Posts Tagged ‘socratic method’

Having watched the video by B.F. Skinner  I was stuck by the argument that Skinner believed that teaching by machine was ‘motivational’ as students could learn at their own pace. I had a little previous knowledge of behaviourism so I was not surprised when Skinner stated that students learn ‘the correct behaviour. It was interesting that he stated that the author was still the teacher not the machine but for that to work the teacher would need to undertand how the machine works and how to structure the learning to make if effective with the machine. I decided to look at the socratic method to evaluate how this approach differed from Skinner. I read Donald Clarks blog and I particulary liked the phrase that Socrates thought “Education is not a cramming in, but a drawing out” (Clarks quote ). This stands in contrast to Skinner who believed that education was about teaching students the right way of doing a task. The Socratic idea is that the teacher poses questions so learners become aware of their lack of knowledge and motivated to learn and find out the answer to the questions. Clark paints a picture of Socrates as a ruthless opponent. The Socratic idea that for certain types of learning questioning and dialogue allows the learner to generate their own ideas (it reminds of probably overused phrase of seeing the teacher as the ‘guide on the side’ rather than the ‘sage on the stage).  But as Clark argues this method needs to be combined with genuine dialogue and feedback.

I then decided to search for more information about the socratic method and came across an article by Paraskevas, A and Wickens, E  (1993) called “Andragogy and the Socratic Method: The Adult Learner Perspective”.  In this article the authors refer to Ramsden (1992) who states that a large part of student learning is not about learning theory and concepts  it is about learning about what the instructor requires”. In the Socratic method students can be given a scenario and the teacher poses pre-set questions. Learners are required to use experience and knowledge to solve problems. Inductive techniques can be used to then help move students on from specific case studies to generic concepts. By involving students actively relating learning to their own experience supporters of this method (Tredway 1995, Strong 1996) believe that this engages students on an emotional level in their learning. Paraskevas and Wickens (1993) developed a ‘socatic typology of learners’ based on their research on adult learners in Greece. There are 4 types (percentages in brackets refer to the % of students in this study classified as this type of learner).

  • ‘Meno’ learner- this learner depends on lecture style, learning from an authority figure (18.3%),
  • ‘Protagoras’ learner needs instructor to be directive but also supportive to reinforce their willingness to take part (45.4%)
  • ‘Gorgias’ learner have skills and possibly some knowledge to be owners of their own fate, the instructor is needed to guide and develop their self confidence but once this is accomplished they will explore topics on their own (35.3%),
  • ‘Plato’ learner is educationally more mature and in charge of their learning, their relationship with the instructor is more collegial (interestingly in this study only 1% of students were classified as this type of learner).

This reseach concluded that a majority of these adult learners accepted the socratic style of learning but it cannot be used in all situations with all learners. Perhaps that is unsurprising – all learners are different.

Being a Librarian by training I decided that I needed to find out about the author of the Blog we were referred to on the MOOC  (D Clark) and on further exploration of the Blog I came across a link to his TED video . I found this really interesting so although I was supposed to be considering the Socratic method I decided to watch this talk. Clark argued that there has been more pedagogic changes in 10 years than the last 1000 years. He states that the world has changed dramatically and the psychology of learning suggests we should be more active in learning rather than the traditional model of passive learning in lectures. Technology has freed us from location and time for learning. Clark believes that ‘repeated access to content matters’, videoing lectures so students can replay them is an important part of learning. I had recently come across the Khan Academy (another TED talk) and I was surprised that this service had 110 million views on you tube. He ended by stating that pedagogic change is coming from the technological developments and although you can ignore technology ‘resistance is futile’.


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