Purposeful Learning and Students’ Active Involvement


BruceBy Bruce A. Johnson, Ph.D., MBA

Most adjuncts would agree that every student has an ability to learn and often that ability is influenced by such characteristics as motivation, persistence, and self-confidence. Do you believe that any student can increase their capacity to learn through focused involvement in the class? Students experience casual learning and acquire informal knowledge through their daily interactions, experiences, and communication. When students enter the classroom they are expected to participate in a formal process of learning, which requires them to interact with information and ideas in a meaningful way. Instructors have an ability to help students make that transition and increase their capacity to learn by purposely guiding them through intellectual and cognitive development.

There are two forms of intelligence that have an impact on students’ capacity to learn in a formal classroom environment. The first is social intelligence, which has a behavioral element and determines how students interact effectively in the classroom and develop relationships with other students. The second is emotional intelligence and it affects students’ ability to learn, especially during class discussions. When a student is able to recognize initial reactive emotions and then control them, they have developed emotional intelligence and they can respond to other students in a productive manner. It is important for instructors to consider how these intelligence types impact the process of learning so that they can monitor students’ progress and the development of collaborative working relationships. Instructors may not be able to control or dictate behaviors and emotions in the classroom; however, they can establish ground rules and set parameters for classroom interactions.

Another consideration for the development of your students’ ability to learn is their level of cognitive development. If students do not have advanced cognitive abilities they may be challenged to do anything more than remember and recite information for an exam. By encouraging development of students’ cognitive abilities, instructors are also helping students expand their capacity for learning. As students progress through the levels of cognition they are able to work with information in a way that leads to the acquisition of new knowledge. Instructors can assist students by providing real-world scenarios, issues, and problems that ask students to examine, analyze, and develop alternative solutions. When instructors encourage students to do something more than memorize facts, students are encouraged to think and they become active participants in the process of learning.

Prior to entering a formal classroom environment your students are often passive recipients of information, which means they may accept what they read or hear as fact. When students are shown how to actively process information they begin to develop critical thinking and reflection skills. This also teaches them how to utilize logic and reasoning, while examining belief systems or thoughts they have held as truth over a period of time. Students that are new to an academic learning environment often base their responses on existing beliefs, opinions, and knowledge. Instructors can encourage students to develop new perspectives and ideas while also seeking out sources that provide support for their original thoughts. Class discussions are very good way to guide this process of focused thinking. An instructor’s active participation, along with the use of follow-up questions, causes students to seek knowledge rather than receive it.

Purposeful learning is an instructional strategy that has an ability to help your students expand their capacity to learn. It is a means of interacting with students in a way that they develop a willingness to be active participants in the process of learning. Instructors can establish classroom conditions that promote collaboration among students, development of social and emotional intelligence, and cognitive abilities. When students are actively involved in the class they understand that learning is a process of interacting with information, seeking knowledge, and contributing original thought. As students expand their ability to learn you are likely to find improved performance and the development of productive working relationships.

About the Mentor:Dr. Bruce Johnson has had a life-long love of learning and throughout his entire career he has been involved in many forms of adult education; including teaching, training, human resource development, coaching, and mentoring. Dr. J has completed a master’s in Business Administration and a Ph.D. in the field of adult education, with an emphasis in adult learning within an online classroom environment. Presently Dr. J works as an online adjunct instructor, faculty developmental workshop facilitator, and faculty mentor.

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