“I Hear and I Forget, I See and I Learn, I Do and I Understand” – Confucius
In recent times I’ve been involved in both delivery and receipt of education and training at tertiary and vocational levels.
On the delivery side, lecturing to postgraduate accounting students at Macquarie University and delivering workplace training. On the learning side I’m an external student in law at QUT and have just completed a Certificate IV in Workplace Training and Assessment. The contrast in learning approaches between the Tertiary and Vocational Education & Training (VET) sectors is quite stark.
In the university setting the process of teaching is still often with the teacher as ‘authority’ standing out in front of the class providing the ‘facts’ to be absorbed by the students. The students sit passively in their seats and dutifully take down notes. Some engagement with the students is encouraged by setting questions for them prepare before class and then discussing them in class. But still the model is quite passive from a student perspective. In this model there seems to be little understanding of different learning styles, and ideas like action learning are not widely adopted.
Some university courses are more interactive – for example, some of the subjects I took at MGSM where we learned theory and then played games to embed the theory. To this day I still recall the learnings from those kinds of courses.
In the vocational setting there is a strong emphasis on different learning styles, action learning techniques, and high levels of learner engagement and involvement are sought. The trainer is more of a facilitator of learning and co-creator of understanding when VET training is at its best.
Upon reflection I think this is because the VET sector is required to assess competencies, often on a much shorter time frame than in other settings. Also the industry focus for VET seems to drive a focus on people who can actually ‘do’ things to a pre-defined level of competency immediately after their training. Whereas in the tertiary sector perhaps the connection between theoretical knowledge and the ‘doing’ of things is more remote.
Admittedly in tertiary subjects there is often a large amount of theory to be mastered, often higher than in a VET course. But I still question how much theory people can absorb and understand if it is delivered to them as a passive audience. We’ve all studied subjects for an entire semester only to forget that content almost immediately after the exams.
As an adult learner the Confucian saying really holds true: “I Hear and I Forget, I See and I Learn, I Do and I Understand“. The real question is how can this kind of insight inform our tertiary education activities?