Are students ‘empty vessels’, or can previous experience enhance future practice?
In the pedagogical model used in the education of children since the 19th century (
This article will consider the theory on how adults learn best, identifying the link between previous experience and the acquisition and application of new knowledge, and will go on to focus on the experiences of Laney Holland, a third-year student midwife, as an example of the potential for previous experiences to enhance midwives' future practice.
In order to address the learning needs of adults, the educationalist should have a sound understanding of the general characteristics of adult learners: namely differences in age, learning styles and expectations. There is, however, an important commonality in that they are all motivated, voluntary participants (Rogers, 1996; Quinn and Hughes, 2013). Adult learners are self-directing, have a repertoire of experience, and are internally motivated to learn subject matter that can be applied immediately (Knowles, 1998). Learning theories such as humanism (Maslow, 1981; Rogers 1996); andragogy (Knowles, 1998) and experiential learning (Kolb, 1984) are important facets of, and perspectives on, adult learning theory.
In the context of adult learning, it has been suggested that the most effective learning takes place if adult learners can have ownership of their learning, facilitated by the educationalist (Rogers, 1996). The term ‘facilitator’ comes from the Latin ‘facilitas’, meaning ‘easiness’, and is the root of the verb ‘facilitate’. The idea of a facilitator stems from the work of Carl Rogers (1969), who championed self-directed, reflective student-centred learning. In short, facilitators provide the support, opportunities and resources for learning to take place, rather than controlling and managing learning themselves (Bently, 1994).
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