August 9, 2014

Agricultural education in New Zealand. 6. Better ways needed for future learning

 By Dr Clive Dalton

Class learning 
This needs to be cut as it's seriously out of date.  Traditional class teaching is, and always has been, a massive time waster, as tutors/teachers/lecturers have to deal with the wide range of student abilities.  So their teaching skills (both good and bad) are spread over many students, and a lot of the allocated time has to be spent on crowd control.

Of course some tutors never worry about this, and just get on with the lecture, which has to be aimed at the average class member, so the bright ones are bored out of their brains, and the slow ones give up or drop off to sleep.

In one of my Polytech classes I had a bright student who had severe attention deficit problems, and he ruined the whole learning experience for everyone by constant interruption about unrelated issues. The others in the class should have had their fees refunded, but nothing was done to help him, the others in the class - or me.  I had no expertise to help him learn, and my lectures were the last thing the poor lad needed.

The good news
The good news and what will drive change (and it's happening now) is the widespread use of laptops, and tablets in primary schools, and high schools. This generation are all so computer literate that they will demand to use all the modern technology that becomes available - and 'we ain't seen nothing yet'!

This is the all-time killer of learning - and it still alive and well.   It must have wasted mega millions of Ag student hard-earned dollars (either borrowed or from taxpayers) through tedium and wasted time.   Using the Internet provides a golden opportunity to meet learners’ individual or group needs, and cut out the massive waste of time and money.

Using high quality information
There has never been so much Ag industry information available than at present – much of it good, with other being questionable and making claims with no proof. But the way agricultural research has gone in recent decades (to the dogs in my view), fair amounts of research is embargoed for lengthy time periods because of its ties to commercial joint ventures.

But what information is available is not always accessible to all learners on an equal basis through the many competitive providers in different areas. But using the Internet cloud, all information can be made available with 24/7 access nation wide.
Checking progress 
Internet access allows learners to check their progress in their own time as they proceed.  Learning is not about testing memory – there’s no need for this when we have Google. 

Today’s need is first to know where to find relevant information to solve a problem, and then how to use this information.  Then it’s vital to be able to work out what’s reliable and what’s not. Just look at ‘fertilisers’ as a current example of vitally important farming issue, and what and who to believe about reliable recommendations.

Massive savings
Learners learning in their own time and on the job (with formally allocated time by employers) save themselves the cost of travel, accommodation and fees, which even if they appear ‘free’ – somebody pays, and it’s usually the tax payer.  But the biggest saving is in peoples’ time.  There is no more valuable resource in today’s world.

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