Literature in adult education advocates the view that the process of teaching adults is distinct from the teaching of children and although most of the teaching approaches do apply to all age groups, the age and experiences of adults necessitate different approaches among them as compared to children. Adults display special and diverse learning purposes due to which they have a desire to know, why they should actually learn something and how it would be beneficial to them.
Their learning choices and behaviours may be impacted by their ages, tastes, financial abilities, or even their prejudices, factors that could be highly influential in their learning outcomes. It is thus, crucial to understand the distinct principles of adult learning in order to evaluate the optimal learning approach that can be successfully employed by teachers and educators in adult education (Flaxington & Cohen, 1996).
Approaches in adult education are based on several studies and research including “philosophical assumptions associated with humanistic psychology and progressive education” and “research and theory on adult learning, development, and socialization” (Beder & Darkenwald, 1982; Imel, 2004).
The study of adult learning is more appropriately described by the term ‘andragogy, a term penned by the father of adult learning, Malcolm Knowles, according to which, adult learning is based on several factors such as the quantity and the quality of experiences which they have faced at the time of entering the experience of learning in addition to the total power they have on the process and the environment of learning (Knowles, 1984). Andragogy is associated with learner-centred methods of teaching by using approaches in adult education, in order to obtain the best possible outcomes of teaching.
Process of identifying an instructional approach witnessed, experienced or read about
Understanding the principles of adult learning can help teachers in selecting the most appropriate instructional approach and enable them to become better facilitators of learning so that in the selection of the ideal instructional approach for the students, the instructor, involves the students in the process of learning so that they are active participants and not simply passive recipients of the teaching process.
Since educational approaches in adult teaching are greatly impacted by the purpose of learning by students and should be based on crucial factors such as the goals of the learners and the content of education being taught to them. Knowles asserts that teachers and educators must be able to promote ‘self-directed’ learning among adults which would facilitate the creation of personal learning objectives among the adult learners and enable them to set their individual aims which would be attained by individual and practical practice measures adopted by them. O’Brien (2004) affirms that self-directed approaches in teaching are lasting and highly beneficial to adult learners since they are goal-oriented and have the ability to progress independently.
An important paradigm in the ideal adult teaching approach is experience.
According to researchers, the learner’s experiences in the teaching-learning processes have a considerable impact on the teaching processes and the general outcomes as experience play a vital role in enabling individuals to function in the world and therefore its influence on learning should be applicable to the students work and must be valued by the learner (Brookfield, 1986). It is therefore important for the instructor to know the needs and requirements of the learner so that the instructional approach can be tailored according to adults preferences to learn.
While taking the decision to select the appropriate design of the instructional approach for the students, the teacher is required to consider several factors including the needs of the students, their strengths and their interests. A thorough evaluation of these factors will enable the instructors to decide the most suitable approach so that “effective teaching” is not simply “a set of generic practices”, but “a set of context-driven decisions about teaching” so that “Effective teachers do not use the same set of practices for every lesson”, rather, they are involved in the continuous process where they “constantly reflect about their work, observe whether students are learning or not, and, then adjust their practice accordingly” (Glickman, 1991; p. 6).
Decisions regarding the instructional approach by the instructor are critical to the success of the program and the results which the learning will have on the students. As such, decisions involving the optimal instructional approach must be taken consciously and purposefully so that the most effective instructional approaches can be incorporated into the teaching process.
Interactive instruction is an instructional approach, which the researcher has identified and found to be a highly interesting form of programmed instruction in adult education. The primary aim of this approach is to shape the behaviour and attitudes of students and prepare them for their professional life by increasing their collaborative abilities and self-confidence. The optimal interactive designs include text and graphics, asking questions, group discussions, evaluating student’s responses and providing feedback to students (Merrill, 1985).
In the paper, the researcher aims to analyze the Interactive instructional approach considered best to suit the needs of adult learners. The researcher also attempts to evaluate this approach to assess the kind of knowledge which this approach will facilitate and the development of skills and expertise which are likely to occur due to this approach.
Analyzing the kinds of knowledge that the approach will develop
According to research, different individuals have different styles of learning and retaining information and have six learning capabilities (Boud and Griffin, 1987). The rational ability of learners is the most common and is based on the assumption that the process of learning is a rational and logical activity (Boud and Griffin, 1987). Students also have the emotional ability along with the relational in which the process of learning is facilitated through the relationships with others (Boud and Griffin, 1987).
The physical ability is responsible for the learning to take place by our physical state while the metamorphic ability to learn is a symbolic process and is based on intuition (Boud and Griffin, 1987). Finally, the spiritual ability enables the feeling of connectedness with the environment and the context in which learners are placed (Boud and Griffin, 1987).
Interactive instruction is a process that should encourage the learner to be actively involved in the learning process by providing an opportunity to engage and enhance the retention of new concepts and knowledge so that the learning experience can be meaningful. Carl Rogers (1969) has differentiated cognitive and meaningless learning from experiential and significant learning.
Interactive instructional design is a mutual and dynamic approach to instruction that involves an exchange of ideas and information between the students and the instructor, making the process of learning highly interesting and exciting. It is a sequence of presentations of ideas, reactions and discussions which enhances the mental agility of the students. (See Gagné & Merrill, 1990).
Adult learners are motivated on the basis of their experiences in life and are therefore self-directed in their potential to learn. Their habits and fixed choices also have a considerable effect on their learning potential and motivation to acquire knowledge. As such, instructors involved in adult education must take these factors into consideration when deciding the optimal instructional approaches to teach adult students. The best and most suitable instructional approach must be a blend of two or more approaches so that the instruction is effective and yields optimal results.
Contrasting the effectiveness of the instructional approach to other possible approaches
In this type of deductive instructional approach, the teacher directs the entire process of teaching with the help of lectures, drills, didactic questions and demonstrations. The direct approach in instruction is extremely teacher-centred and the instructor leads the entire session. The direct instructional approach is now considered traditional as the interaction of the students in this kind of approach is minimal. However, in child education, this approach is commonly used since children do not have much experience and knowledge to guide their learning process.
In this type of inductive instructional approach, the teacher uses the techniques of inquiry, problem-solving, decision making and discovery, making the teaching process more student-centred rather than teacher-centred. In this approach, the students are required to observe, investigate and draw conclusions from the knowledge presented to them, which facilitates the development of cognitive abilities of the students by initiating their interest and curiosity.
The approach also facilitates creativity among students so that they develop the crucial skills of observation, analyzing, encoding, interpreting and various other related skills. Indirect instruction is better than direct instruction as it is more student-centred, however, the learning process is guided by the instructor to a certain extent and there is not much active participation from the students. Indirect instruction is based on the prior experiences and knowledge of the students, which makes the approach more interactive and the teacher is simply a facilitator.
Experiential learning is an inductive and learner-centred instructional approach with a greater focus on the process of learning through activity-based teaching methods. Experiential learning occurs in a cycle of five important phases including experience through participation in activity, observation and sharing of views, critical analysis, drawing inferences and application of conclusions to new situations or activities (Pfeiffer & Jones, 1979). Experiential learning is more student-centered than the preceding two approaches as it builds on the previous experiences of the learners. Interactive instruction does have some similarities to this approach and includes some of the phrases such as sharing of views and critical analysis.
Independent Study or Self-directed learning
Independent study is the term coined to describe an entire range of instructional approaches which facilitate the students’ self-reliance and self-improvement abilities with the prime focus of enabling the students to become responsible citizens of society. This approach in instruction is considered to be effective as it mainly concerns the drawing out of the personal capabilities of the students to develop an interest in self-learning. However, self-directed instruction tends to be entirely dependant on the learner’s ability and aptitude to learn and the instructor has little role to play in the process.
As such, in the interactive instructional approach, there is an emphasis on discussion and the exchange of ideas between the teacher and the students. These discussion sessions facilitate the development and enhancement of the crucial cognitive skills which enables students to “react to the ideas, experience, insights, and knowledge of the teacher or of peer learners and to generate alternative ways of thinking and feeling” (Seaman and Fellenz, 1989; p. 119).
Development of skills
An ideal instructional approach would be designed not only by drawing on the principles of instructional methodology but also from the essential theories of learning including cognitive theory, behaviourism, adult education and the systems theory to name a few. Since learning is an interactive process where the learner is an active participant and not a passive recipient, the experiences and motivation of the learner are crucial aspects of the instructional design, and it is, therefore, essential to consider this as a primary basis of adult education.
When using the optimal instructional approach which would ideally be a blend of two or more approaches, the instructor must bear in mind that the primary focus of any instructional or learning theory is to acquire “intellectual skills” (Kearsley, 1994a). Accordingly, Gagne’s theoretical framework asserts great importance to the development of “cognitive strategies” for which the instructor must expose the students “to practise developing new solutions to problems” and “must be exposed to a credible role model or persuasive arguments” (Kearsley, 1994a).
By doing so, the instructor would be able to achieve the following five levels of learning outcomes in students which include verbal skills, intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, motor skills and desirable attitudes. Interactive instruction necessitates the accommodation of “systematically varying teaching and assessment methods” so that each and every student benefits from the instructional approach (Sternberg 1994, as cited in Ross-Gordon 1998, 227). The instructor should also provide “multiple perspectives” (Jonassen et al., 1997, 122) to the students so that they are able to form and present alternate points of view and interpretations” (Fahy 1999, 237).
While using the instructional approach, the instructor must also consider Bruner’s Constructivist Theory, which is based upon cognitive study and research and asserts that “learning is an active process in which the learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current/past knowledge” (Kearsley 1994b). Bearing this concept in mind, the instructor must be able to provide the students with cognitive structures which would enable them to analyze and interpret the information presented to them and apply it to their relative situations or circumstances.
Development of expertise and capacity for far and near transfer
Bruner (Kearsley 1994) asserts that encouragement from the instructor plays a pivotal role in enabling the students to construct hypotheses from the knowledge presented and the discussion which follows. This would enhance their capabilities to discover the core principles by themselves. Thus, the primary function of the instructor is to present the required information to the students by translating it in a suitable format based on the learner’s abilities, skills and experiences, so that they are able to build upon “what they have already learnt” (Bruner, 1996).
The ideal theory of interactive instruction according to Bruner (1996) is one that would effectively address the most effective sequential presentation of the material and the appropriate structuring of the knowledge so that the student is able to grasp it easily and effortlessly. Bruner’s constructivist theory also asserts that the instruction must be applicable to the context and experiences of the learners as this would enhance their readiness to learn and acquire information and apply this knowledge to gain an expert understanding of their subject. They should also be able to apply this knowledge to their relative professions.
Instruction must also be provided by the instructor in such a manner that through active interaction with the students, the instructor is able to fill in the gaps of information among the students. This can be achieved by the instructor through the application of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives for the Cognitive Domain (1956) according to which the instructor or the teacher follows a set pattern of instruction by exposing the students to cognitive activities and progressing from the least complex to the most complex (Fahy 1999, 42-43). By doing so, the instructor aims at achieving the desired results of preparing the students to plan and progress sequentially from simple tasks to more difficult and complex goals.
The instructor would ideally begin with a classroom/ group discussion, ensuring that all the students participate in the process of discussion. By doing so, the teachers establish an atmosphere of productive learning and enable the students to present their views on a particular topic. Care must be taken by the instructor to ensure that the discussion does not stray away from the particular point and that each and every student is allowed to take part in the discussion. The instructor must ascertain that faulty or inappropriate views are corrected immediately and replaced with the correct knowledge and information. Great care must be taken to ascertain that the students do not feel embarrassed by the instructor at any given time since this would serve to de-motivate them.
This process of interaction between the students, teacher and the entire class would enable the students to acquire and develop basic discussion and conversation skills through the interactive process of sharing knowledge and information. Interactive instruction also enhances self-esteem and self-reliance among students.
With the use of interactive instructional methods, the instructor facilitates the development of specific skills and knowledge among students.
Discussion and creative inquiry are the ideal means to gain the active participation of students of the entire class. Positive discussions enhance interest among students so that they actively participate in the given subject. In order for discussions to yield the desired results, it is essential for students to discover the correct answer/ answers to the question, which is followed by a consensus and a solution.
All along with the discussion, the instructor plays an active part and guides the discussion so that unnecessary debates are avoided. The focus of the instructor is to ensure that the material is comprehended by the students which can be evaluated by asking the students to summarize the key points of the discussion.
Question and Answer
The question and answer approach in interactive instruction are also effective as the students react positively to the personal attention they receive from the instructor. The instructor must lay emphasis on extracting the correct answers from the students and mildly correcting the students when they are incorrect.
This method enhances the self-confidence and esteem of students and also helps in developing the language skills of students. The instructor must care to see that incorrect or inappropriate answers are redirected and ample time is given to the students to think, analyze and frame their answers before presenting them to the class and the teacher. Again, this method would involve the previous experience of the students which helps in increasing the participation and responsiveness of the students.
The method of small group interactions in interactive instruction is particularly beneficial in developing the social and academic skills of students as each and every member of the small group has a chance of contributing their thoughts to the discussion. The fewer numbers of the group make it possible for all the members to talk, listen and gain important feedback from the co-students.
Co-operative Learning Group
Instruction through co-operative groups is considered an essential interactive method of instruction where the students form small groups of four to six members. Through this method, students gain the important skills of discussion and maintaining harmony and respect in the process. Research in co-operative learning asserts that this instructional method is more effective in promoting,
“higher achievement, greater motivation, more positive interpersonal relations among students, more positive attitudes toward the subject area and teacher, greater self-esteem and psychological health, more accurate perspective-taking, and greater social skills” (Johnson and Johnson, 1989; p. 8-9).
Arguing an overall appraisal of the approach in terms of these considerations
The Interactive instructional approach enables students to work “toward a common goal” in class as well as in their professional life which would be instrumental in yielding optimal results (Slavin, 1987). Instruction through the co-operative method is extremely effective in developing collaboration skills and attitudes among the target students.
By creating respectful environments for instruction, the instructor creates, facilitates and encourages the students to value all opinions. This trait is an important aspect of personality that aids in building healthy collaborative relationships among people. Voluntary participation from the adult students including the teacher facilitates the ability to share views, opinions, ideas and knowledge with other members. The instructor plays the role of a facilitator and interacts with students to initiate positive and open responses from them, thereby imbibing the value of positivism and openness in group discussions.
Patience and courteousness on behalf of the instructor are highly essential to the interactive methods of instruction. By doing so the instructor provides the students with a safe environment and politely checks the errors of the students and assures them that mistakes are an inevitable component of the course of learning. The students learn through the instructor that mutual respect and understanding are the primary factors of health and collaborative environments which go a long way in developing ideas and relationships.
By and large, the theories of adult education are primarily based on the previous knowledge and experiences of adult learners. Therefore adult instructional approaches must utilize and build on this prior knowledge of the learners and establish safe and cordial environments of learning by integrating the essential cognitive theories and interactive instructional methods. In most situations, adult learners are able to yield optimal results through the active participation of all the students in addition to the instructor.
The primary purpose of the instructor is the establishment and development of an environment which facilitates the spread of knowledge among the students. Interactive instructional techniques which involve the methods of discussion, question and answer method, formation of co-operative groups are all the ideal ways of enhancing student activities and participation in class.
It is essential for the instructor to carefully evaluate and analyze the needs and the previous experiences of the learner in order to design and practice the ideal instructional approach for the adult learners. A clear understanding of the various cognitive theories and adult learning would enable the instructor to adopt methods and means which would be most suitable for the adult learners.
Although the instructor may consider interactive instruction as the ideal approach in adult learning, it must be remembered that the integration of two or more approaches such as the interactive approach which is a blend of self-directed and experiential learning is the most ideal approach to adopt while instructing adult learners.
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