The Flourishing Academic

A blog for teacher-scholars published by the Duquesne University Center for Teaching Excellence

My Secret Weapon to Creating Effective Learning Experiences

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This week we welcome  our first guest blogger, Dr. Susan Hines of St. Mary’s University of Minnesota! In October 2014 Dr. Hines traveled to Duquesne University for a workshop on designing effective adult learning experiences. You can see a synopsis of highlights from that workshop in an earlier Flourishing Academic post. Today we’re excited to offer you a post written by Dr. Hines herself! Here she gives us concrete ideas about how we achieve effective learning outcomes.

By Sue Hines, Ed.D., Director of the Center for Excellence in Learning and TeachingSusan Hines
Associate Professor in Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota

There is a well-kept secret that I believe needs to be shared with educators around the world.  I’ve known about this secret for well over a decade and have used it in all my courses and faculty development workshops.  It has resulted in high ratings from my learners and effective learning outcomes.  Whenever I use this secret “weapon”, I can see that they “get it”. How? I see it happen in front of my eyes.  It doesn’t matter if we’re face-to-face or online.  The result is the same.  Learning happens and I see it.

So what is this secret weapon?  I’ll tell you. But you have to promise to pass it on to all the teachers you know.  We can’t keep it secret anymore. Shift from planning what to teach to planning an experience. A learning experience has 4 parts: awaken current knowledge, add new knowledge, practice new knowledge, and apply new knowledge. Sounds simple? Well it is.  It’s also fun to create and even more fun to implement.

Here’s an example.  Imagine you’re teaching a course called Introduction to Management. The topic for next week’s class is management styles. The learning goal for the class is “to be able to analyze and apply management styles.” You need to have a learning goal for my now-not-so-secret weapon to work.

First, awaken the learners’ current knowledge about the topic. Doing so allows you to draw out what they already know and begin to make meaning through their knowledge. This can be done in a variety of ways. For this example, ask the learner’s to write a response to the following question, “Think of a great manager you worked for. What made her so great?” After writing their response, have the students pair up and discuss, then share out as a large group. Capture the key ideas on the board.  I typically mind map their responses. Then debrief on the “findings” to discover key themes being sure to tie it back to the topic and the assigned readings.  It never fails; the knowledge they already have dovetails nicely with the principles you’re trying to teach.

Second, add new knowledge. Now that the “pump is primed,” immerse the students into the key concepts and skills you want to add to their current knowledge. One way to do this is break the class into small groups. Assign each group a management style from the readings. Ask them to create and share out a 5-minute mini-presentation on their assigned management style. Debrief after the presentations being sure to pull out the main ideas and facilitate corrections in thinking when necessary. However you when add new knowledge, the key is have the students involved in teaching the process. Avoid lecturing as much as possible.

The third step is allow time to practice. Given their new knowledge on management styles, give the class a scenario of a real world management challenge. Have each small group develop an approach for addressing the challenge using their previously assigned management style.  Share out to the class. Afterwards, facilitate a class critique of each group’s work. Practice is essential for embedding and guiding newly gained knowledge.

Lastly, have the learners apply their new knowledge. It’s best to apply the learning to an upcoming assignment. Ask them to write a brief reflection on how the management styles apply to their personal roles and rationale. This reflection will be applied to their Management Profile paper that is due in two weeks. Application of the new knowledge is critical for transferring new knowledge to relevant contexts.

I have used this learning experience design for 60-minute to 5-hour sessions.  The key is to adjust each phase to the time allowed.

Now for my final secret. If you are from the field of education or psychology, you probably figured out this approach is a simplification of David Kolb’s experiential model.  Kolb reminds us that humans naturally learn through life experiences. So why not teach our learners in a way that mirrors how we naturally learn.



Author: duqcte

Founded in 1989 as a faculty initiative, the Center for Teaching Excellence helps faculty and graduate student teaching assistants excel as teacher-scholars deeply invested in their students’ learning. We believe that excellent teaching is an art that grows through scholarship, practice, reflection, and collaboration. Our approach at CTE is a personal one. We promote excellence in teaching by getting to know our faculty and TAs, learning from them, fostering their leadership, and bringing people together from across the University.

One thought on “My Secret Weapon to Creating Effective Learning Experiences

  1. Pingback: Academic Motivation | The Flourishing Academic

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