Char Booth: Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning, and a USER at the Center of the Process

Doctors have medical school and residencies. Attorneys have law school. And trainers have…well, those involved in workplace learning and performance often have little more than a nudge from a supervisor or a colleague and the command to go show someone how to do something that they should have known yesterday.

Char Booth—a writer, teacher, trainer, librarian, and colleague whom I very much admire—documented a small piece of this too-familiar picture through a survey she completed: “…only about a third of those who regularly teach and train in libraries completed education-related coursework during their MLS [Master of Library Science] studies, only 16 percent of which was required. Strikingly, over two-thirds of these instruction librarians felt that their LIS education underprepared them to teach…”

“Many library educators,” she continued, “are involved in instruction on a part-time basis and therefore lack the immersive challenge that allows other educators to develop skills quickly and keep current and engaged”—a situation that applies to a far larger group than those providing training for library staff or library users, as a phone call from a non-library colleague who is about to face her own first group of learners without any formal training in how to help others learn reminded me this afternoon.

Booth has done more than simply document a problem affecting trainers, teachers, and learners. By writing Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators, she has created a first-rate resource for those new to training, teaching, and learning. The book is an engaging, concise, and welcome guide to creating engaging learning experiences for learners of all ages, and it’s a tremendous gift not only to those inexperienced trainers and teachers who are about to work with their first groups of learners, but also to anyone wanting a first-rate survey of key instructional design techniques and learning styles.

Furthermore, Booth introduces her own variation on the familiar ADDIE—Analysis, Development Design, Implementation, and Evaluation—model through her four-step USER—Understand, Structure, Engage, and Reflect—model that, through its name, continually reminds us who we are working to reach through formal and informal learning opportunities.

Among the real gems in Booth’s work is the fourth chapter, “A Crash Course in Learning Theory.” An introductory paragraph at the beginning of the chapter helps ground us in our field of play: “The first major modern school of educational thought—behaviorism—investigated animal responses to different kinds of stimuli…which inspired the common practice of providing positive reinforcement for correct answers. A second school of thought—cognitivism—explores the capacities of human memory, which inspires teaching and design techniques that reflect the brain’s information processing abilities. The most recent school—constructivism—explores the effects of individual perception and the social environment, which have led to more collaborative and self-directed learning strategies” (p. 36). And she circles back to the theme at the beginning of the next chapter with a critically important reminder that leaves us grounded rather than confused: “It is not necessarily desirable to choose one theoretical model over another” (p. 50).

She leads us through the “ten transformational trends in educational technology” surveyed by Curtis Bonk, author of The World Is Open: “web searching in the world of e-books, e-learning and blended learning, availability of open-source and free software, leveraged resources and open courseware, learning object repositories and portals, learner participation in open information communities, electronic collaboration, alternate-reality learning, real-time mobility and portability, and networks of personalized learning” (p. 72). And she follows that with an introduction to Robert Gagné’sseries of principles that link all design models”: “Design is more about improving learning than improving teaching…Learning is a process influenced by many factors…The design approach can be tailored to fit different learning scenarios…Design is iterative—it informs itself in an ongoing cycle…Design is a process consisting of steps and substeps…Different learning goals call for different instructional approaches…” (p. 86).

As she moves into an explanation of her newly developed USER model, she leads us to a helpful structure designed to produce effective learning: “In the USER method, goals focus you on your instructional role; objectives organize content into activities and content units; and outcomes describe how participants are substantively different because of the knowledge they have gained,” she writes (p.118).

Booth’s approach never loses sight of the fact that we are well served both by having formal learning models from which we can draw and also by remembering that not every learning opportunity requires that we engage in every step of an instructional design assessment, development, delivery, and evaluation process. “More than anything, it should remind you to teach simply, reflectively, and with the learner at the center,” she reminds us (p. 94).  The overall message she delivers is that “reflective and design-minded teaching leads to effective, learner-centered instruction. Librarians are redefining our value in a changing information paradigm, and it is essential that we perceive the role of education in this process” (p. 151)—a goal that any teacher-trainer-learner is likely to embrace.

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