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Educating to Empower and Improve
Learning is more powerful when it comes from within. Small children have a natural thirst for knowledge, but this tends to deteriorate over the years as it becomes replaced by the need to stack up well against peers, get good grades, and look good amongst the crowd. These are all extrinsic reasons to learn, and yet we find that learners are more motivated if they are doing it for themselves, if they understand how it benefits them, and how they can use new knowledge and skills in the workplace.
Kevin Pollard, Faculty Manager for Training Transformation at MKC Training (MKC) is a strong advocate of student-led learning.
Our trainees need to take responsibility for their learning," he explains. "Think of a soldier out in the field. They're not in a position to find a tutor and ask 'Is what I've done good enough?' They have to become confident to assess their own work and know it's fit for purpose."
He goes on to reflect back on historic methods of education:
Traditional classroom training was mainly what we now call 'chalk and talk'. The principle of it was 'one to many'. One instructor stretching their attention across a classroom of many students, with their aim being to deliver the training to them. In turn, the responsibility of the students was to turn up, and then assimilate that learning. It was an inflexible system, based on the assumption that students all learn at the same pace and that they will all respond to the same method of delivery.
Paradoxically, whilst the method of delivery was all the same, in this model of training the content used to vary depending on the specific interests of the trainer. We've now transformed all our training, so that what is delivered is much more consistent and yet the student has more flexibility in how it reaches them, giving them more responsibility, control and autonomy over their own learning experience."
Learning by doing
The goal of professional training of all kinds is to empower people to be effective in the workplace. Humans learn by doing, by experimenting and learning from the experience. Kevin illustrates how MKC courses prioritise this,
We've found that breaking down activities into bite-size tasks tackled by really small groups, means that everyone gets the fullest opportunity to contribute. In large groups, people tend to stand back and let those with the strongest ideas 'get on with it'. Students become observers rather than trying things for themselves, which means that they don't embed the learning in the same way. By setting activities with four tasks to be done by four people, we create a context where no-one can hide, and everybody can learn.
We make the scenarios behind our tasks as realistic as possible. In real life, students won't be in a sterile workshop environment, so our training campus is littered with practical real-life simulations. Our vocational courses will include things like welding a gate or other similar structure outside the workshop, and in all weathers!
One of the ways we give our students more control and autonomy is to use a blended approach to learning," Kevin continues. "This means that people can cover the theory in their own time and turn up to a practical class with an appreciation of the basics so they can jump straight in with a hands-on task.
This also means they can work at their own pace, moving forward when they are ready rather than when the next module is scheduled.
It would be easy to assume that use of e-learning would mean less focused time with an instructor, and yet Kevin's experience has shown the opposite to be true.
Our instructors have found that by blending e-learning modules into the course material, they are freed up to spend more time focusing one-to-one on the areas where individual students have queries or difficulties with understanding. It means that instructors' time can be used for explanation and analysis of the more complex topics, rather than covering off basic material.
When a course has been completed, students are given lifetime access to their course materials and resources, which are regularly updated - an invaluable resource to support their career development.
We use a lot of video to demonstrate principles, so that concepts are explained in words and then real-life applications of those concepts are demonstrated in video" explains Kevin. "Access to the videos is made easy through mobile technology and augmented reality applications. Where technology is helpful, we'll use it, but our philosophy is to focus on value for the learner, not the technology itself.
We are looking into the possibility of using virtual reality to give people 'real' experience of things like working at height in a hopper. This is a low-risk way to simulate how comfortable people will feel working sixty feet off the ground.
Saving training days
MKC's student-led and blended approach to training saves around 20% of training time. For the Royal Engineers, this means getting soldiers back into active service in the field earlier than previously. For commercial organisations, this protects profit and activities that contribute to 'the bottom line'.
Humans learn by doing, by experimenting and learning from the experience.