A scholarly take on individual learning
I have to start with a scholarly term, and for this I apologize to any reader who wants “the three paragraph version” as my dad used to say to his extroverted mother-in-law, wife, and daughter. The term is identity construction and comes from the overarching belief and theory (to which I subscribe) that we all have our own versions of reality, and “construct” ourselves based on our family, culture, and environment. We also construct ourselves differently in different environments. For instance, I am different with my mother (still stuck in my painful teenage years), than I am with my husband (a strong woman and caring partner), or with my children (still the maternal approver even as they are in mid-life). So, do you get the idea? We are, in fact, different people in different environments. We change according to what we believe is our best “presentation of self” in each–see Erving Goffman’s wonderful book by the same name.
Learners in my classes construct themselves in roughly four ways. This is a simplification of course, and one I apologize for but for this blog, these should suffice.
1. Learners who want to learn, who will do anything to improve–take a writing class, study social science’s crazy making formatting system (American Psychological Association–APA), or go back and write an assignment over for no credit just to cement new learning.
2. Learners who want to learn when it is convenient or fits their identity construction (I am an A student, why should I put up with being told I need to learn to take an informed position?).
3. Learners who just want an A and will spend untold amounts of energy better put to genuine learning, arguing with an instructor about the injustice of a B or C, no matter what the metrics say.
4. Learners who want to fly beneath the radar and get through the course with as little disturbance as possible.
Since I coach faculty with all of these learners in their classes, here is the best I think we can do:
Learner #1 gets challenging feedback, encouragement to open her mind to the next level of learning, the next more complex set of ideas.
Learner #2 gets the same thing with perhaps a nudge in the direction of learner #1.
Learner #3 gets firm verbal and written feedback encouraging them to see themselves in a slightly different way. The challenge and encouragement are to see themselves as more open to new ideas and less demanding and aggressive about grades. This is difficult and takes a light touch combined perhaps with self-deprecating humor on the part of the instructor.
Learner #4 is the mystery. Perhaps this learner is really a learner #1 in hiding. Perhaps this is a shy #2. It is up to the instructor to engage this learner in a positive identity construction, someone who can achieve self-efficacy through learning.
Finally, Daniel Pink in Drive suggests that workers and learners thrive on autonomy (self-direction), mastery (of meaningful work), and purpose (to work in the service of something larger than an A). We can provide the opportunities, and even ways to achieve autonomy, mastery and purpose, thereby changing the identity construction of the learner
. In the end, learners have gotta wanna achieve these things (learner #1) with our challenge and support.