For a number of years now, I have used the words “teaching and learning” together, almost as if they were inseparable entities. For example, when describing the outcome of implementing a new classroom activity in my introductory food science and human nutrition (FSHN 101) course, I wrote the following observation, “The use of drawing-for-learning in science activities in FSHN 101 has been very effective in enhancing teaching and learning.” There is nothing wrong with this statement in and of itself – using drawing-for-learning in science activities may indeed enhance teaching and learning. However, recently, I have come to see a distinction of critical importance between the terms teaching and learning – a distinction, I believe, that will lead to fundamental changes in how I help my students learn. Let me share with you what I mean.
Recent brain based research has given us new insights into the teaching and learning process (Zull 2002 and 2011). One aspect of this emerging research that can be immediately translated into effective classroom practices is the assignment of teacher and student responsibilities. From a biological perspective, learning takes place via physical changes in the learner's brain; therefore learning is ultimately the responsibility of the student. So what is the responsibility of the teacher? Teachers are commissioned with the responsibility of crafting conditions that lead to changes in a learner's brain by creating an environment and implementing practices that nurture brain change.
Thus, there is a meaningful “division of labor” between the terms teaching (teacher's responsibility) and learning (student's responsibility) that needs to be mined. Now, before I go any further, I want to make it crystal clear that in no way does this division of labor view of teaching and learning release teachers from their responsibility of helping students learn. The literature is packed with countless pedagogical practices that teachers can implement to enhance the learning of their students – for example, active learning, drawing-for-learning, experiential learning, case studies, process-oriented guided-inquiry learning [POGIL], and the flipped classroom, just to name a few. Rather, this view provides us with an additional approach to helping our students learn – simply stated, we need to help our students learn how to learn.
The idea that learning is the responsibility of the student is not new. Think back 30 years ago or so, if you are old enough, lectures were the main form of information transfer and using technology to teach meant using the blackboard and/or overhead. There weren't many frills, so-to-speak. Students were expected to come to class and learn the material and demonstrate their learning on exams. I am not suggesting that those were the “good old days” and we should return to them. Rather, I am suggesting that in addition to focusing on enhancing teaching, we need to focus on enhancing student's learning skills, making sure students know that the learning part of the teaching and learning equation is their responsibility – and that it is hard work.
As stated by Chew (2014), “Teachers can have a major impact on how well their students learn both in terms of course content and in terms of study skills.” Chew (2014) argues, and I agree, that effective teachers address both aspects of helping students learn. We need to implement effective teaching practices to fully engage our students in the course content (be the best teachers we can be) AND we need to intentionally instruct our students on how to get the most out of studying (be involved in explicitly teaching our students effective and efficient study skills).
I am continuing to investigate the implications of this “division of labor” view of teaching and learning and exploring what strategies can be implemented, by both teachers and students, to optimize this synergistic partnership. In the months to come, I am looking forward to sharing with you what I find. I welcome your participation and invite you to send your thoughts to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or start a conversation via the Education, Extension and Outreach Community at IFTCommunity@ift.org.