readings, learning objectives, and end results.
The next step is to carry out some related reading of materials they can find. We stress that the reading responsibilities be divided among all group members so that each person can take both ownership and responsibility. This also typically permits a wide range of materials to be covered. It is not unusual for members to determine ways of obtaining related information in addition to reading activities, such as through interviews or via original data collection efforts.
Group members are encouraged to prepare abstracts, summaries, or reading logs of the materials they read for later sharing with other members. Throughout all of these efforts the group coordinator serves to keep things moving forward on focus or on target, to schedule meetings as needed, and to serve as a liaison back to the course facilitator. We encourage study group members to meet periodically and discuss their various materials, to debate each other as necessary for the promotion of learning, and to begin building some sort of a group consensus.
In a graduate course we ask study groups to produce a final report (a typed, double-space report typically ranges from 10-30 pages in length) summarizing the general focus of the study effort, the materials read and discussed, the conclusions drawn, and the nature of the involvement by various group members. This report usually is submitted to the facilitator for evaluation, comments, and
feedback. If time permits it can be very educational and worthwhile for an oral summary of the study effort to be presented for other course members. In a training workshop we make ourselves available for later feedback if a study group selects to send us their final report. It is possible to conduct study groups via electronic mail or electronic conferencing, but more time usually is required.
We have found that most learners appreciate an opportunity to provide some in-depth information to each other in some manner during a course, even if they do not have the opportunity to participate in a study group. Thus, setting up a debate with one group for and one group against some topic in order to present a variety of views can be a worthwhile and enjoyable learning experience. This activity, too, can be carried out electronically if the course in on-line or if learners have access to each other through some electronic mail procedure.
It also can be a valuable experience for learners to teach each other about some aspect of the course. If such an activity is to be used, we prefer that a small group of 3-5 people work together by studying the material for awhile and then deciding on an instructional method for organizing their colleagues, one or more teaching techniques, and whatever supporting media or other devices they will need. We have found that a teaching period of between 60 and 90 minutes is about right and they also should seek coaching help from the instructor. There is the danger of such a session not being well-received by fellow learners unless it is carefully designed and delivered.
Learning Resources in the Community
We have found that a large number of learning resources and valuable educational experiences exist in any community. The purpose of this section is to describe three techniques involving experiences within the community that we have found beneficial as learning activities.
The literature provides several conceptual frameworks designed to aid the reader in understanding the different types of agencies. We provide learners with information about
various schema (Hiemstra, 1976a; Schroeder, 1980) and discuss the inherent value of learning first hand about an adult education agency or program in operation. We also provide three or four handouts describing various guidelines to consider using when finding out information about an agency, including topical study outlines, structured interview schedules, and suggestions for studying only specific aspects of an agency.
This learning experience may be most beneficial to a person not very familiar with or new to the field of adult education (or whatever field of interest most pertinent to your content area), but we also encourage more experienced learners to consider the activity as a means of validating or clarifying current understanding about adult education or to learn something about an agency with which they are not already familiar. Some learners will purposely choose to visit more than one agency in a semester-long course just so they can quickly broaden their view of the field.
Evaluation typically is in the form of written feedback (or oral if so desired) from the instructor. However, we encourage learners when completing their learning contracts to consider the best means for validating their learning experiences in an agency visit. For example, an agency administrator or the people interviewed may be much better able to evaluate the final report than the course instructor. In addition to written summaries which we encourage, if time permits we also urge people to make oral reports to the whole group so their colleagues can have a broadened exposure to information about various agencies.
A short-term internship in a community organization or agency provides many of the same values inherent in an agency visitation. A typical internship experience for a three credit, semester-long course would consist of a 40-50 hour experience working with some adult education practitioner. This might involve simply following a person around one week observing the various activities that are required in carrying out the job. Another experience might include involvement with some special program on which the agency is working, such as being a member of a planning committee for a conference or training workshop. Such an experience might necessitate the person working with the agency for a few hours each week during the entire semester. We also have suggested mini-internships to non-credit workshop
participants as a back-home learning technique that could be employed after the workshop has been completed.
The instructor's role is to serve as a liaison with the agency as needed, to discuss the learning experiences periodically with the learner, and to help in efforts to evaluate the experience. We typically ask people undertaking a mini-internship to complete some sort of a log or report of their experience. The report should include a self-evaluation of the effort and some type of overall statement regarding what was learned. We then will provide written (or oral if preferred) feedback to the learner. We also typically will contact the agency to determine if any problems developed during the internship experience and to obtain their overall assessment of the value of the experience for both the agency and the learner.
We recommend such study efforts primarily to those interested in community education programs or to those advanced learners who wish to become more skilled in understanding the potential of the community for education. There are several dimensions of a community that can be studied, such as various social, educational, or economic indicators, historical information, characteristics of the citizenry, and the community's power structure (Hiemstra, 1985a). We note to learners that the collection of information through a community study is only the beginning of the learning process. Gathered information will need to be processed, analyzed, and interpreted.
We encourage people engaging in this learning experience to develop a report that will include information centered around a variety of categories, including such topics as the history of the community, community leadership, the make-up of formal and informal groups, and the likely future of the community also can be included. Written or oral feedback from the instructor and/or community members typically provide some validation for the learner of the experience.
Learning Activity Sheets
When a teacher or trainer encourages that considerable responsibility for learning be assumed by the learner then information about the various course requirements must be clear.
We provide in a typical course, therefore, a learning activity descriptor sheet for each suggested learning activity. Even if a learner contracts for some alternative activity, the guidelines provided in terms of expectations will be useful either for the actual preparation of materials or in deciding on the alternative experience.
We use a similar format for describing most learning activities (see Figure R-1 above). The learning objectives we provide in any write-up are based on our assessment of what information, knowledge, or skills a person should get out of the experience in relationship to the overall goals of that particular course or training session. They also are intended to be suggestive of what the person may use as a personal goal statement in the learning contract.
We also use the term project to provide learners an opportunity to integrate many of their learnings for a course. In most of our graduate courses we will suggest to learners as they develop their learning contracts that completing the various learning activities or their equivalent is necessary to achieve the grade of B. Thus, the term project normally is used by the learner as a means for achieving the grade of A. It will represent that extra effort by a learner to obtain maximum potential out of a course.
We provide learners with a descriptive sheet that suggests several options. These normally will include some sort of suggested examination or testing procedure, a study group option, an extensive reading and writing experience, a term paper option, and one or more additional ideas depending on the nature of the subject matter (for example, a program planning course might include a term project idea related to actually planning or evaluating a program of some sort). In addition, learners always have the option of designing via the contract some activity of their own choosing.
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