September 30th, 2012

Pointers (For Study): Linking experience with learning

IN task-based learning, students perform tasks (in real or simulated situations) which they are likely to face in real life.

"Learning results from the process of understanding the concepts and mechanisms underlying those tasks," wrote Professor Ronald Harden and his colleagues in Guide No. 7 by Association for Medical Education in Europe.

Dr Irma Virjo of University of Tampere, Finland, in his article in Medical Teacher, further explained this approach to learning: "When (such) experiences are reflected upon, students understand that the knowledge and skill acquired can be generalised and applied in another context."

It may appear that this methodology of teaching/learning can only be applied to professional and technical education.

However, this approach has extensively been applied to other areas such as teaching language, also called task-based language learning, task-based language teaching or task-based instruction. "Task-based learning offers an alternative for language teachers.

"In a task-based lesson, the teacher does not predetermine what language will be studied, the lesson is based around the completion of a central task and the language studied is determined by what happens as the students complete it" noted an article, A Task-based Approach, on a website relating to British Council and BBC (

However, task-based learning is not necessarily uncontrolled learning.

With proper planning, learning can be structured and focused by following a sequence of steps as shown in the following example:

l The teacher introduces the task and informs students what is expected of them (for example, record a patient's pulse rate)

l Students identify what knowledge (name and location of the artery), skills (feeling and counting of the pulse in one minute) and attitude (how to explain to the patient) they require to perform the task (learning needs).

They may be guided by their teachers during this process.

-- Depending upon the complexity of the task, students may break it into smaller segments and address each one sequentially or simultaneously (for example, calculate the pulse and respiration ratio).

l Students address their learning needs in groups, pairs or individually.

They may read texts, view videos or consult their seniors or teachers in this regard.

l Students meet on a predetermined date and venue, and share what they have learned.

They discuss, explain and present their own understanding. They may consult their supervisors/teachers to clear any doubts.

-- Students may practise their skills on volunteers or mannequins before examining real patients.

l Students visit patients and record their pulse rates in pairs and groups and compare their findings.

l The group meets again and share their experiences in terms of their:

-- Communication with the patient;

-- Names and locations of arteries they used to record the pulse; and

-- Skill of feeling and counting the pulse.

l Both students and teacher reflect upon the experience.

They explore how the knowledge, skill and attitude they gained can be generalised and used on different patients and in various situations.

It is clear from the above description that task-based learning is a form of problem-based learning where a paper problem is replaced by a real task.

Task-based learning is a logical continuation of problem-based learning. In his article, The Continuum of Problem-based Learning, Harden, a medical educationist of international fame, describes task-based learning as an advanced level of problem-based learning.

"All of the principles described for problem-based learning -- focusing the learning on a problem, building new knowledge on what the student already knows, active learning and student-centred approach to learning -- apply to task-based learning as in problem-based learning.

"The key difference is that the focus in task-based learning is not a problem or scenario presented on paper, but rather the tasks that are undertaken by a professional."

David A. Kolb in his book, Experiential Learning: Experience As The Source Of Learning And Development, argued that task-based learning is in agreement with the theory of experiential learning.

It also fulfils the requirements of outcome-based education as tasks can be identified as learning outcomes.

The success of task-based learning is based on the motivation and learning needs identified by the group at the outset of the exercise. As students are given something real to do, they actively take part in the process and are not mere spectators.

It promotes teamwork; teaches time management and planning; and gives a sense of achievement.

Reflection is an integral part of task-based learning as it links experience with learning.

Going over the experience systematically and carefully helps students to appreciate the application of knowledge, skills and attitudes as well as to understand the underlying mechanisms of different processes.

It also helps to generalise learning and opens up the possibilities of application of learning to different contexts and novel situations.

For effective learning, the task should relate to students' prior knowledge and be challenging, engaging and relevant to their future role.

Alam Sher Malik Source: New Straits Times Learning Curve 16 September 2012

In praise of teachers

ROLE MODELS: Great educators are the bedrock of any successful education system

RECENTLY as I was driving home from a long day of meetings and teaching, I began reflecting on the impact that teachers had on my life.

Driving down the freeway at 7.30pm on my way home I wondered where I would be if not for some of the teachers I had during my schooling.

From primary school all the way to university, I reflected on the influence that some of my teachers had on me.

Driving through the early evening traffic gives you a chance to reflect and the night solidified for me something that perhaps I had taken for granted.

I would not be who I am today were it not for the input effort and example of some of the great teachers I have had.

I still recall the huge turn around that happened to me when in Grade Six, my class teacher Mr Westacott showed belief in me.

I loved his class and was so happy to go to school and work hard, in part because his approach to teaching inspired me and helped build my self-confidence.

The truth is I remember primary school as difficult and the impact of Mr Westacott and several other teachers at the time really changed things for me.

In secondary school, I still remember, among many, the wise approach and confidence-building style of Mr Borton, my Economics teacher.

I still recall his encouragement. What really struck me was his willingness to allow debate in class and the way he encouraged and celebrated the fact that we had to think for ourselves.

If we disagreed with him, it was fine, and I learned a lot about how teachers can inspire a love of thinking, argument and engagement with complex subject matter. Dare I mention our rugby coach Mr Maggs whose positive support and love of the game still provide fond memories.

At university, I was fortunate enough to have had quite a few great teachers. Four of them stand out to me to this day.

Ferenc Feher was my honours supervisor. Feher himself had been a student of Georg Lukács and, along with his wife Agnes Heller and several others, constituted what was known at the time as the Budapest School.

To this day, I feel a deep sense of motivation and awe when I think of Feher. An intellectual par excellence,

Feher inspired me as perhaps no other teacher has. I still recall being riveted by his lectures and rushing to his tutorials where we would discuss and debate social theory. He was a man committed to genuine and engaged learning.

I still recall going to a soiree at his home and there on the bookshelves, among the vast array of books, was the Oeuvres complètes de Maximilien Robespierre. Can you imagine looking up at such a sight?

At my dinner table when we have guests and if the subject turns to intellectual influences, I still regale my friends with the "you should have seen his book collection" story.

Feher's love of learning and his genuine and deep intellectual cast of mind influenced my idea of a university academic and intellectual.

His book collection, which, of course, was shared with his equally inspiring wife and profound intellectual Heller, is still an example of love of and respect for learning.

One of the other three university teachers who I have great respect for was Peter Gill who supervised my first doctoral work.

His attention to detail in going through the countless drafts and his broad and humane learning grounded as it was in a deep appreciation of the history of ideas is something I will always remember fondly. He was a teacher of the old school, committed and well-read.

Dennis Altman, who supervised my second PhD, was a supervisor who let his student follow his own intellectual path. What he expected was hard work and commitment, and he would debate with me the strengths and weaknesses of positions or arguments I would take.

He never tried to make me follow a line or fit my arguments to a pre-existing position. He genuinely allowed intellectual freedom, but he required the highest standard. I remember his supervision and teaching fondly and with great respect.

Finally, Bruce Jacobs, who taught me Chinese politics and whose willingness to debate with me and go through draft after draft of one of my honours essays, I still recall as a classical expression of good old fashioned care and effort.

Tese teachers are the benchmarks against which I judge excellence in teaching and the intellectual life.

Readers will also remember those teachers who inspired them or perhaps, in a fashion, even saved them.

You will recall the example of hard work, integrity and inspiration that you found from these teachers. I think that our recognition of the good and critical work that teachers do is rooted in our memory of what they have done for us.

All the reforms of education rest on this one critical resource: inspiring, committed and caring teachers. This is so from Malaysia to Australia and beyond.

That long drive from work to home was a time when I realised what continues to inspire me in my work is the example of excellent and great teachers that I can draw on for inspiration and guidance.

So I end this piece with a simple observation. When all the sound and fury of educational politics and debate over this or that blueprint or this or that reform settle, we are still left with a fundamental truth.

We must double down our efforts to support and nurture great teachers who are the bedrock of any successful education system.

Teachers can provide us with the great examples which are often our reference points later in life. Such anchors in our current times are all the more important.

By James Campbell | Source: New Straits Times Learning Curve 23 September 2012