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Extreme Instructorship - Achieving Instructor Excellence

By: Chief Billy Greenwood; Extreme Leadership Series

Extreme Instructorship - There is a big difference in teaching adults and children. Thus the professional educator in emergency services education must have a solid understanding of learning intelligences. Have you ever been in a class where the instructor was good, he or she had decent material, but they had somehow missed the mark for student engagement? Now I am not talking about many of the obvious minor faults of an under developed instructor. I am talking about those who are a good instructor, but yet struggle to make YOU want to LEARN…

Well learning isn't all Greek to firefighters. But when we’re talking about learning the words “Pedagogy” and “Andragogy” should be something we are throwing around in the instructor development room. And if we aren't then how do you know we are delivering the message correctly to your audience? So let’s take a look at them in detail. Both are of Greek origin with Pedagogy in the most simplistic terms means the learning of a child, while Andragogy on the other hand means the education of man. While both words refer to best practices for learning strategies, they each have their own distinct philosophies. By understanding the differences between Pedagogy versus Andragogy, you as a professional emergency services educator should have a clearer vision of how and why your subjects learn.

Andragogy refers to the methods and approaches used in adult education and is directed towards self-actualization, gaining experience(s) and problem-solving. While in contrast, Pedagogy is an education method in which the learner is dependent on the teacher for most of his or her guidance, evaluation(s) and acquisition of said knowledge. So what’s the big deal? Someone applying Pedagogical theory (child) to a classroom full of adult professionals might find that their material is just plain boring and ultimately disengaging.


Knowles’ Theory

Before 1950, pretty much everything we knew about learning was centered on the way children were taught. After all, traditional schooling was pretty much how and where education took place. Finally, adult educator and researcher Malcolm Knowles adopted the term “Andragogy” to refer to the unique ways adult learners used. While children required instructor-led methods, Knowles noticed that adults were much more self-directed and relied heavily on their past life experiences when they approached new learning opportunities. Does this sound like a new probationary firefighter or EMT class? One of the easiest mistakes for a new instructor to make is not taking into consideration their audience… that being their students. The student demographic should drive the delivery or medium of the content. If you are educating teenagers in a high school setting or junior firefighter program, the delivery might have to be different than if you are teaching a room full of adult aged firefighters or emergency medical technicians.

   Knowles theory about adult learners included understanding the how or why adult learners learn:

  • Adult Learners are often self directed
  • Adult Learners use their past experiences as a major learning resource
  • Adult Learners are highly motivated to learn in relation to their social roles
  • Adult Learners often prefer to learn solutions that can be applied to realistic situations
  • Adult Learners very much rely on internal driving motivations
  • Adult Learners are often goal oriented to complete programs or certifications
  • Adult Learners are good at understanding how this is relevant to life
  • Adult Learners tend to be very practical
  • Adult Learners like to be respected during the learning process


   The Adult Learning Advantage:

It may seem like semantics, but understanding the differences between Pedagogy and Andragogy could make a big difference between lackluster learning experience and having ready to teach adults who are highly engaged. This doesn’t mean that children and adults always learn differently. The fact is, adults often come to the table with a different set of motivators. They know what has worked for them in the past (life experiences) or have habits that affect the way they learn and receive new information. Because of this approaching new topics with a traditional pedagogical strategy could leave them unmotivated, disengaged and uninterested in the topic and material.

 Andragogy inspires professional instructors to do a better job connecting learning experiences to what adult learners already know. Allowing for personal opinion, better pacing of the learning track and knowledge checks and re-checks for which allow adults to leverage what they already know against the new topic(s) they are currently learning.

Pedagogical Modeling or Flipping the Classroom is a great teaching technique for the younger firefighter. This aligns perfectly with how they were taught. The process is simple and requires only a few adjustments on behalf of the instructor. In a flipped classroom setting, participants are assigned learning materials and tasks to engage with individually; before you meet in real time as a group. The goal is for this advanced preparation to foster more productive learning experience during the in-person group sessions. Building off a shared foundational knowledge; learners may be better prepared than in a traditional classroom with instructor lead discussion. You see they have more invested in the topic or skill before they arrive. This higher level of engagement can in turn lead to much stronger and a much longer lasting learning experience. 

This concept created the spark for the recent explosion in the flipped classroom approach from Salman Khan of the Kahn Academy. As of this date the flipped classroom approach has made more advances in the K through 12 educational setting than any other new concept. This new approach to learning clearly has a value across all levels of education and learning. Remember that it is the professional educator that establishes the proper learning environment for best practices. If you are teaching the young Firefighter / EMT who is still in his or her teens or early twenties, this approach may provide the best concept to engage them on your content... especially seeing that they are fresh out of the modern K-12 educational model.

Learn more about how to read and map your students with professional development options from FETC Services. - Let FETC Help You Achieve Instructional Excellence! 

About the Author:

Fire Chief Billy Greenwood is a 27 year student of the fire service. He has presented at FDIC-International for the past 10 years delivering the Extreme Leadership series and he is the host of the popular radio show Tap the Box on Fire Engineering Radio.  Billy is a Senior Staff Instructor for the New Hampshire Fire Academy and also is the owner of FETC Services. FETC provides advanced level fire, rescue and leadership training throughout the world. FETC is devoted to providing the absolute best professional development and promotional opportunities to the fire, rescue and emergency medical service community. 

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