Rewritten 18th April for greater clarity
I have been exchanging comments with a number of academic lecturers, particularly Philip Moriarty, about the possibility of Learning and Development professionals contributing to the effectiveness of higher education, especially scientific higher education. I seem to have totally failed to explain my position and also offended Philip . This is a real shame and a testament as to how e-mail and blogging can mislead. I hope to correct this below.
The gist of the comments from Philip (and others) is that only specialists in their area can contribute to their skill as educators e.g. “L & D do not have the subject-specific knowledge required to contribute effectively to the teaching of physics.” If true, this is remarkable. All other sectors - government, finance, manufacturing, military etc - get value from cross-fertilisation of ideas about learning, training and teaching. This includes intense technical subjects such such as specialist IT skills.
I suspect that there is an underlying misunderstanding and the reason for the confusion is that Philip thinks that an L&D specialist is going to tell him how to do his job. This is also the implication of some of the other comments. Dr J for example appears to have strong ideas about what kind of lecture I am recommending – even though I have no idea! Nothing could be further from the case. I hope I can illustrate this by giving a fleshed out example. L&D assistance can vary from the very broad (what is your corporate learning strategy?) to the very specific (what is your question protocol when you teach?). I will take an example from the latter end.
From time to time I run a workshop/course for instructors from a number of different areas, although the majority are IT related. Most attendees say this workshop has been productive and worthwhile although I frequently know little about their subject matter expertise (which can be extremely technical). I could imagine a similar workshop might have value for an academic department (I emphasise “might” – I don’t know nearly enough about the situation). The format is for each member to give a mini-teach session based on their own teaching experience and then for all workshop attendees (including the one who has just done the session) to make suggestions as to how that session might be even better. The attendees then have opportunities to develop and repeat their session throughout the workshop (it is usually 3 days). There are also short sessions dealing with certain points about the theory of learning and teaching, and discussion as to how these points might apply to the attendee’s own situation. Finally attendees are asked to write down what they have gained that is useful and make a plan for implementing what they have learned. With luck, the atmosphere is one of mutual respect and learning from each other. I would be surprised if I can’t add something having spent 30 years in learning and development across a wide variety of subject matters and industries, but there is no way in which I would be telling the attendees how to do their job. They learn. I don’t teach. Incidentally it is also generally good fun. It is of course vital that the attendees come with the right attitude!
What kind of things might lecturers learn on a workshop such as this? It is very, very variable. It depends what is useful for them. Some things are fundamental truths of the psychology of learning (the longer you can leave it before recall, provided the recall is successful, then the longer the item will remain in memory afterwards). Other things are as trivial as tricks of the trade – putting post-its on flip charts you want to refer to frequently. Examples include questioning protocols (how to ask questions that sustain interaction and concentration without being discouraging or banal), handling tricky students, helping students with disabilities, when to use different types of visual aid, using different types of classroom technology, activities you can ask students to do, and so it goes on. However, none of these things are specific to the subject matter. The attendee will need to work out for themselves if/when to use them. But most do.
This sounds a bit passive and innocuous. So I should make it clear that I ask instructors to try things they have not tried before and encourage them to think differently about the task of getting students to learn. One common trend is that attendees arrive with a view of education that is based round presentation and questions. The criterion for success is what the students think of the instructor. By the end of the workshop they are thinking in terms of what the students are doing and the criterion for success is what the students have learned and how their attitudes to the subject matter have developed. Anyone who is been in learning and development for a while will find nothing exceptional about this - but it is frequently a significant change for a professional who happens to be an instructor. But I must stress again that this is not prescribed as the "right way to teach". It is something that attendees come to adopt themselves (or not).
It is clear from the comments that many academics have had unfortunate experiences with L&D sessions. And I have learned that FE takes education much more seriously than it did when I was an undergraduate. But there does seem to be an attitude of "no one can tell us anything to help us do our jobs". It is sad if this causes academics to ignore all the experience of learning that has been accumulated over the decades in industry and elsewhere.