Aspects on teaching and learning

Teaching is not effective unless it results in learning. As teachers, we must always think of what our students need to learn, and what changes in their understanding we hope will occur. Some basics in teaching for learning are illustrated in Figure 3.

First of all a safe learning climate is needed. Students must feel comfortable, and so must the teachers. Both parties must also feel motivated - students to learn, and teachers to facilitate student learning. Clear objectives are also important.


Figure 3. Some basics in teaching for learning.

Quite often, teaching consists of answering questions that students have never raised, not even in their thoughts. Doing it the other way around will be more effective; making students curious and stimulated to think about what they want to get an answer to will motivate them to search and receive information. Information, however, will not necessarily result in raising their knowledge. For that to happen, students need to reflect upon and process the new information, as well as to integrate it with their previous knowledge and frames of reference. They also need to put it into a larger context, see how it fits into the whole. It's like doing a puzzle; having seen a snapshot of the whole facilitates putting the pieces in place and stimulates the search for additional pieces to insert. In teaching it is important, therefore, to place any new topic in a holistic perspective before splitting its contents into pieces, and to relate the topic to the students' background and experience.

Relate to students' frames of reference

When teaching animal breeding, for example, a good introduction can be to talk about the importance of livestock and animal genetic diversity, and the need for sustainable breeding programmes for livestock improvement. The main components of a breeding programme [see Module 3, Figure 2] should also be discussed briefly, before going in detail into the basics, such as various types of inheritance, the molecular background, genotype-environment interactions, genetic relationships, heritability, methods for genetic evaluation, selection principles, models for cross-breeding, etc. When also the details are in place, it will be important to discuss breeding strategies and alternative breeding programmes in depth, as well as their impact in short- and long-term perspectives.

As a teacher, do your best to find out what your students know about a topic before starting to teach it, and remember that discussions with students and diagnostic tests might be helpful. Also make sure to arrange situations in teaching where students discuss, process and apply the information provided. The case studies, discussion questions and exercises available in the Animal Genetics Training Resource can be useful for this purpose. It is important that theory and application are closely linked, also in time.

Educational research has shown that a good university teacher has:

  • subject knowledge and enthusiasm to share it
  • ability to structure the topic and relate it to students' background and experience
  • commitment and ability to stimulate student learning and development of skills
  • social competence and good contact with students, and
  • a personal philosophy on learning and teaching.

Teachers who regularly check student understanding and improvements and also give positive feedback frequently have the best impact on student learning.

Learning styles vary

Different individuals can have different learning styles. Learning styles may be classified as:

  • Visual - understand from seeing pictures and other illustrations.
  • Auditive - good listener, good ability to transform words into pictures.
  • Read/Write - learn through reading and writing.
  • Kinestetic - emotional, wants to touch, learning by doing.

A person might use all these learning styles, but one style usually predominates. There are tests through which students can "find out" something about their learning style(s). The [VARK test] (Fleming 2001) is one example. The results might not "fit" totally for each individual, but doing such a test make students reflect upon their learning style(s), and what study techniques might suit them best.

In teaching it is important to satisfy all learning styles. Using a variety of teaching methods is a good solution.