Are You Listening?

As an instructor, what does it mean to be a good listener? Is it about the actions taken when responding to a learner’s message? When an adult learner is communicating with their instructor it is important to consider the difference between hearing what they say and actually listening to them. Hearing is receiving the message and listening is processing what has been communicated.

During classroom conversations, actions such as maintaining appropriate eye contact give an appearance that attention is being given; therefore, it may appear that the instructor is engaged and listening. Those actions; however, do not guarantee that the information or message being received is also being processed, which is at the heart of active listening. Hearing is a process of obtaining information from the sender; whereas, listening involves doing something more with that message. Effective listening requires an interaction with the communication received in a way that the meaning of that message is fully understood.

Possible barriers to effective listening include internal filtering processes, which influence the instructor’s ability to interpret information or communication messages that have been received. These built-in processes may include biases, prejudices, opinions, beliefs, knowledge, and attitude towards considering diverse views. When a message is first received, internal filters begin to interact with the message, having a direct impact on the process of interpreting the message. This is why communication often fails to be effective, when the communication message is heard but the receiver has not really listened to it.

To develop listening skills, especially for instructors that are involved in meaningful conversations with their learners, here are some suggestions: 

1. Allow enough time to hear the message and listen for the intended meaning.

2. Pay attention to the sender’s message and look for any potential distractions.

3. Ask clarifying questions after listening to the communication message.

4. Make a note of your initial reactions to the message and consider if you are being open to the intent of the message.

Within a traditional classroom the process of listening occurs quickly and in real time. For the online classroom environment instructors have a benefit of additional time; being able to review messages before posting a reply.  Effective classroom communication occurs when instructors have heard and listened to their learners, which means that messages were received, processed, and interpreted. If hearing but not listening has occurred, an opportunity to achieve meaningful communication may be missed.

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