COMMON CONCERNS ABOUT THE INDIVIDUALIZING PROCESS
There are a variety of questions you may have about the individualizing process as you begin to adapt it to your own instructional situation. In our various classes and workshops for adult educators, for example, most of the following concerns are invariable raised in some manner.
New Instructional Skills Required
"Will new instructional skills be required to use the individualizing process and to be successful with it?" An answer to that question really depends, of course, on what skills you already possess. Individualizing your instructional process will require you to have those qualities necessary for any kind of human interaction: the ability to communicate, a willingness and desire to help, honesty, openness, and true enjoyment in being with other adults.
However, the process may also require the development of some new abilities. These include the ability to utilize the input of learners, to organize a variety of resources to meet their needs, and to inspire them to assume ownership of their learning endeavors. It also will require your willingness to give up a certain amount of control and transfer that control to learners.
Time Needed to Individualize Instruction
"The individualizing process seems too easy--it is the lazy instructor's method!" It is true that some will misuse, abuse, or not completely understand the process that we have described. But we have found that fostering and utilizing learner input typically promote an exciting, positive, and rewarding educational climate. Indeed, we believe that really good instructors have known and employed aspects of the individualizing process for centuries. This process is not a means of letting learners do the teaching but one of finding ways in which the many skills of an instructor can best used to meet the needs of learners and take advantage of their experiences and skills.
Involving the learner is by no means an easy way to handle an instructional assignment. The instructor is often required to
spend considerable time outside of class in organizing resources, uncovering new resources, meeting with learners to help them organize and implement their own learning activities, and staying on top of the relevant content areas. The instructor may also have to spend extra time tailoring and guiding special programs or learning activities and providing supplements to an individualizing environment, such as evaluating the wide variety of products that learners will submit. Indeed, as noted in Chapter Nine, the evaluation activities required of the instructor often exceed what would be found in a standard testing or grading situation.
In terms of organizational acceptability, many of your colleagues simply will not understand or will refuse to understand what you are doing when you encourage individualizing activities. Further, you may experience bureaucratic problems in respect to your evaluation or grading policy, your attendance policy, your stance on textbooks, and so on. You may need to demonstrate equivalent competency achievement in your learners or trainees or explain to others just how your instructional process works.
Instructor as Expert
"My learners expect me to teach them; they expect me to be an expert!" in addressing that often-repeated statement, we usually ask whether it is the learner who expects the instructor to lead the class or whether it is the instructor who insists on playing that role. There is no question but that many learners come to a classroom or workshop thinking that the instructor will share expertise with them. Much of this expectation stems from years of conditioning and role model expectations. Perhaps even more critical is that many instructors themselves believe that the instructor's role is to hand down the truth and show followers the way.
We have found, however, that most adult learners adapt quite quickly to whatever environment is being fostered. The evaluation reports that we have received over the years invariably have contained comments regarding the pleasure and excitement experienced by learners on realizing that they could become experts on some topic and could share that expertise with their colleagues as they grew and learned together. The real value, in our estimation, comes when
learners realize that they are expected to take responsibility for their own learning.
Lack of Knowledge of Subject Matter
"My learners really don't know enough about the subject matter to play a large role in determining what should be taught!" We frequently hear this statement when first meeting with other instructors in a workshop. Such feelings are tied to the belief that an instructor has spent years preparing to become an expert on some subject and that the expertise acquired at such cost must somehow be poured into the ready but empty reservoirs called learner minds.
We have absolutely no quarrel with the notion of maintaining expertise in one's chosen subject matter; after all, that is the sine qua non of intellectual growth and capability. But, if the learner is bored, if the learner spends more time trying to figure out how to please the instructor than in really learning the subject matter, or if the instructor is not in fact very skilled in sharing expertise with others, then what is the use of all the knowledge the instructor might possess?
Building Learner Confidence and Trust
"How do you build the confidence of learners so that they will take responsibility for their own learning and be willing to participate in individual and group activities?" It is true that some learners who enter a learning situation in which involvement is the norm may feel threatened and may even resist the whole process. We have seen this happen frequently at the start of our classes and workshops. Our solution? We simply talk openly and honestly to participants about our expectations of them, about the process of involving them that we will use, and about some of the problems that they will encounter initially. This approach seems to help, and we can then move ahead with the process knowing that almost every learner will soon become involved at a level that feels comfortable.
From time to time throughout a learning experience, however, participants will revert to prior expectations about learning
and the role of the instructor. This is where patience becomes very important. Learners in a course or workshop with us for the first time frequently ask What would you like on this activity? or May I do it this way? We attempt to maintain consistency and answer with some such statement as It is what you want or feel comfortable with that is important or Is this something that will meet some of the needs you uncovered earlier or are experiencing now? We view this as responsible permissiveness: we want to help learners realize that their own input is important, but we also try to provide guidance when necessary. We have also found that by the time of the second experience with the individualizing process, a learner has usually developed self-directive attitudes and approaches to learning. Thus, we often attempt to pair up experienced learners with new learners in the initial stages of the process.
Applicability to Various Content Areas
"This process simply won't work in my subject matter area!" Another set of concerns about the individualizing process centers on doubts that a certain content area can be taught other than in a fairly traditional, instructor-directed manner. As a matter of fact, there are certain subjects--for example, an introductory course on physics or chemistry--where the instructor must wear the hat of the expert or specialist purely for safety reasons. (A chemistry experiment could blow up if the instructor is not providing appropriate control or guidance.) There are also situations in which an instructor or trainer by contract must assure that each learner achieves a certain level of proficiency. But the instructor can still involve the learners in a variety of ways and foster in them a sense of responsibility for their own progress and mastery by helping them lay out learning goals and evaluation plans. [See a paper on helping learners take responsibility for their own learning in various ways.]
Adaptability of Process to Nonformal Settings
"This process might work in a regular classroom but not in a workshop, a noncredit class, a training session, or a short meeting!" This final objection is one that we often hear. Actually,
instructors will need to adapt the process or use only certain aspects of it as they move from one instructional setting to another.
For example, in a one-day workshop less time will be used in getting acquainted and assessing needs than in a semester-long course; however, to ignore completely such activities may result in a bored or even disillusioned audience if the content has no real relevance to their needs and expectations. In a one-hour training presentation, the instructor can raise needs-related questions among themselves in small groups. Such information then becomes the basis for discussion and presentations by either the trainer or someone from within the learning group who may happen to be an expert on a particular topic that is uncovered.
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