As a lecturer, I have taught across a range of ages and abilities, including undergraduate and postgraduate students, mature students, students returning to education, and students from traditionally non-academic backgrounds. In my current role, my learners are mostly academics and university support staff.
Understanding my learners is always the first step in my teaching design process in order to make the learning experience suitable for them, their needs, capabilities and circumstances. An example of this is the Blackboard training course I discuss in 1a where the actual design, development and implementation were preceded by an analysis of the needs of the relevant stakeholders, including learners. As a result, significant adjustments and modifications to the previous provision were introduced, like making sure content is delivered in short and manageable chunks, more suitable for independent self-paced learning.
Another example of how the design of a learning activity was influenced by learners’ needs is a technological intervention I implemented to one of the modules I taught. The module was the final undergraduate project for BA Translation students where they were supposed to work independently on translation of a lengthy text and a commentary on the translation process and procedures employed. Previous feedback suggested students felt they were not getting enough feedback on their work: there was clearly a need for more reassurance they were going in the right direction. The modification I introduced included an online discussion forum the main purpose of which was to create a community of learners supporting one another and to emulate a professional community of practice where professional translators seek advice and feedback from their peers. In this way, students concerns were addressed and more opportunities for them to emulate professional practices were provided.
A presentation on this learning intervention which I made for one of my PG Dip modules can be viewed on this page.
I have captured some of my observations on learning design in an article “Teaching professional competencies: an exercise in module design” where I discussed how analysis of the needs of various stakeholders, including learners, affected the design of a new module. Aspects taken into account included addressing a perceived gap in the existing course where students reported a need for more formal and structured guidance on career development in the industry, as well as adjusting assessment so that it gave students freedom to explore the areas of the biggest personal interest.
Designing learning materials and teaching/training sessions is one of the most exciting parts of my job. However, it is very important to make sure that the intervention takes the learners, their needs, requirements, expectations and abilities into account. In my experience, getting to know the learners and making sure the experience is relevant to them are among the most important components of successful teaching and learning.
This is crucial especially when implementing new technological solutions in teaching: I believe care should always be taken to use learning technologies not for their ‘gimmicky’ effect, but for the added pedagogical value – a topic I explore in this blog post.
While not possible on every occasion, I always try to find out as much as possible about the learners and the context in which they will be applying the knowledge or skills they acquire in my sessions to make sure I cover what they need. For a learning intervention to be successful, it needs to address the gaps in learners’ knowledge and skills and it also needs to be relevant to them.
I believe it is also important to ask oneself to what motivates students: I explored this topic a little on my blog and always try to make sure that the teaching I design is relevant, purposeful, stimulating and challenging.
For example, in my current role, while preparing training sessions for staff, I first try to find out where the need for training comes from. If, say, a training session on Turnitin is requested, I ask the participants, prior to the session if possible, whether there are any specific circumstances that have prompted the request (and typically there are: less than positive feedback from students or external examiners, excessive marking workload, need for streamlining the marking process in light of the university’s internal deadlines on returning marks and feedback to students etc.). This allows me to establish if the training should focus on a technical aspect, e.g. how to set up an assignment, or whether it is a more pedagogically motivated request to provide guidance on online assessment and marking. I also request feedback from participants during training and after training (some examples are included on this page) and, if needed, adjust the delivery. This feedback is important to me as it helps me to develop as a teacher and training facilitator.