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Encouraging Learning

February 24, 2020
Ken Jeffery
Four sailboats sailing in different directions

How People Learn is Fascinating!

I have always found it fascinating to think about how people learn. Many years ago, I taught school-aged youth how to race sailboats. If you are familiar with the expression ‘herding cats’, that’s what it sometimes felt like to teach sailing. This was my first experience teaching, and I was soon struck by the notion that just because I can ‘teach’ something, it doesn’t mean that the learner will ‘learn’ it. I watched helplessly as sailboats went back and forth across the water completely out of my control as I stood and yelled instructions over a bullhorn.

As an instructional designer at Royal Roads University, I regularly think back on that early teaching experience. The learner isn’t just an empty vessel that can be easily filled with information. Freire referred to such simplistic thinking as the "banking model" of education. We cannot open one’s head, dump in a bunch of information, close it up, and consider our work done. People don’t learn like that, of course! What I enjoy most about my job is using creative (and research-backed) strategies for helping the student learn. Teaching takes on the important role of encouraging learning to happen.

Why I Started Teaching

This isn’t my first career, nor is it technically my second. Like many educators in the college/polytechnic sector, I started teaching with no formal training. I was drawn into teaching because of my subject matter expertise in graphic arts and design. For the first course I taught I was offered the teaching gig on a Tuesday, and the first class was on Saturday. I hardly had time to think. For that first course I was only one step ahead, creating my course content each week often just in time for the next class. Over the span of about five years, I continued to improve my teaching skills. I was getting better at making interesting and engaging classes, while not always knowing why some things worked, and others didn’t. I was stuck. I was also teaching without a graduate degree. And while I had gotten in the door without one, it was becoming apparent that I would not be able to advance further without academic credentials. After some research and soul searching, I took the MA in Learning and Technology (MALAT) at Royal Roads University.

Open Textbooks and Instructional Design

The two years flew by. I learned research-backed best practices in learning design – boosting skills I had previously tried to learn on my own. There were opportunities to conduct research into topics that were of interest to me. I enjoyed every course, and graduated two years later with a master’s degree. For another three years, I kept teaching and finding more opportunities to advance my skills. I also started a deeper dive into open educational resources and practices. Inspired by a strong community of knowledgeable colleagues, I was soon editing an open textbook and had volunteered to be co-chair of our school’s open education working group. I was selected as an open education faculty fellow by BCcampus in 2017. 

At that point, an instructional designer position opened at Royal Roads University that I couldn’t pass up. I was living in Vancouver, but with a job offer on the Island (at my alma mater, no less) my wife and I packed up and were calling ourselves ‘Islanders’ within the month. Working in the Centre for Teaching and Educational Technology at RRU is right where I wanted to be. Every day I get to work on the strategies and challenges of creating engaging environments that help people learn. My background in open educational practices supports my instructional design work for the MALAT program. I teach in the program as well, giving me the opportunity to inspire others who are on their own teaching and learning journey. Over the years, I’ve never lost that curiosity into what helps people learn.

It’s a fascinating field that continues to grow, with something new for me to learn each day.