Thursday, September 11, 2008

Teacher: An expert or a fellow learner

This post is written by Sandeep Padhi.

This is a question that first came to my mind when I was working as software trainer six years back in a software training institute. While I was still completing my graduation, most of my pupils were students of BE, B Tech, and young engineers working in startup software companies. I was surely not an expert in the field and used to consider myself as a fellow learner still learning the tricks of software engineering. One day I pondered over the question “Am I eligible to be considered as a teacher” and the rationale my mind gave me was “Well! I am good enough for my students because I am able to meet their learning expectations. In fact, a scholar from computer science department of IIT may not really be a right fit for these students.”

Today, when I look back again at this question while creating some high-end technical courses as an ID, I again ask myself this question. But before I reflect, I would like to share the “best” definition of teacher I found over the Internet. A teacher is an ‘acknowledged’ guide or helper in the process of learning. This learning might be cognitive, behavioral, or physical. Here, the term “acknowledged’ gives an idea that teachers must be experts in the disciplines that they “teach”. But, if you examine the term further with respect to the learning environments and set ups that we usually see around or would like to see, acknowledgement is a very subjective term. That acknowledgement need not be in the form of a university degree or a “successful” practice of the discipline. Acknowledgement might be in the form of the economic consideration you get for your service as a teacher or it might be any independence examination of your knowledge/skills to impart that teaching.

It is always good to be an expert if you can modulate your training according to your audience. Unfortunately, I still see gaps in that aspect of teaching. And as long as that is the case, I would like to be taught by a teacher who is a fellow learner and can meet my learning expectations rather than by a scholar who talks about moon while I am still hopping around the grasslands:). And that’s where I believe instructional designers fill in the gap. We bridge this gap between teachers who are experts and students who have specific learning expectations by acting as a teacher who is a fellow learner. And, while doing that, we provide various other benefits to different stakeholders in the learning process such as taking care of the costs and time of an expert.

However, there are some obvious advantages of a teacher who is an expert, both for the teacher as well as the student. Let’s first take the teacher. One, the teacher is assured about the respect from students. Two, the teacher is assured that students would be eager to listen to him/her and won’t really be in a mood to challenge. Three, the teacher would be able to answer difficult questions immediately without needing to cross-reference or consult with anyone. And last but not the least, teacher can feel really proud and enlightened at their vast knowledge/experience while teaching the “silly” students:)

Now, let’s take the students. One, they can expect quick answers of their queries/questions. Second, the fact that the teacher is an expert leaves no chance for doubts in the minds of students; and therefore no need to crosscheck. Third, students might get that extra “gyan” to build that broader understanding, so critical at times, to understand the nitty-gritties of a subject. And finally, they can take pride in being taught by an expert and become more confident than they would otherwise.

Overall, I conclude that a fellow learner can be a “teacher” while an expert who can conduct themselves as a fellow learner can be a “best teacher”. And for the teacher, the role they take upon depends on the set up and the expectations of the students.

If you still think that I am confused and/or you have something to add, you are welcome to throw in your comments/opinion.


Taruna Goel on January 8, 2010 at 2:41 PM said...

Submitted on 2008/09/12 at 10:24am

Hi Sandeep,

It is interesting how you have defined the role of instructional designers - as ‘agents’ who bridge the gap between learners and experts. I also tend to agree that the role of a teacher - to be a fellow learner or to be the expert - does depend on the expectations of the learners. In a popular session, Thiagi also highlights that the best teachers are the ones who are ‘flexible’. Infact, he goes to the extent that a trainer should have multiple personalities! And utilize each personality depending on the audience.

Sandipan said...

Submitted on 2008/09/13 at 1:35am

Hi Sandeep,

Thanks for presenting this interesting thought. So relevant at a time when the very idea of “teacher” is getting transformed like never before.

Well, for me, a teacher is neither an expert, nor a fellow learner, but is just a very good facilitator, who helps the learner in his/her learning process.

Every learning process requires some learning material. The expert is the one who drafts this learning material. And the teacher is the facilitator who ensures that this learning material is presented in such a way that the learner can listen to what the expert is trying to say. So, effectively, the teacher is just facilitating learning–even in today’s classroom environment.

In that sense, every teacher should be a good Instructional Designer, and vice versa. I want to broaden the definition of an ID beyond the realm of our industry. What you said about a “teacher” may hold true today, in our conventional eductaion system. But looking at the rate the Web is expanding its reach, I can foresee a future where there may be more online classrooms than the brick and mortar ones. And that scenario will pose an interesting question about who is the teacher!!

I strongly disagree with the word “teach”.. every individual learns his/her own way, and no one can impart that learning from outside. Imparting knowledge/gyan is actually promoting rote learning, to pass exams. It does little to promote the learner’s own understanding.

Joshua Smith on July 19, 2011 at 6:38 PM said...

Thank you for sharing with useful, good info. It important to know that automated testing will protect software solutions from unexpected losses.

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