Educational Psychology: What impact does the Learner Characteristics have in influencing learning in today’s teaching environment?

Chapter Four

Factors that Influence Learning

4a iv). Relate the impact that Learner Characteristics have in influencing learning in today’s teaching environment.

The Learner Characteristics

The learner is the person for whom the learning process is intended. The teacher should always bear in mind the fact that learners bring to class a wide range of differences in any one-classroom situation. These differences are bound to influence learning. In this lesson the following learner characteristics are addressed:

  1. Personality dispositions.
  2. Intellectual giftedness.
  3. Motivational levels.
  4. Conflicts of interest.
  5. Social-economic backgrounds.

1. Personality dispositions

Some of the personality dispositions of learners that the teacher needs to understand are the following: emotionality, sociability, and ability to cope with stress and even learners’ management of problem situations.

There are learners who have serious problems managing anger, frustration and other emotions they experience and as a result learning is affected negatively. Also, there are those pupils who have problems making and keeping friends due to a deficiency in social skills. They may be in constant conflict with peers and classmates a situation which will affect learning for them and their peers. Coping with stress and even managing problem situations cause difficulties for some pupils. Basically, the teacher should be aware that if there are problems emanating from any of these issues, learning will not be promoted.

2.Intellectual Giftedness

Learners bring to class differences in intellectual giftedness. There is the high, the average and low intellectual giftedness. Sometimes a teacher may run a lesson that favors the highly gifted learners. It is the intention of this lesson to remind the teacher that every learner has the right to benefit from classroom interactions. Every learner should be given a chance to benefit from the lesson. The view that the classroom is owned by a few learners while the majority of learners is there to warm the classroom for the gifted ones should be discarded. The teacher should cater for individual differences to ensure that every learner is attended to. The teacher should also make sure that each learner is helped to realize their potential so that an “A” student gets the “A” the “B” student gets the “B” and so on. Any “A” student who gets a “B” is underachieving and any “B” student who gets a “C” is underachieving and this situation should not be accepted nor allowed. If a learner is underachieving proper investigation as to why this is happening should be carried out.

3.Motivational Levels

Motivation refers to the amount of energy and the time the learner puts in an activity. A learner may be highly motivated and therefore spends a lot of time and energy pursuing a subject. Another learner may have only average motivation while yet another learner may lack motivation completely. The teacher should discover ways and means of maintaining the high levels of motivation in highly motivated learners. He should also find out why learners may lack motivation to pursue a subject. Motivation and achievement are related in that the highly motivated learner is expected to show high performance in tasks and conversely the low motivation translates itself in poor performance. The teacher should discover both the teacher and learner factors that cause low motivation. Lesson seven which is on motivation will help the teacher to develop skills to use to motivate the learners. All the pertinent issues on motivation are handled in detail in that lesson.

4.Conflicts of interest

Sometimes learners fail to attend to the learning task even when the teacher is doing his best to promote conditions for learning. This can happen if the pupil has other interests that conflict with the learning tasks. Sometimes the pupil has a problem that is social in nature, may be he has received news from home that somebody is unwell or there is disharmony. During the lesson those home issues distract this particular learner. May be the pupil has quarreled with a friend or has been wronged by another and tends to focus his interest in this direction other than to the ongoing lesson. There are many things that could distract a learner at any one time and the teacher should handle each issue with a lot of sensitivity.

5.The Social Economic Backgrounds

The pupil’s social economic backgrounds is a factor that will influence learning one way or the other. Some learners come from backgrounds where they have few resources that are needed for learning. They may not have books or writing materials or even adequate facilities to do their homework or further study. When these pupils come to school with unfinished work, untidy work or even late, the teacher should handle each situation with sensitivity because at times the teacher’s approach to a problem may actually aggravate it instead of easing it.

  • The Subject Matter

Many years ago Ausubel, (1978), Brunner, (1960) stated that schools exist to foster intellectual growth by transmitting knowledge and basic skills. They further acknowledge that learning should facilitate intellectual growth. For this reason it is important to discover those factors that coupled with those discussed above will facilitate learning in the classroom situation. Of course, when the teacher goes to any classroom with the purpose of holding a teaching-learning session he takes with him some content. The content can be referred to as subject matter, which in turn can be transmitted to mean certain facts, principles, skills or procedures. These could be from any subject, topic or sub-topic. If all other factors are considered, that is, the learning environment, the teacher characteristics, the learner characteristics and so on then the teacher turns his focus on what should be done to make the content learnable. The teacher must ensure that the content is presented in such a way that the learners can imbibe or assimilate it into their cognitive structure. The most important factor to consider here is ensuring that the learner finds the content meaningful. Meaningfulness of content is a critical issue in the sense that it leads to understanding. Indeed meaningfulness and understanding are the essence of classroom learning.

  • Meaningfulness Of Material

The importance of meaningfulness of content lies in the fact that, what is meaningful is easy to process mentally. It rends itself easy for storage in memory. It is easier to retrieve. It makes the learner comfortable and ready for further learning. This reduces frustration for both the learner and the teacher. This fact has been demonstrated amply in experiments where learners are exposed to meaningless content by rote. When memory of content is tested one thing comes out crystal clear. That is, learners will remember meaningful content better. They will have problems remembering meaningless content.

In order to illustrate this point study the following content and give yourself a minute to recall the content on List B.

Activity:

List A List B
Nkeot Class
Ikn Pupil
Enfik Teacher
Iyvor Ivory
Recealit Knife
Ssalc Token
Lipup Ink

 

I am sure that you have discovered that it is difficult to process and remember content A while content B poses no problem at all whatsoever. The same thing happens to the pupils. If they find the content meaningless, they are unable to process it and to remember it. For this reason the teacher should make every possible effort to ensure that the learner finds content meaningful. In order to achieve this goal the teacher could try the following suggestion.

Expose the learner to potentially meaningful material. This refers to ensuring that the content has the potentiality of being meaningful to the learner. This can be tricky at times. Sometimes the teacher himself may experience difficulty processing content and finding it meaningful. If the teacher does not find the content meaningful, then it becomes difficult to help the learner to find it meaningful. This is allegorical to the blind man who cannot lead another. Of course, a teacher will never admit that he finds content difficult.

At best he will deal with it superficially, or skip it all together. Some teachers will ask learners to make notes from textbooks. I tend to assure the teacher that he can avoid embarrassing situations while dealing with content. He should admit it to himself that work needs to be done to make content meaningful to himself. He should follow the suggestions given below.

  • Read several sources of particular information. Different sources highlight different angles of a situation. After reading those sources the teacher will be more enlightened.
  • The teacher could also consult colleagues who will share their own experiences, their approach even sources they have found helpful. By the foregoing the teacher is required to be resourceful and not rely on a single textbook or some notes made many years ago.
  • The teacher should keep abreast with current developments in the content area. He should have more in his bag of tricks so that at no time should he find himself inadequate.
  • The teacher who finds content meaningful goes a step further to ensure that the learner is helped to find meaningfulness as well. In this context, the teacher should select the content, organize it in a potentially meaningful way. To do this the teacher ensures that the content is consistent with the learner’s developmental level. This means that before content is presented to the leaner, the teacher has already gauged the readiness level of the learner. This refers to cognitive or mental ability of the learner to imbibe the content. Here, the learner’s motivation also counts. By learner motivation, we refer to the learners’ desire to want to know.
  • Readiness Of The Learner

It is important to look at the role of the teacher closely in this context. The first thing he should do is to assess the readiness of the learner by identifying the knowledge the learner already possesses, the learners’ abilities, motives, and experiences and make those starting point. Secondly, present the material in a style that captures the students’ motivation. In doing this, the teacher ensures that the content is well linked with the learner’s experiences and where examples are given they should be derived from the learners’ world. Problems are experienced in some cases when teachers make the subject matter abstract. Abstract content has no bearing in the lives and experiences of the learners. It is irrelevant and therefore learning it becomes difficult. Bringing out the usefulness of content is an important concept. This is the idea of making the content relevant to the needs of the learner making him perceive it as useful to him.

  • Discovery learning

Still, on the issue of encouraging meaning and understanding the teacher should encourage discovery learning. This can be done by giving learners assignments that require them to do their individual or group projects in the library or in the field. In this area the teacher should refer learners to specific sources of information with enough guidance that spells out the concepts, meanings, relationships to be discovered. Once learners have done their projects, they can present their findings in class for the purposes of enriching each pupil or groups findings by integrating all the findings. This way each learner acquires additional information on points they had missed out. This method works on the principle that knowledge that is self-discovered is more significant to the learner and is remembered better.

  • Concept learning

Concept learning too enhances both meaningfulness of content and understanding for the benefit of enhancement of learning.

The learner should not be exposed to facts that are isolated. Instead, he should be helped to perceive relationships and classifications. In other words, he should be exposed to the big picture and not small unrelated pictures. If the learner can understand a concept then he can also transfer the knowledge to future situations.

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