The learning context
One way of thinking about the teacher’s role is actually to think in terms of the ‘learning journey’ upon which learners are engaged. The ‘journey’ is a helpful, learner-centred metaphor around which to consider some of the elements of assessing learning or educational needs.
Because learners are working towards or updating a professional qualification in the course of their studies, teachers have to understand what this programme comprises in terms of the defined learning outcomes, content and assessment. So in one sense, learning needs are already predefined in terms of a curriculum, syllabus or programme of study. The curriculum will be written down and each teaching or learning event needs to be relevant to the overall programme. Familiarising yourself with the intended or expected learning outcomes of each module, year or whole programme is a vital first step in assessing learning needs and planning relevant teaching/learning activities. We look at this in more detail in the Setting Learning Objectives module.
Although every learner on each health professional programme (e.g. dietetics, physiotherapy, midwifery, dentistry or medicine) will be following a broadly similar programme of study leading to a common assessment and professional qualification, their individual experiences, learning styles and expectations will vary. This means that their individual learning needs will also be different and if the teacher is to help each learner achieve the defined learning outcomes, attention needs to be paid not only to the learning programme, but also individuals’ needs and abilities. This is known as the ‘differentiated classroom’ where teachers need to be responsive to diversity and difference in their learners. Assessing individual and group learning needs formally and informally in the classroom, laboratory and in wards, clinics and other clinical contexts is a vital part of this responsiveness. Teachers are also involved in supporting learners in their professional and personal development through other guidance and support activities such as personal tutoring, mentoring, preceptorship, review/appraisal and providing academic, study or careers’ advice. This broader expectation of teachers, educators and supervisors put greater demands on all teachers, particularly clinical teachers with other service demands.
In this module, we look at two main aspects of assessing learning needs: in teaching situations and as part of continuing professional development (CPD) or personal and professional development.