I believe in the importance of context: there is no one right way to teach. Approaches to learning must be flexible and responsive to context, including learner and instructor characteristics, learning environment, desired learning objectives and existing content. I also believe that education has a responsibility to engage learners in actively negotiating a sense of professional ethics and social responsibility. These beliefs play out in a balance between analytical teaching philosophy and critical or radical philosophy. Analytical philosophy is marked by a stronger role for the instructor/content-expert and by a contemporary call for discovery (or problem-based) learning through which students integrate and analyze the information that they receive. From my background in the humanities, I draw on critical or radical philosophy. Radical philosophy assumes a social responsibility and non-traditional (often learner-centered) teaching methodologies (Ellias & Merriam, 2005). In Freire’s (1984) words: “through education, we can first understand power in society… we can also prepare and participate in programs to change society” (Shor and Freire, 1984, pp. 31-32).
Given that health science students learn and practice in settings where many people are at their most vulnerable, their education must prepare them with a strong sense of personal and professional ethics and build their capacity to act for change from within health care organizations. Tom Reeves suggests that higher education currently neglects conative learning, which “is associated with action … or the act of striving to perform at the highest levels” (Reeves, 2006, p. 297). In other words, conative learning involves preparing students to act as leaders and to intervene, even in difficult situations. According to Reeves (2006), conative objectives are likely only achieved through authentic tasks. Like Reeves, I see service-learning and other types of “real-world” learning as key to preparing students to act on their personal and professional ethics; likewise, engaging with diverse groups is central to their ability to challenge their beliefs, comprehend social issues and to become advocates for change.
Underpinning these ideas, I am guided by a constructivist epistemology and related theories of learning. Knowledge is actively negotiated in social settings and, as a result, learning is a social activity. Students cannot learn as passive recipients of knowledge, but must learn to critically evaluate ideas that they encounter and construct their own views. The educator’s role is to develop safe learning situations conducive to developing critical thought, to present ideas to students, to model critical evaluation of ideas and to guide students in developing their own analytical processes, creating their own ideas and challenging their own assumptions. The role of the learner is to evaluate and investigate ideas beyond the information presented through critical thought and research. This approach draws on a variety of forms of content delivery, in keeping with analytical philosophy. It also requires participatory and experiential methodologies – such as group discussions, critical reflections or case studies – through which the learner can investigate, discuss and test ideas.
Elias, J. and Merriam, S. (2005). Philosophical foundations of adult education (3rd ed.). Malabar, FL: Krieger Publications.
Reeves, T. (2006). How do you know they are learning?: The importance of alignment in higher education. International Journal of Learning Technology, 2(4), 294-309. Retrieved from: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI08105A.pdf
Richard, R. C., Klein, J. D. & Tracey, M. W. (2011). The instructional design knowledge base: Theory, research and practice. New York, NY: Routledge.
Shor, I., and Friere, P. (1987). A pedagogy for liberation: Dialogues on transforming education (pp. 17-51). South Hadley, MA: Bergin and Garvey Publisher, Inc.