Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Learning Alternatives: Which One’s for You?

Introduction

“Good morning students”, greeted M’s Crabapple standing front and center of the tidy classroom. A throng of more than 30 students responded, “Good morning M’s Crabapple.” She continued, “First we’ll take roll call.” Then proceeded to call and check off each student as they responded, “present”. Next was an explanation of the proposed lessons for the day. There was copying of board work – lots of board work, and the staccato of lecturing and copying interspersed with recitations, was broken once in the morning for a fifteen minute recess and again at noon for lunch. The drilling resumed at the one o’clock bell, and continued until broken by the day’s final recess bell at three. “Don’t forget to study and do your homework”, the school-marm bellowed at the fleeing mass of students rushing the exit like they were abandoning a sinking ship.

Such was typical of “a day at school” for millions of students over a period of decades.


Learning Alternatives

Now however, the traditional role of schooling has radically been altered. A number of viable learning alternatives are available. What are some of the benefits and disadvantages of each of these learning alternatives? Let’s look at some of them.


Correspondence course

A correspondence course is traditionally, a class conducted through the mail. Lesson materials arrive by mail. The student then returns their completed work by return mail and waits for the next lesson to arrive by mail. The process continues and repeats until all the required lessons have been completed. There is no teacher to student contact other than the written word. Some programs nowadays do allow for telephone, e-mail or voice-mail contact. Only highly motivated, independent learners are able to benefit greatly from this type of learning.


Field Trips

Associated with both a traditional school setting and independent learning, field trips consist of students visiting a location outside of their school or home to learn about a topic or theme. Places visited might include businesses such as manufacturing facilities, a park, the Zoo or an aquarium, public services facilities like fire stations, TV or radio studios, hospitals or police stations. An effective learning strategy, this method does require a teacher or guide to fully accomplish. Also, setting up visits to some locales may be difficult or impossible for the individual learner.


Independent Study

Independent Study involves design of a project which students then complete by various means on their own. The collective work may require a number of intricately interacted facets to complete. Investigative research, writing, field trips, interviews, extensive reading and lectures may all be involved and required to complete project work. The final production is often a presentation, paper or report extolling the details of the student’s work and acquired knowledge.


Vocational School

An educational bastion for learning trade or technical skills, a vocational school teaches practical skills. Students are most often immediately employable by the private and commercial sectors upon completion of a course of study a vocational school. Fields like Health Care, Nursing, Electronics, Computer Science, Construction and Manufacturing that have a demand for skilled labor or technicians receive a steady supply of their labor force from these types of schools.


Educational Television Course

The vast majority of major metropolitan areas have one or more public broadcasting stations which feature educational programs. These programs are frequently part of an accredited course of study at a local College or University. Students watch (and often record) the TV programs at home, take notes and study the broadcast material as an integral part of their learning. Another effective strategy for the highly independent learner, this method does not promote interpersonal contact between teacher (if any) and learner.


Continuing Education

When adults want to resume their education at some point in their life, programs offered by Post-Secondary institutions which cater to these students’ specific needs are called Continuing Education. Some may last for only a day or two. Other programs can run for weeks with an intensity that can vary from an hour or two per week up to everyday class contact. Courses may be of personal interest topics like ethnic cooking, gardening, writing and photography, or employment-related areas such as welding, plumbing, languages, painting and construction. A highly popular option of today, these types of courses and programs promote interaction between students in the class, interactive learning and full teacher to student contact. There is usually lots of feedback between teacher and learners, and the learners themselves.

We likely will never see a return to “traditional” learning as was illustrated above. But with the growing variety of learning alternatives, there certainly is something to suit almost everyone. So get out of your rut. Take a chance – take a course and improve your mind and your life using one of the many learning alternatives available to you. If not, there’s always a M’s Crabapple waiting.


Prof. Larry M. Lynch is a bi-lingual copywriter, expert author and photographer specializing in business, travel, food and education-related writing in South America. His work has appeared in Transitions Abroad, South American Explorer, Escape From America, Mexico News and Brazil magazines. He now lives in Colombia and teaches at a university in Cali. Want lots more free tips, help and information on language learning, public speaking, writing and mental skills development? E-mail Prof. Larry M. Lynch at: lynchlarrym@gmail.com for professional consulting, EFL Teacher Training or ELT multi-media presentations at your conference or facility.

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