This month I wanted to elaborate a bit on the “Master Adaptive Learners” (MAL) concept1,2,3 and the related challenge around finding a balance between supporting students in becoming MAL and communicating the details about the content that learners need to know and be able to do. When is it okay for learners to struggle and experience some frustration, and when is it best to jump in and give the answer, so to speak? When one does become an MAL, and identifies a gap in their knowledge, how best do they go about filling that gap? With a lecture from an expert? By reading an article or a book chapter? Talking to a mentor? All of the above?
There is some evidence to suggest that although our biases as teachers often lean toward providing hints and guidance to help learners get to the right answer, this approach actually hinders long term learning. A thought-provoking quote from a book I read recently: “…teachers and students must avoid interpreting current performance as learning. Good performance on a test during the learning process can indicate mastery, but learners and teachers need to be aware that such performance will often index, instead, fast but fleeting progress.”4 On the other hand, to exaggerate the point, what are teachers actually doing if their role is only to point learners at a content area and mostly say “figure it out yourself and be sure to get a little (or a lot) frustrated along the way”?
So, navigating this balance as a teacher requires a lot of thoughtful planning and problem solving, along with “in the moment” decision making and tact in conveying the message.5 Most teaching and learning situations will require a decision (often before but sometimes during a learning activity) on the part of the teacher, acknowledging that jumping in too soon and/or giving too much information can be detrimental, but jumping in too late can miss the unique needs and vulnerabilities of the learner(s). So, my advice is to listen carefully to both verbal and non-verbal communications. Acknowledge challenge, and support and reinforce effort, especially when there is some frustration. A final important step is to assess the learning in a variety of ways and to check your own biases as you analyze this assessment data.
- Abraham et al. Master Adaptive Learning as a Framework for Physical Therapist Professional Education: A Call to Action. Physical Therapy. 2022; 102: 1-5
- Jensen. Physical Therapy Education Through the Lens of the Master Adaptive Learner 24th Pauline Cerasoli Lecture. Journal of Physical Therapy Education. 2022
- Fostering the Development of Master Adaptive Learners: A Conceptual Model to Guide Skill Acquisition in Medical Education. Academic Medicine. 2017; 92: 70-75
- Epstein, David. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World p 92. 2019: Riverhead Books.
- Mostrom, E. 16th Annual Pauline Cerasoli Lecture. Life Lessons: Teaching for Learning that Lasts. Journal of Physical Therapy Education. 2013