Collaborative Learning Versus “Chalk and Talk”
For as long as we have had schools and universities, there has been a debate raging about the most effective ways of learning. Educational styles fall in and out of fashion, and one of the most common complaints by parents is that they don’t recognise the ways in which their children are being taught, and controversy rages over which of the many different ways of transferring knowledge from teacher to student helps the student learn the quickest, and retain knowledge for the longest time.
Chalk and Talk
Traditional teaching methods are often known as “chalk and talk”, as they involve teachers standing at the front of the class, writing on a board and explaining concepts to their students. There is little opportunity for students to ask questions or do any experimental work or to draw their own conclusions about what they are being taught. In many universities and schools this is the predominant teaching method, especially in large lectures with many hundreds of students. Recent research into the differences in achievement between students in Western Europe and nations such as China and Singapore, where the “chalk and talk” methods are widely used seem to prove them more effective, especially in mathematics. The OECD Pisa Tests rank students’ achievement in maths globally, with China consistently coming top. There is however lots of criticism of this sort of learning, with many academics believing that children are merely taught to memorise and regurgitate facts rather than develop a true understanding of the subject matter at hand.
Learning Skills and Techniques
Although the formal lecture style of learning has its place in the academic world and is certainly one way of getting people to pass exams, it is clear to see how it would have limited success in learning practical skills. You cannot teach someone to drive a car, knit a jumper or remove someone’s appendix by simply talking them through the procedure and then expecting them to have sufficient skill and confidence to perform the procedure alone. A practical element is required to let the student practise their skills in a safe environment, usually under close supervision of someone who has many years’ experience in the skills being taught. This is the way in which many medical students are trained; first they have the academic lectures about the procedure or technique, then they watch experienced surgeons perform the procedure and then finally the student does the operation themselves, supervised at first and later unsupervised as their knowledge and skill grows.
Simulation – A Third Way?
Depending on the techniques being taught, there can still be some considerable risk involved in letting a novice learn in this “hands-on” way, albeit under close supervision. Risks can be mitigated by stepping up the level of supervision or by using technology such as dual controls in a car so that the expert can take over if required. Advances in technology have also greatly improved opportunities to learn in a virtual reality environment, either by using sophisticated computer simulations like video games, or by creating simulators which look real, but which have none of the risks associated with working on a real human being.
Medicine is the area of learning with the greatest associated risks; patients may be unwilling to allow a trainee – however well qualified – to refine their skills in the operating theatre. In some cultures where the donation of bodies to medical science is far less common than it is in Western Europe or North America, medical students or fully qualified doctors trying to learn a new procedure or skill do not have access to a cadaver on which to practise either. In these situations, a cutting-edge medical simulator can have huge advantages to both learner and teacher. Modern simulators look and feel just like a real patient, and the software which comes with the unit allows the teachers to dictate a range of symptoms the student has to deal with, and can monitor how the student’s actions affect the patient’s condition. This allows the teacher to sit down with the student at a later date and go over their performance, and to effectively measure improvement over time. It’s no surprise that many medical schools, Universities and hospitals across the world are embracing technology in their learning and producing skilled and confident professionals as a result.
The Future of Simulation in Learning?
Technological progress shows no sign of slowing, and industry heavyweights such as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook have tipped virtual reality as the next main field of progress. Could we see, in the not too distant future, the next generation of pilots or surgeons trained in a virtual world without ever setting foot in a plane or operating theatre? That remains to be seen, but there is certainly no doubt that interactive training is becoming increasingly important in the training of many different professions.