Explain, Justify, Defend
Adult students are often referred to as self-directed learners, which means they will become involved in the process of learning when they believe that their academic, professional, and/or personal needs can be met. This begins as a process of self-knowing as self-direction implies that the student’s motivation is directly related to what they believe about their involvement and participation in the class. How does an instructor recognize when a student’s sense of self-direction is misdirected? Students may explain why their needs are valid, justify their viewpoint, and defend their position. By understanding the underlying process of becoming self-directed an instructor can develop instructional facilitation strategies that guide students towards meaningful involvement in the class.
When students take a class that they have chosen they often begin with a cooperative frame of reference because it was their choice and there is a perceived sense of relevance. If students take a required class where there isn’t an immediate perceived connection to their needs or if a specific skill set is not readily identified, students may be reluctant to fully engage in the class. Some classes are designed to provide foundational knowledge and offer students an opportunity to develop their academic writing skills, which students may not easily recognize as being important. The perceptions that students hold regarding their class are based upon a self-awareness of their perceived needs.
Every student develops their perceptions as a result of experiences and feedback from their external environment. This follows the adult learning principle of constructivism, which holds that reality is individually created. The question for educators is how to help students adjust those perceptive views as needed. The challenge is how to accomplish this if they believe they know what is best for their academic needs, especially if those perceptions have never been questioned or challenged. Students who defend their views may look for evidence to support their position and they may not easily accept feedback from the instructor, especially if the two have only worked together for a short period of time.
The first strategy that an instructor may utilize to help students adjust their perceptions about a class is to tell them what they should believe or know. This approach is likely to result in resistance. Providing an explanation is a better starting point, offering information that prompts critical analysis. Showing students other perspectives is a more effective approach to take; engaging them in discussions that provide an opportunity to consider other viewpoints. When students question the value of a class or their reason for being involved in the class or the process of learning, instructors can guide them through the process of examining their assumptions and realigning their sense of self-direction when it is of benefit for their performance and involvement in the process of learning.