Feature: Acting As Agents Of Change

By Azeezah Jameelah

As tutors for adults, we are not teachers, using a child-centred model of instruction. Instead, we act as facilitators and agents of change, enabling learners to make decisions that change their thinking in ways that benefit them. In order to guide them so that they can make this change effectively, we need to know three factors and address them through our tutorials.

The first factor is the previous learning of adult learners. These learners possess a large bank of previous learning. This can be both an asset and a liability. It is an asset when they link new knowledge and skills to it. This linkage reduces anxiety about learning new areas. It can be a liability when it becomes a hindrance to learning something new. Learners might face difficulty in absorbing the new information because of interference from their existing knowledge. If the new information contradicts the existing knowledge, the learners might dismiss it. In this case, they need to unlearn the previous learning.

We can help by getting them to build bridges between the previous and new learning. This can be done by using analogies and common examples. We could also allow learners to explore what they already know about an area before we impart new knowledge. In addition, we need to give learners credit for what they already know or are able to do.

The second factor is the emotional framework of adult learners. Adults have established emotional frameworks consisting of values, attitudes and tendencies. Learning involves changing behaviours and sometimes, parts of the framework. All change can be disorienting and can cause anxiety.

Tutors can help to prevent or reduce this anxiety by allowing learners to hang on to established values, attitudes and tendencies as long as these do not get in the way of learning. We also need to respond to any verbal and nonverbal feelings that they express. All these efforts will go towards providing a learning environment that is nonthreatening and less stressful for our learners.

The third factor is the self-concept of adult learners. Their self-esteem and ego are on the line when they are asked to try a new behaviour in front of their tutor and peers. Bad experiences in traditional education, feelings about authority and preoccupation with events outside the tutorial can and may affect tutorial experience. Learners also tend to take errors personally and are more likely to let these affect their self-esteem. Consequently, they tend to use tried and tested solutions and take fewer risks.

We can tackle this situation by providing learners with opportunities to identify what they want and need to learn; plan and carry out their own learning activities; and evaluate their own progress towards self-selected goals. Instead of playing the traditional role of teacher, we can assume the role of “learning resource.” It is also important that we treat learners as adults. Thus, we must avoid talking down to them or putting them in situations where they feel embarrassed.

Knowing the three factors and handling them as suggested may help you in getting your learners to unlearn obstructive previous lessons and learn useful new lessons. You may want to try out the techniques beginning from your next tutorial. You may be delightfully surprised with the results.

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In my opinion, tutors should regard our learners as:

Experienced in learning techniques and capable of studying on their own
Experienced in learning techniques but still need to be guided in some areas
Adults who need to relearn some concepts
New to learning techniques and need to be guided
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