Learning Methodologies

Learning is the process of acquiring any information that modifies a person's behavior, values and knowledge base. An ongoing process that starts as early as the fetal stages in humans, it occurs in many forms including instinctive, experiential, conscious, and purposed learning. Personal experiences, formal education, and controlled training are some of the general scenarios within which learning can be administered. Some types of learning--such as native language skills--occur over time as part of the learner's daily social interactions. Some--like martial arts training--are consciously undertaken by learners who are motivated by various reasons to learn a particular subject, discipline, or skill. Others such as primary education, are mandated by governments and as such, are compulsory activities.

In formal learning, different methodologies are used to effectively impart knowledge to students within different learning scenarios. The most common learning methodologies are the following:

1. Collaborative

2. Cooperative

3. Discovery-based

4. Engaged

5. Problem-based

6. Whole Language Approach

Understanding the nature of each of these instructional methods as well as the learning scenarios for which they have the greatest impact is critical for teachers who intend to optimize learning outcomes. Expectedly, some methods work effectively in certain classroom environments while others don't. When there is a clash between instructional methods and conditions, frustrations may occur and communication channels may be bogged down. This is something educators should avoid at all costs and best way to do that is not only to know the terrain but also to know the tools that are best adapted for it. By deeply understanding different learning methodologies, teachers can easily align their teaching styles depending on the needs of their students.

Collaborative. Collaborative Learning refers to a learning process wherein the social connections among learners are heavily leveraged to generate a desired learning outcome. Collaborative learning entails beneficial interdependence among learners and develops individual accountability, social skills, leadership, teamwork, and amicable conflict resolution. In collaborative learning, each student is responsible for his or her own development as well as those of other members of the group.

The concept that collaboration promotes learning has been around for decades and is the subject of numerous research and advocacies. Studies suggest that students learn remarkably well when their involvement in the learning process is very pronounced. In fact, students that are formed in small learning groups have been found to learn and retain the subject matter better than students who are guided to learn the same subject individually. The most plausible explanation for this phenomenon is that collaborative learning requires a deeper involvement about the subject matter, thereby encouraging interest and promoting critical thinking.

By streamlining the working parameters, collaborative learning may be applied in all subject areas. However, it is best used in the humanities wherein concept exploration can be limitless and will provide avenues for highly involved participation. It is also well-suited in language training because controlled socialization provides a good platform for linguistic articulation.

Cooperative. Cooperative learning is a type of collaborative learning that is more structured, targeted and organized. In cooperative learning, students are formed into small groups that are tasked to achieve a certain set of goals or objectives. Each student assumes responsibility for his or her learning while being simultaneously involved in the group work. For cooperative learning to work, the groupings must be small enough in order to encourage strong participation of all members. In addition, the objectives must be clearly established and the working parameters well-defined.

When orchestrated properly, cooperative learning delivers many positive benefits such as active learner participation, mutual respect, appreciation for diversity, and teamwork. Like collaborative learning, cooperative learning may be applied to just about any learning objective provided that the teacher establishes the right atmosphere for group dynamics. It is also very appropriate for language learning since extensive mutual practice is possible.

Discovery-based. Discovery-based learning is a student-centered instructional approach that is rooted in the constructivist theories of education. The underlying philosophy of this learning method is that the best way to learn is to "learn by doing." In this method, the experiential and empirical approach to learning is given more premium than the teacher-centered model wherein all concepts and learning opportunities emanate from the actions initiated by the teacher.

Discovery-based learning may be implemented for tasks that involve the detection of patterns, simulations, compliance with a set of instructions, problem-solving and experiments. As discovery-based learning requires students to interact, manipulate, or experiment with objects, systems, and people in their surroundings, it is a very valuable instructional method in the teaching of technical subjects such as the natural sciences, engineering, and IT.

Engaged. Engaged learning is an instructional method wherein students are active participants in the design and management of their own learning. Like discovery-based learning, engaged learning is a student-centric approach, but in a more fundamental sense.

Numerous research agree on the critical importance of engaged learning in classrooms. In engaged learning students are the most active stakeholders in the learning process. Within this learning parameters, students do extensive research, participate in discussions, and deliver various types of outputs based on their learning decisions. Teachers on the other hand, are mere coaches or facilitators to the star players.

In engaged learning, students should be self-disciplined because they assume responsibility for their own learning. They also become explorers and get involved in different aspects of their learning environment just like students under a discovery-based learning approach. Hence, engaged learning is a perfect instructional technique for sharing the concepts of science and other technical subjects. This does not mean that it cannot be used in other subjects, however. Proponents of engaged learning believe that any subject can be taught using the principles of engaged learning.

Problem-based. Problem-based learning is a radical alternative to conventional teaching approaches. Similar to discover-based and engaged learning, problem-based learning is highly student-centric. In problem-based learning, teachers present real or theoretical problems instead of one-sided lectures. Students are given a complex and interesting set of problems that they need to solve collaboratively as small teams. There is minimal content shared by the teacher and students are left to their own devices to find a viable resolution for the problem. In the problem-based learning model, students are motivated to learn the subject matter because they are highly involved in finding a solution to engaging problems.

Problem-based learning delivers many positive outcomes and benefits including self-discovery, discipline, socialization and communication skills, and logic. Problem-based learning is a perfect instructional approach in the teaching of the sciences, economics, and business.

Whole Language Approach. Whole language approach refers to an instructional philosophy that gives more premium on derived meaning than on the decoded aspects of a system (such as a language) as is implemented in a phonics-based language teaching approach. The whole language approach follows a constructivist philosophy and was developed based on findings in many disciplines that include linguistics, education, anthropology and sociology.

In classroom situations where whole language approach is used, students learn reading by being aware that singular words are part of a complete language system. This holistic approach establishes learning as an experiential process and encourages students to derive "meaning" from read text and to express "meaning" in what they write.

Obviously, the whole language approach is an excellent instructional technique in ESL/EFL education where communicative considerations are more important than syntactical correctness. However, the benefits of its philosophical antithesis--phonics--should still be deployed in order to improve the quality of language learning.

Michael G. Hines is an educator living in Thailand and the Founder of Icon Group (IconGroupThailand) - Educating the Future:
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