Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Trainer's Learner Autonomy Scorecard; Assessing our Ability to Foster Transformative Learning

As an addition to my post on the BESIG World Blog, I would like to share some more ideas on fostering learner autonomy in the Business English classroom.  The purpose of this post is give trainers a self-assessment tool for how well they are encouraging learner self-reliance.

At the core of this issue is the question whether it is our duty to develop our participants into autonomous learners.  On one hand, participants can certainly reach their training needs and remain 100% percent dependant on the trainer.  However, I would argue that by helping develop learner autonomy we can achieve greater results in a shorter period of time.  I would also argue that it increases the value of our training because the participant is better able to adapt to new needs after the training is completed.  Personally, watching a class grow into inquisitive, independent learners is the most rewarding part of my job.

This process, however, is not easy.  It takes a considerable amount of time, energy, and patience on the part of both learner and trainer.  Either party may not be willing to accept this responsibility.  We must consider this fact in terms of what our clients want and expect as well as what kind of commitment we are willing to make i.e. time and fees.

My research into learner autonomy has led me to the characteristics of adult learners and the concept of transformative learning.  For a short introduction transformative learning, I recommend this site from the University of Geogria.  My research also led me to a research article by Kathleen Cercone for the State of Connecticut titled Characteristics of Adult Learners with Implications for Online Learning DesignWhat makes this article special is how clearly it outlines the various characteristics of adult learners.  These include:
  • Have responsibilities which hinder the learning process.
  • Want to be actively-involved in the learning process
  • Have a pre-existing learning history and will experience a paradigm shift
  • Have prior experience and need to connect new with old
  • Adults are problem-centric
  • Want to know what they are going to learn, how it will be conducted, and why it is important
  • Need to 'test' their learning
  • Require dialog, interaction, and self-reflection
Based on these characteristics, Cercone outlines a long list of objectives for trainers to encourage learner autonomy and enable transformation.  The primary focus of her article was the online learning environment.  But I found her concise tips equally suited to face-to-face language teaching.

Therefore, I have adpated her ideas and incorporated comments on my own to develop an Adult Learner Autonomy Report Card.  The purpose of the report card is to self-assess where you are in your teaching and give tips for improving the self-reliance of your learners.  A short word of warning, it may take about an hour to complete the evaluation.  Several concepts or repeated in the assessment (e.g. needs analysis, self-reflection, building a supportive group, etc.), but I have left them to highlight their importance at various levels.  I hope you find the report card helpful and worth the effort.  Simply the act of writing it has helped me guide my training in the future.