Feature: Teaching and Learning: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

By Assoc Prof Dr Nagarajah Lee Hun Leong

Teaching and learning are not a question of knowledge acquisition and skill enhancement anymore. They are about creating challenging, engaging and authentic educational experiences that produce lifelong learners. The debate on effective teaching and learning has existed since early civilisation but this issue occupies the centre stage in most intellectual discourse among educationists and researchers till today.

Previously, teachers were viewed as gurus, derived from the term “mahaguru” which originated from Indian civilisation. It portrayed a teacher as someone who knew everything in a field while a good learner was one who followed the teacher and learned religiously.

With such a paradigm, the common questions that played in teachers’ minds were: Are we teaching the right things? Are we teaching enough? Is the environment suitable for effective teaching? These led to the emergence of various methods for effective teaching. One example was rote learning, which was the main method used by gurus to teach their disciples.

Later, there emerged a spate of “new” curricula and calls for inquiry-based pedagogy that facilitated learners to think rather than to simply regurgitate knowledge learned. Many educationists said the only method for acquiring genuine understanding was through self-motivated independent discovery.

The effect of globalisation intensified the debate on teaching and learning. This debate will continue as long as the human race exists. Thomas Friedman (2007) metaphorically stated that “we live in a flat world” and went on to explain the changes in the worldview on education brought about by global economic, educational and technological forces. He succinctly put that the emphasis now was on empowering people to compete, connect and collaborate. Thus, there was a need for learners who were well rounded, equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills, and more importantly, the right attitude.

Globalisation has opened the floodgates of information, so learning needs to be redefined. The focus should be on meaning creation rather than regurgitation. The concept of teachers being gurus and learners being obedient followers belongs in the past. Content knowledge is necessary but insufficient. Teaching time is finite but content is virtually infinite, so what need to be taught are the skills that allow one to continually learn and construct knowledge. Simply accumulating information without learning to apply it results in what Alfred North Whitehead (1929) called inert ideas that remain stale or dead unless put to good use.

Learners need to be taught to make sense of information, apply knowledge and think across disciplines. The kind of learning that stimulates the imagination and teaches how to construct meaning and make disparate information coherent is paramount in developing effective self-directed learners. This involves the ability to think critically, solve problems creatively and make decisions wisely.

Learning needs an appropriate state of mind. The essence for one to become an effective learner faces three common barriers in terms of: 1) competency, 2) emotions, and 3) beliefs. In order to become an effective learner, one needs to break the barriers. We always say learning is the onus of learners. What is the role of tutors then? If we can be instrumental in helping learners to break these barriers, it will be a great service to education.

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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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