In this session we explore more complex ideas behind teaching and learning, how these work in practice in vocational education and some of the pitfalls of generalising how people learn.
Some ideas on how we learn
How do we learn? This argument has raged for decades. Do we have one `general' intelligence and learn in just the one way, or what Gardner describes as multiple intelligences. Do people learn in particular ways or in many different ways?
There have been plenty of theories developed over the years: Behaviourism, a theory of animal and human learning that only focuses on objectively observable behaviours and discounts mental activities (see Skinner, Pavlov, Thorndike and Watson); Cognitivism, a theory that focuses on how human brains process and store information in the process of learning (see Piaget, Gagne); Constructivism focuses on how learners construct their own meaning by asking questions, developing answers and interacting and interpreting the environment (Dewey, Bruner, Laurillard, Vygotsky).
Each of these schools of thought have had a direct impact on the methods used to teach during the decades.
Are these relevant to apprenticeship learning in practice?
Traditional apprenticeship approach
Pratt and Johnson (1998) identify a traditional apprenticeship experience, based on developing a motor or manual skill, involves learning a procedure and gradually developing mastery, during which the master and learner go through several stages:
- observation of both the master and other learners performing the same procedure: this helps provide a conceptual model for the apprentice to follow and an ‘advanced organizer for their initial attempts at performing skills’
- modelling: explicit demonstration by the master of what to do, followed by the learner copying/practising the task
- scaffolding: the support and feedback provided to the learner by the master as the learner works on a task
- coaching: an overall approach of the master in choosing appropriate tasks, evaluating work and diagnosing problems.
Cognitive theory for apprenticeships?
Pratt and Johnson also identify a second form of learning that is less easily observable than learning motor or manual skills. They argue that in this context, master and learner must say what they are thinking during applications of knowledge and skills, and must make explicit the context in which the knowledge is being developed, because context is so critical to the way knowledge is developed and applied.
The question here is: can this be applied to Higher Apprenticeships?
Modelling for teachers and apprenticeships can be looked at in 4 forms:
- Showing but not explaining (implicit)
- Showing and explaining (explicit)
- Showing, explaining and asking an apprentice how they translate it to their own work
- Showing, explaining and discussing the `why' of doing it?
Apprenticeships: learning by doing?
Leading on from the discussion of cognitive theory, apprenticeships can be argued to be a particular way of enabling students to learn by doing. It is often associated with vocational training but it should be pointed out that apprenticeship is the most common method used to train post-secondary education instructors in teaching (at least implicitly), so there is a wide range of applications for an apprenticeship approach to teaching.
A key feature of apprenticeship is that it operates in what Schon described as ‘situations of practice that…are frequently ill-defined and problematic, and characterized by vagueness, uncertainty and disorder‘.
Learning in an apprenticeship then, is not just about learning to do through active learning but it also requires an understanding of the contexts in which the learning will be applied. In addition there is a social and cultural element to the learning, understanding and embedding the accepted practices, customs and values of experts in the field.
Some simple hints and tips:
Speak clearly and make sure that all apprentices are able to understand what you are saying.
Ensure that the apprentices' expectations are addressed early on in the training.
Explain the structure of the training at the beginning.
Review regularly to ensure that the material covered has been understood.
Deal with questions as they arise but if you don’t know the answer, don’t be afraid to say you will get back to the apprentice later.
Give useful and constructive feedback to apprentices.
Check your timing and have a contingency plan in case some parts of the training take longer than you expected.
Deliver the training consistently so that all apprentices receive the same training.
These are simple hints and tips: we are building a library of demonstrations of teaching practice on apprenticeships.