Improving the learner engagement

Improving the learner engagement

Kindling the interest of the students or learners in any learning scenario has been an ongoing challenge for the teachers and trainers across the world. While there have been some great examples of individual teachers, it has not been developed as a process which can be adopted by every teacher and enjoyed by every student. This article attempts to provide a few new directions based on some old research.

A lot of pedagogical experiments have been done to explore various ways to pique the interest of learners and engage them in active learning process. These range from activity-based learning, experiential learning and even game-based learning. The activities ranged from group discussions, assignment to even sports where the facilitator made the learners to play sports and some games and tries to create insights into a few learning objectives. Some online games like Minecraft have also been experimented, using which the learners perform some tasks, and in the process, understands some concepts. Most of these techniques work well in behavioural trainings and when it comes to technical or business-related skills, it has remained a challenge. The single most powerful motivator has been the GPA and the degree and a subsequent placement rather than learning with joy.   

Davis S Murray in his insightful article from 1971, observed that whether it is research or teaching, the best way to make things interesting is to challenge some of the core assumptions of the audience. This process immediately engages the audience and draws them into the discussion, inviting them to explore the concept further along with the facilitator. When the learners proceed along this guided path of logical construction of the new argument, it becomes a process of an exciting discovery of a new concept, not just as a fact but as a well understood concept.

For this process to be effective, the following steps are recommended so that the teacher and facilitator can successfully engage the learners in the discussion and help them not only appreciate the new concepts but also develop a deeper understanding. This process literally becomes a journey into the unknown and unexpected territory. As the learner is forced to replace his assumptions through this process, the stickiness of the concept is much better as there is an emotional journey involved along with the intellectual journey. Here are the process steps.

Step-1: Identify and understand the common assumptions about the concept among the learners. 

This takes some initial discussion and probing as each learning cohort would be different. The preliminary discussion about what the learners think about the concept would help the facilitator to bring the cohort on to the same page with a shared level of understanding. The most important question to be asked is not just what they think about the concept but also why they think so.  The answer to this WHY question elicits their assumptions.

Step-2: Identify the contexts in which those assumptions hold true

These assumptions would be contextual and hence it helps to enrich the discussion by probing further into each of these opinions/ assumptions. This can be achieved by asking them why they think so and where do they see this being true. The process of challenging their assumptions starts here. The learners start seeing and understanding that each of their diverse views are true but only in each context. That means that others’ opinions were also true, in different contexts. This is a great insight which helps them improve their questioning and listening skills, leading to conflict resolution.     

Step-3: Present a context and the related concept which challenges their assumptions

Here the facilitator introduces a new concept which challenges their assumptions and leads the discussion helping them identify the gaps in their current assumptions. These gaps could be due to changing environment and scenarios. Helping them to identify the factors which influence this shift in thinking is a great way to broaden their horizon. This helps them to construct new contexts where the assumptions are no longer valid, and they need a new way of dealing with the problems.

Step-4: Help learners internalize the new insights

Here the facilitator can create a group discussion or open discussion to help learners identify the new concepts which would work in the new context along with the factors which influence the situation. This essentially sets them off on a path of problem-solving, trying to figure out what would work and what factors are to be taken care of to ensure that the solution works.  This discussion can extend into what can work in practice and the related assumptions which bring us to such conclusion.

Step-5: Make a simple mind map

To capture all these thoughts and insights in a concise manner which would stay with them for long, the facilitator should encourage them to create a mind map starting with the central idea as their initial assumptions and how they transformed based on different contexts. This brings all the different possibilities into the same paradigm, and they start understanding the foundations of this paradigm. This will help them to identify the anchors of the paradigm and how that can shift.      

In this manner, the facilitator can lead the cohort into the unknown, along a path of inquiry and discovery. This will also provide a strong basis to which other concepts can be easily connected as well as extended from. This way, the learners start seeing the interconnectivity and interdependence of these concepts. They also start seeing the underlying core assumptions which are driving the entire thinking process of the domain and its practitioners and proponents. This, however, requires the facilitator to be very strong in fundamentals and with an ability to carry the whole class along the journey of multi-directional inquiry.

About the Author

Flt.Lt. Sridhar Chakravarthi is an experienced organizational change coach and consultant with over 30 years of leadership experience in various industries. He believes in the possibility of exponential growth for individuals, start-ups and mature organizations. He empowers them to achieve exponential growth by bringing agility into their mindset, processes and behaviours. He is an authorized training partner for Enterprise Agility University, runs his company “Coach for Change” and lives in Bengaluru, India.