Given what we know about the way adults learn, how should we develop and deliver instruction? Instructional designers often use an eight-step model to design individual units and lessons. This model takes into account information processing theory and adapts it for adult students.
For example, this lesson design model emphasizes how to help students attend, organize, encode, store, and retrieve information. Students become adept at moving information from their long-term memories when they need it and storing it back in a place where they can retrieve it for later use. Many different adult-learning techniques and practices can be used to facilitate this process.
The eight steps are presented on the left side of the table below and the IP learning-theory and adult practices are presented on the right side.
Here are some additional ideas for three of the lesson design steps presented above:
Use an Advance Organizer
When you introduce a topic to students, you want to make sure that they focus on what is most important. An advance organizer is a well-organized and simple framework that shows what will be presented in the lesson. A birdseye view of the topic, it shows how the components that will be learned relate to each other. It can also show the relationship of prerequisites to the overall topic and what tasks lie ahead for the students. From an information processing perspective, an advance organizer helps the student attend, organize, and encode information in a meaningful way at the beginning of a lesson. It can also chunk the information into meaningful bits.
Figure 4 (below) is an example of an advance organizer for a PV System. It shows each component of a PV system and how the components relate to each other. When shown this at the beginning of an instructional unit or lesson, the students have an advanced understanding of where the instruction is going and how the various pieces ﬁt together.Once an advance organizer is presented at the beginning of a lesson or unit, it can be used in a variety of ways throughout the instruction. Using the example below, as each new component of the PV system is taught to students, the advance organizer can be presented again to show how the newly introduced component ﬁts into the overall system. This advance organizer can also be used at the end of a unit or lesson as a summary or review at the beginning of each session to bring information back into the students’working memory.
Advance organizers can be graphics, illustrations, pictures, case studies, examples, or ﬁlm clips. Anything will work as long as it provides a comprehensive picture of what students need to learn in a simpliﬁed manner and shows relationships among the components. It sets the stage by chunking large bits of information into manageable pieces.
Provide Practice and Feedback
Practice and feedback are key to effective teaching and instruction. There are several learning-theory and adult learning principles that directly state that students must be cognitively active when they are learning. Students typically start with a relatively simple idea about what they are learning when they enter a classroom. But they must leave the class with a more complex and integrated understanding of the content.
Ambrose, et al. (2010) say that instruction occurs when teachers take students from where they are when they enter a course (i.e., their prior knowledge, life experiences, values, attitudes and beliefs, and goals) and inﬂuence how the students interpret, use, organize, apply, and retrieve new information. Teachers also must inﬂuence how students adjust to new situations. Goal-directed practice, coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of learning. More practice generally increases the quality of student performance.
Here are three key principles about practice and feedback:
- Students must be actively involved with the content to learn. Students who interact with content learn more information more quickly than those who are subjected to the “sit-and-get” method. Students must get their brains working by trying things out, seeing what works and what doesn’t, “playing” with the ideas, engaging in problem solving and making decisions. Notice, students have to be cognitively active, not necessarily physically active.
It is more effective to teach by example than by explanation. In the sit-and-get mode of instruction, teachers try again and again to explain ideas and concepts. However, when instructors use examples, students engage cognitively and try to make sense of what they are learning. The examples that teachers use should reﬂect real life and be moderately difﬁcult. Instructors should ask students to do some problem solving, troubleshooting, application, analysis, or decision making.
- Use both conﬁrming and corrective feedback.When students are engaged in practice, they tend to learn more if they are given feedback. Conﬁrming feedback acknowledges that students gave the right answer or solution or are on the right track in what they are learning. Corrective feedback is given when students are on the wrong track or have the wrong answers. Corrective feedback helps students reorganize and redirect their knowledge and thinking. Remember the old adage: Practice makes perfect! If you want your students to correctly perform on the job, give them multiple opportunities to practice in the classroom and to learn from their mistakes.
To learn more about providing practice and feedback, go to Good Teaching Matters: Section 4, Include Practice and Feedback in the Training.
Assess learner performance
In the Best Practices document on Developing a Quality Course, we address criterion-referenced testing which means writing assessment instruments that clearly evaluate the stated learning objectives. Given what we know about I-P learning theory and the adult-learning principles, students should be tested with problem-based, situation-based, and scenario-based testing.
A scenario-based test for PV would ask students to solve real-world PV problems based on a case study or real-life situation. In each case, students are solving problems on paper. The students are operating (1) at the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (analysis, synthesis, and evaluation), (2) are presented with a conﬂict, and (3) must face a problem that is as complex as what they will ﬁnd on the job. Some examples include:
- Describe how you would install a system on a site with signiﬁcant shading.
- Decide where to place a PV array when the roof size has inadequate square footage.
- Troubleshoot a non-working system from a set of customer complaints.
Students would be given a case study and asked to solve a problem similar to one they might encounter on the job. These kinds of tests facilitate the transfer of what they have learned in the classroom to the world of work.
These methods are used because they match the needs of adult students in the following ways:
- Adult students need information and knowledge that has immediate use
- Situation-based tests require adults to solve problems
- Situation-based tests help students as they transfer learning from their long-term memory to real-life situations
- Situation-based tests present conﬂict or puzzlement — complexity similar to what students might ﬁnd in the real world
- Tests are typically anchored in a larger task or problem.