Deconstructing the Process of Learning and Instruction

It’s fair to say that the goal of most candidates who are working through an SDI or TDI leadership system to earn their instructor rating is to deliver the best possible standard of diver education possible.

 

The candidates who perform well, do so in part because they come into their IDC or IT program prepped and ready to learn. They arrive having worked on their diving and in-water skills… laps in the pool, mask clearing, gear removal on the surface… you know the drill.

 

Some arrive with a few miles logged making presentations… as an AI working with actual students or in front of their family and friends… or the mirror. Regardless of the methodology, they make an impression with their trainers because they’ve worked at to gain some experience, and it’s had a positive impact.

 

And the serious ones come primed for the knowledge review having studied their textbooks and leadership manual to brush up on dive theory –Gas Laws, signs and symptoms of DCS, etc.

 

But for the vast majority of newly minted instructors there is something standing in the way of them reaching their goal. What’s missing is the ability to read if effective learning is taking place in their classrooms. For lay educators not armed with the tools supplied by a post grad degree in education, or bloodied by the experience of teaching scuba in the real world with real people for a season of two… or three, this is a tough skill to acquire.

 

As experienced instructors and instructor-trainers, store owners, bosses, we mentor our new instructors but it’s hard to condense years of responding effectively to signs and signals from students into a few words. But there is help.

 

Gagne and the eight phases of learning

 

There are several established educational models in use by professional educators such as teachers, textbook writers, computer programmers, et al to develop instructional materials or presentations. We can learn a great deal from “borrowing” those concepts to help make the classes we lead more effective.

 

The work of American educator Robert Gagné especially had a profound influence on American education and on military, institutional and industrial training. His model is simple and applicable for scuba instruction.

 

Gagne explained that for effective learning to take place, whether the instruction is taking place in a classroom, on a factory floor or in a swimming pool, the learner must go through all eight of the phases in his model.

 

He stated that if one phase is ignored or if there’s a partial breakdown that extends over several phases, learning does not take place. It’s therefore primarily important that each of these phrases occurs, and if there is an issue, some person or material must make up the short-coming or effective learning will not occur.

 

The following paragraphs briefly describe each of the phases of learning presented by Gagne’s model:

 

Attention. Attention is the phase that pushes information into the student’s working memory and helps to keep it active there. And so for effective learning, the student must focus full intention on the learning activity itself. Although this is listed as the "first phase," attention is critical throughout the whole learning process.

 

Expectancy. During this phase, the student realizes that the end result of learning is going to be something desirable. This develops motivation to engage in the subsequent phases of the learning process.

 

Retrieval of Relevant Information to Working Memory. This phase is entirely dependent on the student and his past learning experiences. During this phase, the student retrieves from long-term memory the structures that will be helpful in learning new information to him.

 

Selective Perception. This phase describes the student focusing their efforts on the  essential features of the instructional presentation. One important role of an instructor in this phase is helping students to direct their attention appropriately.

 

Encoding: Entry of Information into Long-Term Storage. During this phase the student remembers information. The information is transferred into long-term memory by relating the new  information to things that are already stored there.

 

 

Responding. During this phase the student uses what has been taught. He retrieves and actively uses the information that has been stored in long-term memory, and demonstrates through an active performance that the learning has taken place.

 

Feedback. During this phase the student determines the degree to which the performance during the previous phase was satisfactory. Positive feedback on a good performance usually serves as a positive reinforcement.

 

Cueing Retrieval. During this phase the learner practices recalling or applying the information after it has been initially learned in order to enhance retention of the information or to transfer the learning beyond its original context to a new application.

 

 

When Gagne stated that a student must go through all eight of these phases in order for effective learning to occur, he did not state that the instructor is the person responsible for causing all eight of them to occur. What he said was that Somebody (usually either the instructor or the student) must see to it that all of these phases occur, but the actual role of the instructor will vary from situation to situation and from student to student.

 

For example, during phase one an instructor will introduce a topic to be learned in a way that catches the student’s attention and causes them to develop expectancy (phase two) that it would be interesting to know more about the topic.

  

 

The Nine Events of Instruction

 

Based on the eight phases of learning Gagne developed with others nine events of instruction: useful information for us in the context of improving the effectiveness of the training we deliver and the way we coach new instructors. These focus on activities that can be performed by an instructor or by the instruction system itself to promote effective learning. Here is the list.

Gaining attention: Giving a stimulus to ensure reception of coming instruction

Informing the learner of the objective: Telling student what they will be able to do following successful instruction

Stimulating recall of prior learning: Asking for recall of existing relevant knowledge

Presenting the stimulus: Displaying the content and discussing it

Providing learner guidance: Supplying organization and relevance to enhance understanding 

Eliciting performance: Asking learners to respond, demonstrating learning

Providing Feedback: Giving immediate feedback on learner’s performance.

Assessing performance: Providing feedback to learners’ more performance for reinforcement

Enhancing retention and transfer: Providing diverse practice to generalize the capability 

 

There is something to be gained in sharing this work with new instructors, and reviewing it in comparison with our current classroom/training techniques. In fact we can use the table below to gain a better understanding of how the events of instruction interlink with the phases of learning. Reading Gagne will never replace the benefits of classroom experience, but it may help to optimize it.

 

Event of Instruction

Learning Phase

How Teacher or Text Does It

How Students Self-Instruct

When to Skip This Event

1

Gaining attention

1

Attention:

Alertness

Sudden stimulus change.

Call for attention.

 

 

 

Underlining

Attentional set

Mood management.

When attention can be assumed – when learner is already alert.

2

Informing the learner of the objective: activating motivation.

2

Expectancy

State objectives and relate them to students’ needs and interests.

Student selects own objectives. (This usually comes first.)

Almost never – but maybe if the objective is obvious.

3

Stimulating recall of prior knowledge.

3

Retrieval to Working Memory of prerequisite information

"Remember…."

Give an exercise or review activity to recall previous information.

Student looks for and retrieves relevant prior information.

Often students do this without even realizing that it is happening.

Almost never – but skillful self-learners may do this themselves.

4

 

Presenting the stimulus material.

4

 

Selective Perception

Text, audiovisual, or voice presentation.

Objects or demonstration materials

Show distinctive features and focus attention on them.

Student seeks out and finds relevant material to provide instruction.

Almost never – although learners may acquire stimulus material on their own initiative.

5

Providing learning guidance

5

Encoding: Entry to Long-term Memory Storage

Provide meaningful context.

Offer organizing strategies.

Relate encoding to the objectives.

Student uses rehearsal or chunking strategies.

Student selects storage structures to retain in-formation.

Student employs cognitive strategies

When the learner already possesses effective cognitive strategies.

6

Eliciting performance

6

Responding<

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