IN PROVIDING a holistic education, educators need to enhance their ability to engage and relate to their participants — a quality that is often lacking as they focus simply on techniques, tools and analysis.
Some of the key elements that higher education should address are:
• Developing analytical thinking;
• Applying multiple framing;
• Comprehending the culture of learning and learning culture; and
• Cultivating practical reasoning.
Within these broad elements, three vital aspects should be discussed:
A shift in the instructor’s role
The success of classroom learning depends very much on how students relate to one another, what the classroom environment is, how effectively students cooperate and communicate with one another, and what roles teacher and learners play.
To facilitate learning, instructors play many roles in the course of teaching.
Their ability to perform their instructional duties effectively will depend on, to a large extent, the rapport they establish with their students and their own level of knowledge or skills.
With the rapid, ongoing change in the education industry, it is clear that the new millennium classrooms are evolving to be very different from those of the past.
The teacher’s role is shifting from transmitting knowledge and information to facilitating student learning.
In addition, instructors will be creators of productive classroom environments where students are groomed on skills required for their future workplaces.
Globalisation has raised new challenges, such as increasing diversity and competition as more people live and work across boundaries.
Instructors should introduce students to these challenges and inculcate in them the drive to influence business decisions in the future. They can influence students to take their place in the larger world and become active participants in it.
As merely transmitting knowledge ceases to be the instructor’s main responsibility, the learning environment becomes more interactive.
Instructors will treat their students’ opinions and ideas with respect, and this will encourage them to contribute more.
Critical and independent thinking are also encouraged so that students are inspired to resolve issues on their own.
Learning becomes more student-centric rather than teacher-centric.
A shift in the learning culture
This does not refer to changes in the context or environment within which learning takes place, but rather how the social and cultural practices that are intertwined in learning are embraced and incorporated in the learning design to achieve effective learning.
There are many factors that influence the formulation of the required customised learning culture in an educational setting.
Instructors play a vital role as they are at the frontline to execute and implement the planned curriculum with the intended learning outcomes.
There are four main ways to nurture a creative learning culture:
• Be tolerant of mistakes. This is not to be equated with condoning poor conduct or accepting low standards of work. Rather, this refers to developing the ability to not fear getting it wrong the first time around, and learning through failure.
• Cultivate the ability to think about and solve issues differently. Instructors have to encourage students to go beyond the norm, to look at issues from a variety of perspectives and make good decisions.
• Encourage participation. In the new integrated approach to learning, educators must encourage and expect students to ask questions, participate in dialogue and express their opinions.
• Cultivate a respectful environment. This is vital for the point above to be successful. All opinions must be respected — nobody’s ideas are to be ridiculed or dismissed.
Instructors must set up the appropriate learning environment that facilitates an open culture where students are encouraged to make mistakes and are not penalised for failure.
For example, the participation marks tied to students’ course assessments should focus on their attitude and ability to contribute rather than emphasise on scoring the right answers.
A shift in the scope of professional skills training
Education today should have a global and social perspective, and emphasise the soft skills of leading and managing, and developing reflective and interpersonal skills.
It should seek to imbue students with an enhanced sense of purpose, and discuss key issues like ethics, values and corporate responsibility in society.
To achieve all this, a more interactive, experiential, dialogue-rich and action-oriented learning approach is required.
Some of these key characteristics can be achieved through professional soft-skills training such as:
• Placing an emphasis on reflective practices and incorporating self-awareness — what some call “heart and soul”.
• Building integrative analysis and systems thinking skills and enabling a deeper understanding of important global issues.
• Developing intellectual capabilities by applying learned attributes with careful analysis through values such as ethics, integrity, equity and human rights.
• Learning to solve issues with creativity — for example, achieving an organisation’s goals in terms of productivity and sustainability while maintaining team morale.
• Comprehending the business culture and the culture of business, which will enable learners to work effectively across national boundaries, in different organisations and within different business contexts.
With a caring and supportive learning environment, students are encouraged to learn from making mistakes, share their failures openly, take risks and gain valuable insights from open dialogues with people with different perspectives.
They will be more flexible and broad-minded, and better prepared to tackle an increasingly globalised work environment.
Article by Dr Kumaran Rajaram, a faculty member at Nanyang Business School, Nanyang Technological University. He headed a regional business consultancy and was the director of academic affairs for a higher education institution where he championed evolving issues on internationalisation and change strategies. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org