A Boiled Egg is Hard to Beat! by Earle Abrahamson

Towards changing teaching methods and influencing learner minds

A lexophile, (a word used to describe those that have a love for words) has been carefully considered and used in the title of this article to invite humour but more importantly explain the concepts of change and resistance to change.

Recently I spoke with a group of massage therapy tutors to understand their pedagogies and methods of teaching. It was apparent that many had developed methods over time and were not open to different ways of thinking and doing.

Within the literature there is a body of evidence that deals with resistance to change and discusses obstacles to change in terms of troublesome knowledge and threshold concepts. The proponents of the theory explain that once a thought or concept is transformed into another state of knowing or knowledge it is difficult to return to the original state. For example, once a potato is mashed it cannot return to being a potato in its original shape or form. This theory of troublesome knowledge and learning thresholds is useful in understanding how one chooses to navigate knowledge barriers and manage the dissemination of new knowledge.

Teaching, or more importantly teaching adult learners, often creates a montage of challenge. Learners bring beliefs, ideas, values, and aspirations which may or may not align with those of the tutor.  Massage therapy teaching involves the complex organisation of theory in practice and engages the learner with the learning content in an applied way. Content is dissected into learning units which is then built into knowledge clusters. Learners need to understand the value of the learning before they are able to apply knowledge in multiple ways and situations. Reasoning and knowledge development are skills that often challenge conventional learning methods and move the tutor and learner into new and often alien territories of knowledge and knowledge discovery. If one stays fixed in a set method of teaching or learning, then the learning lens may become clouded and the discovery of new knowledge lost.  It is this challenge of challenging complexity that invites new methods of teaching, learning, dissemination and application of knowledge. Professional practice incorporates a philosophy of practice, i.e. an understanding of how to defend ones beliefs in practice and challenge current methods of application of technique and knowledge.

If I return to the title of this short article, and illustrate my thinking in terms of a boiled egg, then once the egg has boiled, i.e. once we are set in our ways, it becomes increasingly difficult to see and apply new ways of teaching and learning. If, however, we beat the egg first, we may be able to look at each scrambled part, consider its value, and realise the potential for scholarship, new learning, and knowledge transfer. This approach should encourage a more dynamic focus on the importance of learning, where the tutor/teacher facilitates the process of knowledge transfer and encourages challenge and cognitive dissonance. Through doubt and exploration of knowledge one can begin to build a philosophy of practice that is underpinned by evidence based reasoning.

Teaching and learning are dynamic interactive processes. The challenge for tutors is to create a learning environment that allows the learner to settle into an unsettled world. This is important as it creates a trigger for sustained knowledge development. Such an environment will challenge and provoke knowledge, and drive the learner towards self-discovery and reflection. Teaching and learning needs to reside in such an environment, and learners need to be challenged to develop new and different ways of learning and using knowledge. Resistance to change could damage the learning dynamics and environment. One possible strategy to mitigate against this potential damage would be to establish teaching and learning communities of practice. Within these communities of practice tutors and practitioners could come together to share ideas, explore new ways of working, and promote a culture of active engagement.

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