Learning Model

I am reading The Innovative University by Christensen and Eyring and am totally fascinated by the Learning Model example provided in the book. In the Learning Model, students are held responsible for their own learning. They are given some type of assignment prior to class that requires them to learn about a concept. This might be reading an article, researching a topic, reading a textbook section, working some problems, etc. Students also might engage in conversation about the topic prior to class to share what they have learned about the topic with each other. Class time is then devoted to application of the concept to the real world. After the class session, students are asked to reflect on what they have learned.

I’ve been using this type of model for a while now with some level of success. Once students get past the shock of a class that doesn’t conform to “normal”, they tend to enjoy the class and learn the topics more deeply. The trick seems to be in changing student expectations about the classroom. It seems as if BYU-Idaho has done a great job of changing student expectations. They provide both faculty and student orientation and training on the Learning Model and have a culture of accountability, both for students and faculty.

Reading the book and researching the model is causing me to think more carefully about lesson plans. Absent the culture shift like that at BYU-Idaho, how can I move students toward a shift in expectations about my class and then about their future classes? If I can move students toward accepting responsibility for their learning in my class, will they apply this to future classes, even when it’s not a requirement of the class?

 

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Creating Lesson Plans

In last week’s blog, I talked about developing course outcomes and learning objectives. For a quick review, the course outcomes are the skills I expect students to have upon completion of the course. These should be stated in the form of action verbs that are measurable. For example, a course outcome for one of my accounting courses is that students should be able to analyze the financial performance of a firm.

Learning objectives provide the roadmap for how I will help students gain the skills. These should provide the plan for the cognitive development of students. Using the course outcome example in the previous paragraph, the learning objectives would help students to develop the underlying skills needed to analyze the financial performance of a firm, such as calculating financial ratios.

Once I have developed the outcomes and learning objectives, I begin to create lesson plans for the course. The lesson plans should map to the learning objectives. If I have determined that students must be able to calculate financial ratios in order the analyze the financial performance of a firm, I would want to create lessons that would build and reinforce the skill. The number and complexity of the lessons are dependent upon the skill I am trying to develop. More difficult skills sets require more practice. I might want to create multiple  lesson plans that start with a basic skill, then create more complex lessons to build higher-level skills.

Let’s  consider the example  that I provided in the first blog of my grandson learning to ride his bike. The outcome is that he can ride his bike without training wheels (and without wrecking and getting hurt). I would develop learning objectives like (1) peddle the bike with training wheels; (2) steer the bike with training wheels; (3) peddle and steer at the same time with training wheels; (4) balance without training wheels; (5) balance, peddle and steer without training wheels. The lessons would begin with teaching him to peddle the bike with the training wheels on while I steer. Then I would build to have him both peddle and steer the bike, etc. The message here is that the lessons should map to the learning objectives which provide development of the skill.

When courses are developed in this fashion, students can more easily see the connection between the lessons and the course outcomes. Additionally, because there is more focus on the development of skills, students are more likely to build and retain the required skills.

In next week’s blog, I will discuss building assignments that reinforce the lessons.

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Building Course Outcomes and Learning Objectives

In my previous post I said that developing a course is like planning a trip; it is important to know where you want to go before you start driving. Once you know where you want to go, you can better plan how to get there. I have to admit that when I first started teaching, I fell into the same trap as many college faculty – I developed my courses around a textbook. Luckily, I have realized the error of those ways and have adjusted my strategy accordingly.

The best courses are developed by first considering how the course helps to meet the program outcomes. For example, if one of the outcomes of the entire degree program is that students will be able to communicate effectively, I should consider how my course fits into the program to build that skill. If my course comes early in the program, perhaps I should address the use of proper grammar and spelling to help build communication skills and build a course outcome and learning objectives accordingly. Once I have a clear picture of how my course helps to meet the program outcomes, I can begin to build the course outcomes.

As stated in my previous blog post, the course outcomes provide the road map for the course. They state what students should be able to do upon completion of the course. It is important to state these using action verbs that can be easily measured. When the course has clear and measurable outcomes, it is easy to assess student learning in the course. Going back to my road trip analogy, if I have a clear outcome for the trip (I am going to Disney World, for example), it is easy to measure if the trip was successful (Did I make it to Disney World?).

The course outcomes should be the big, over-arching skills that students should build during the course (there should be somewhere around 3-5 outcomes). I usually divide my courses into units based on the outcomes. For example, in an introductory financial accounting course, the course outcomes might be that the student should be able to: (1) complete the accounting cycle for a service-based business; (2) complete the accounting cycle for a merchandising business; (3) prepare financial statements for a sole proprietorship, partnership, and corporation; and (4) analyze the financial performance of a firm. My course would then be divided into four units with one of these major course outcomes as the theme for each unit.

If we consider the trip analogy, the outcomes are the major checkpoints during the trip. These are the points at which I will stop and assess whether I am on the right road, making adequate progress, and on target to arrive as expected. These provide opportunities to assess student progress through the course. They provide the opportunity to stop and make sure everyone is still “on the bus”.

Once the course outcomes are developed, I begin to write the learning objectives for each of the outcomes. The learning objectives provide more detail about how I will help students to build the skill identified in the course outcome. I must consider the cognitive development of the skill. For example, are there lower-level skills that build up to the major skill set? If one of my course outcomes is that students should be able to analyze the financial performance of a firm, for example, I must add learning objectives to build that skill, such as students should be able to calculate financial ratios.

Building the course outcomes and learning objectives is time consuming, but worth the effort. Without a clear roadmap for the course, it is easy for a course to veer off track.

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The Art of Teaching

I have been teaching Accounting to college students for about 15 years now.  I have to admit that I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning and am still learning about teaching. While teachers at the k-12 level are required to be licensed, we don’t require a license to teach at the college level.  We work under the assumption that an expert in the field should be able to teach others.

I have been fortunate to have taught at institutions that value faculty training in the art of teaching and provide opportunities for faculty to develop themselves in the field of teaching. Many of my colleagues have not been so fortunate. This seems to be a topic of conversation at many of the conferences I attend. There appears to be a need for faculty training on the art of teaching; therefore, I am providing this blog as an avenue for us to share our thoughts on the subject and to educate each other.

In my early years of teaching, I didn’t fully understand the importance of course development. I basically planned class activities week-by-week based upon the next chapter of the text with no thought as to how to tie the concepts together or assess student learning. When I started developing courses for online delivery, I realized the importance of planning the entire course in advance of the beginning of the semester. I quickly realized the value of applying this principle to all the courses I teach, regardless of the venue or format.

I liken the course development process to planning a vacation. I wouldn’t get in the car and start driving without a plan for my vacation; it’s equally ridiculous to start a semester without a clear plan for each course. The first step in the vacation planning process is deciding where to go. I can’t really plan the trip until I know where I’m going. Likewise, it’s crucial to know the course outcomes before planning any lessons. According to the American Association of Law Libraries (2004), “Learning outcomes are statements that specify what learners will know or be able to do as a result of a learning activity.  Outcomes are usually expressed as knowledge, skills, or attitudes.  Learning outcomes should flow from a needs assessment.  The needs assessment should determine the gap between an existing condition and a desired condition. Learning outcomes are statements that describe a desired condition—that is, the knowledge, skills, or attitudes required to fulfill the need.  They represent the solution to the identified need or issue.  Learning outcomes provide direction in the planning of a learning activity.”

This definition of learning outcomes leads to my next point. In order to plan a trip, you must first know where you are going, and then you must consider your starting point. In order to plan the learning activities in a course, one must consider what students should be able to do upon completion of the course, as well as the skills students are expected to have when entering the course. The gap in the skill set is the foundation for all activities within the course.

Once the beginning point and the final destination have been decided, one can develop a plan for the trip. Plans can be made for rest stops, refueling stops, etc. Key signs and landmarks along the way can be mapped so that one can make sure (s)he is still on course. Before starting a long trip, I calculate the distance between the starting and ending points then use that to determine when and where I intend to stop. Knowing how far I’m going allows me to calculate the number of stops I will need to make. This is also important when developing a course. It’s important to determine how far the students will need to “go” to master the skills. This is also helpful in determining the checkpoints along the way to make sure students are meeting the learning outcomes. I find it helpful to build my courses backwards. I begin with the skills I expect students to have gained by the end of the course, then work backwards to build the next level until I reach the level of skill that I expect students to have when they begin the course.  Let’s consider a simple example; assume that I want to teach my five-year-old grandson to ride a bike without training wheels. In order to ride his bike without training wheels, he must be able to balance himself while peddling and steering. Since he knows how to peddle and steer, my lessons would focus on balancing himself.

In future blogs, we will further explore course development. We will also tackle issues such as cognitive development, learning styles, and other topics related to teaching. I hope that you will join in the discussion and we can all learn from each other.

Resources

American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), 2004, Developing and Submitting a Program Proposal to the AALL Professional Development Committee, ‘What are learning outcomes?’ http://www.aallnet.org/prodev/guide_for_developing_and_submitt.asp

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