Feature: So You Think You Can Dance? (BEST FEATURE ARTICLE)

By Selina Marie Rogers (nselina@hotmail.com)

Could one claim to know how to dance by merely memorising a set of dance steps? The answer is, of course, no. This analogy could very well be used to address the issue here: is the acquisition of knowledge by itself sufficient for learners to survive in the real world?

It is undeniable that many learners pride themselves in scoring straight A's in quizzes and examinations, only to find themselves in a dilemma because they do not seem to be able to apply what they have acquired at the university. It is also a fact that employers are getting more and more disillusioned with the "half-baked" candidates they face at interviews. Supervisors and managers are bewildered at employees' inability to simply perform at work. After all, aren't graduates expected to be able to apply their subject matter knowledge at their workplaces?

In learning how to dance, a novice should not merely know a set of dance steps, she must also be given the opportunity to practise those steps. Similarly, a learner should be given tasks and exercises that allow her to apply the acquired knowledge. In other words, these tasks should require the learner to think and apply, not merely recall and regurgitate. For example, in the case of Business Communication skills, knowing the importance of empathy in customer relations does not necessarily mean the learner is able to demonstrate empathy when speaking or writing to an irate customer.

Every learner-dancer is aware that taking the first steps can be a daunting task. Motivation from the dance teacher can do wonders for the self-esteem of the learner. Tutors have the same role to play.

At the initial stage, learners could face difficulties as they attempt to put their subject matter knowledge into practice. Remember, a significant number of them would have spent years of their school life being spoon-fed by teachers who adhered to an education system that is very much exam-oriented to this very day. It is a challenge to step out of that comfort zone and to start thinking out-of-the-box! So, it is really up to tutors to inspire, motivate, and challenge learners to apply what they have learnt. The best way to do so is to help them relate their knowledge with situations and experiences at work and in life.

Ultimately, however, a well-equipped dance studio, hours of dance lessons and an encouraging dance teacher are only useful to a learner-dancer if he or she has the will to succeed. Learners should realise that no matter what the university or tutors does to facilitate learning, it is their own initiative that will drive them to put knowledge to work. They are the ones who have the power to make their own learning meaningful and worthwhile.

So perhaps it is time for tutors to ask this question when they meet their learners in the next tutorial: "So you think you can dance?"

* Selina Marie Rogers is an OUM subject matter expert (SME) in English and TESL.

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