Dynamic needs of learners require methodological integration in adult higher education practice

As student needs and society demands become increasingly diverse, didactic teaching methods imposed by teachers who lack practical experience have diminishing effectiveness in higher education. Teachers and institutions who suffer methodological myopia risk escalating commitment to static practices in a dynamic context. Put differently, scholarly lectures to prepare students for passing tests are increasingly irrelevant.

A practitioner-scholar instructor with deep subject knowledge and extensive practical experience is better equipped to influence student success in emerging environments. The practitioner scholar can bridge the gap between classroom and career while fostering student success by serving as mentor, coach, and guide who can help students recognize immediate and potential value of course content.

When the teacher's mission is to facilitate learners toward self-sufficiency in learning so they can perpetually develop beyond the classroom and throughout their careers, the teacher must integrate a wide assortment of methods from different perspectives. This becomes an integrated systems approach that allows the scholar-practitioner to assume a classroom leadership role that distributes power, authority, and responsibility among teacher, students and environment to better prepare students for professional success in a turbulent competitive environment.

An integrative systems perspective requires that teachers develop a flexible skillset that allows context to illuminate the method. The effective teacher not only understands which approach to use for a situation, he or she will develop the capacity to tap the strengths of multiple methods and philosophies to match practices to motivate performance at the individual, group, and classroom levels.

Didactic methods still serve the purpose of shaping learners. However, emerging practice is recognizing that learning is more than shaping behavior and imposing knowledge. It's also a process by which individuals develop capacity, construct knowledge, grow toward inherent potential, and transcend self. This understanding helps teachers see the learner and classroom through seemingly disparate philosophical lenses to identify practices that align with context. For example,

  • Through a behaviorist lens, the teacher can shape student knowledge and behavior within the frameworks of the institution, field, or test. This includes delivering lectures, programmed instruction, and pre-packaged training.
  • Through a cognitive lens, the teacher can structure activities for teaching students how to learn, acquire skills, and build memory. This includes social cognitive approaches through which the teacher establishes learning goals, explains and demonstrates concepts, monitors student practices, guides students toward independence, evaluates the outcome, and provides feedback.
  • Through a constructivist lens, the teacher can leverage social interaction, collaborative activities, and assessments that allow colleagues to construct deep understanding and complex solutions. This includes cognitive-mediation approaches through which the teacher acts as a coach who motivates learners to push their zones of proximal development as individuals and teams.
  • Through a humanist lens, the teacher can apply student-centered approaches that allow learners to recognize connections between learning and personal development, while helping learners transcend self-interest to improve the lives of others. This includes Socratic methods that help students understand the values in the concepts they are learning.
  • Through the emerging Mind, Brain, Education Science the teacher can synthesizes data and practice across disciplines of psychology, neurology, and education to illuminate effective teaching practices that change the brain.

With an integrative systems perspective, each classroom can become a laboratory through which teacher and students collaborate as co-researchers to identify needs, define goals, monitor progress, and improve practice through implementation. In short, by seeing the classroom as a dynamic learning system the teacher can synthesize a broad range of practices that allow mutual influence and development among students, context, and methods.

Brent Duncan, PhD