Competency K: design instructional programs based on learning principles and theories.
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” — Benjamin Franklin
The whole point of librarianship is to connect people with information they need, and one effective to accomplish this goal is to teach people how to find their own information. However, it’s not sufficient to merely tell people how to find information, as it’s important to take into account learning theories about how to make learning more effective and the contents more memorable.
There are a number of theories out there, but I will touch on three major ones: constructivism, behavioral, and cognitive.
Constructivism is perhaps best known by one of the theory’s pioneers, Maria Montessori, who began teaching kids by providing a constructivist environment where they can learn through guided discovery, or free activity within a prepared environment (Montessori, 1912). Libraries are well suited for the discovery method of learning, particularly for children’s programs. The children’s section of the library is in essence a prepared environment to help children find a variety of books on various topics. Rotating book displays, with related activities positioned nearby, help to spark interest in reading. It may be somewhat impractical to use a purely Montessori approach with adults and for adult classes, but incorporating the constructivist ideas about hands-on learning and by providing program attendees with a chance to immediately use what they’ve learned is beneficial (Hein, 1991).
Behavioral learning theory is a teacher- or lecture-centered theory that focuses on conditioning, by repeating the behavior or skill that needs to be learned, rewarding the good behavior and never reinforcing the bad behavior. Learners should be actively engaged in the process, learning by doing. This is similar to the constructivist theory, except that the learning process is directly controlled by the teacher instead of enabled by the environment. Every skill should be tested to ensure that the learner has mastery of it. (Grassian & Kaplowitz, 2009).
The cognitive model of learning was a response to the behavioral theory. Some psychologists believed that the behavioral model was too narrowly focused on observable behavior; instead, these psychologists believe that learners need to think about what is being learned, determine patterns and relationships, and integrate new information. Instruction is still very much controlled like the behavioral model, though it is more focused on patterned learning and thinking, like the constructivist model (Grassian & Kaplowitz, 2009).
Each of these models suit different learning styles, so integrating a variety of approaches from these models into a lesson plan will help the most people benefit from the training program or class. In order to do that, it’s useful to examine each skill or concept that need to be taught and determine whether it is best learned through hands-on behaviorist learning, self-discovery constructivist learning, or by intellectual discourse in the cognitive model. This in itself provides variety in instruction.
Next, after determining the steps in the lesson plans, each concept taught should be tested, which suits both behavioral and cognitive models of thinking. It ensures that the learners understand what they just learned, and it reinforces the concepts. The evaluations can be done through either hands-on testing, or through a formal written or verbal test in which students think about what they learned on a more intellectual level. It is also possible to have a more informal evaluation along the lines of the Montessori method, however, in a library environment, more formal cognitive means of testing helps satisfy the need for quantitative data in order to secure library funding.
Informal teaching is a part of working in any library, especially when technology is involved. So, I always have many opportunities to teach people how to print off documents, use the copier, how to connect to the wifi, and in the public libraries especially, I taught people how to navigate to specific websites. Outside of technology, most of my teaching has been informal orientations to library layout and policies.
My first real exposure to teaching classes, aside from teaching my little siblings preschool (there was a large age gap between me and them), was when I taught sign language to homeschoolers in order to satisfy a requirement in my undergraduate university’s honors program. I had little formal knowledge about learning theories when I developed my lesson plans for the three grade groups, K-3, 4-8, and 9-12, and in retrospect, it was a heavily behavioral lesson plan and would have benefited from more constructivist or cognitive sort of activities to help the students better understand how to put together the vocabulary words into sentences.
More recently, I’ve been training student workers and developing training programs to try to improve student performance and accuracy with shelving and circulation. I’ve found that the more training students have, the less anxious they are when performing a task undirected for the first time. Similarly, training helps to smooth a new coworker’s acclimation to the workflow. Training and good work manuals help to make people feel empowered in their jobs, which helps improve customer service.
I have been creating instructional sheets on various topics in order to train and help student workers, and help my future successor for my current position, whenever that will happen. These instructional sheets will be gathered into an employee manual for referencing it. One representative component of this manual is the “Preservation” section on how to handle deteriorating books, or books that are in generally poor condition. As with all of the other instructional guides, I include screenshots to help show how to do things, instead of relying simply on telling. As a note, in this example, I have covered up identifying information, such as the Preservation account’s number. In the actual document, the numbers and names are included.
Library orientation is important, because it’s rare to be able to show off the library to a large number of people, and make it less intimidating to use by teaching them how to use the library. In one position at an academic library, when it was time for library orientation, I was given a very basic outline of what should be taught. I expanded the outline into an actual script for teaching, since having an actual script is helpful to follow, and helps ensure that all of the topics are discussed.
Finally, for a course, I developed a lesson plan for teaching adults basic Google searching skills, because I recalled how, when I worked at public libraries, just how many adults did not know how to search. They were already somewhat familiar with using web browsing, but needed extra assistance searching for information and determining whether a site was a trustworthy source or not. I broke the searching skills down into their respective components, and developed a script for teaching the course. Throughout it, I relied heavily on a mix of cognitive and constructivism learning theories by incorporating a variety of learning methods from lecturing and asking the learners questions while providing hands-on practice.
As I’ve said, the whole point of librarianship is to connect people with information they need. Whether it is teaching people how to find their own information or training new employees, it’s important to take into account learning theories about how to make learning more effective and the contents more memorable.
Grassian, E., & Kaplowitz, J. (2009). Information literacy instruction: Theory and practice. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.
Hein, G. (1991). Constructivist learning theory: The museum and the needs of the people. Presented at the International Committee of Museum Educators Conference in Jerusalem, Israel (October 15-22, 1991). Retrieved from: http://www.exploratorium.edu/ifi/resources/constructivistlearning.html
Montessori, M. (1912). The Montessori method: Scientific pedagogy as applied to child education in “The Children’s Houses” with additions and revisions by the author. 2nd ed. (A. George, Trans.). New York, NY: Frederick A. Stokes Company. Retrieved from: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/montessori/method/method.html
Last updated on November 17, 2012