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 (www.teachingenglish.org.uk/articles/a-task-based-approach).
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