One of the first things we learn as educators, in any setting, is the importance of communication. Education is not a one-way street, and should not be designed as the teacher communicating at the students. Dialogue is essential to the success of communication, an educator does not singular create dialogue with verbal usages, instead creates dialogue in embracing the many facets of learning, for each individual, in a way that the communication overcomes boundaries created by single methods for education. Vella (2002) perfectly explains it,
“Dia means “between,” logos means “word.” Hence, dia + logue = “the word between us.” The approach to adult learning based on these principles holds that adults have enough life experience to be in dialogue with any teacher about any subject and will learn new knowledge, attitudes, or skills best in relation to that life experience (Knowles,1970).” (p. 3)
In order to understand the basic principals Vella (2002) identifies in the text, it is important to understand other contemporary viewpoints regarding learning and motivational needs. Two of the most popular theories include Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs. Learners are able to understand materials, participate in dialogue, and contribute to their learning when individual needs are meet, motivation is available, and programs are designed around individual social, physical, and emotional needs. Weil and Calhoun (2009) defined models of education meant to address the different types of teaching needed to meet individual learner’s growth.
Gardner, in 1983, developed a non-traditional definition to intelligence, due to the extreme difficulties teachers had to define what they saw in classrooms, and how no single individual child could be quantified as the same as other students in a classroom. Methods of teaching did not take into account that students had different types of intelligences. Specifically, Gardner first identified seven intelligences, including linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal (Conti, 2008). Since this time, other theorists have contributed to the list, or modified it, and Gardner added in naturalistic and existential to the original list, in 2000 (Conti, 2008).
Multiple intelligence theories strive to identify why learners under some situations flourish, and in other situations, with the same learning content, fail or struggle. Communication and open-dialogues with students provided educators with an opportunity to understand the different values of a student, giving insight to potential intelligences that can guide an educator in course material presentation. In some situations, an educator may need to create new materials, or enhance a curriculum to meet new challenges in the classroom.
Educational needs of students – both adults and children – include their individual motivational needs, and though a number of different theories exist regarding how learners may be motivated, Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs is useful in understanding how different life situations can influence the ability to learn. Indeed, the theory is old, and while most often applied to working conditions, justifying the costs and promotion of creature comforts – benefits designed to create additional value in the workplace (Austin, 2002). How students respond to learning needs are easily related to where on the pyramid they currently are in life.
The bottom of the pyramid is physiological needs, which include food, water, air, clothing, and shelter. Many adult students lacking these specific needs never return to continued education; however, when they do, their struggles are far more than just completing homework in a timely manner. Children are different, regardless of where their motivations are, they will go to school every day, some in search of additional food not available at home, others to be away from a home environment that is not providing all the basic needs. These learners face challenges that make learning complicated and difficult; however, is often best addressed by schools with free breakfast and lunch programs.
Safety needs are the next section, and are considered important after meeting the specific needs identified in the physiological section. This section is applicable from a number of different angles, maybe the learner is not safe in their late night job, the school drive is through a bad section of town, or the home environment may not always be safe and secure. Adult learners are better able to set these types of fears aside during school needs; however, emotional growth can define how successful anyone is at separating their mind during important hours of the day. These needs provide specific pitfalls to learning that may need to be handled with caution, providing a safe classroom environment is often the best way to meet this specific need.
Social needs are identified as the individual need of others to be loved, accepted, and surrounded by others. This need is identified in all learners, young and old. School appears to be social enough, constantly surrounded by other students and learners, numerous school personnel, and the teachers; however, the social needs are better addressed by learning experiences involving teams. Teams contribute to learning needs by providing opportunities to build relationships, learn valuable working ethics, and to the ability of students to understand social situations that may otherwise not be available. Use and development of team lessons is not appropriate for all learning environments, and may be a part of family and community relationships of the learners. Additionally, people having mastered the other needs to a degree of comfortable satisfaction most often address social interaction by finding ways to belong, the third need.
Self-esteem is identified as the need for people to accept, appreciate, value, and recognize the individual or team contributions a person makes in their social or personal endeavors. Specifically, when other needs are met, individuals seek out relationships that value their contributions. In education, learners feel comfortable in learning environments that promote their individual success -through either grade accomplishments or placements; however, learners also value the role their communications play in the success of their course. This includes the recognition that course completion often offers the students.
Finally, self-actualization completes the list provided by Maslow, though he recognized that most people never fulfill their creative and intellectual maximums, and never reach their full potential. Self-actualization can include education itself, and students striving for their full potential may have greater value in the course materials itself. The reality is that most students will be in different places in the pyramid, often struggling to overcome challenges that instructors are not aware of, which may influence learning.
Effective dialogues in the classroom are essential to successful learning environments, and these communications begin with an understanding of how each of these items are relative to the classroom and the student learners. Vella (2002) listed the twelve items needed to “begin, maintain, and nurture dialogue:”
“• Needs assessment: participation of the learners in naming what is to be learned.
• Safety in the environment and the process. We create a context for learning. That context can be made safe.
• Sound relationships between teacher and learner and among learners
• Sequence of content and reinforcement.
• Praxis: action with reflection or learning by doing.
• Respect for learners as decision makers.
• Ideas, feelings, and actions: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor aspects of learning.
• Immediacy of the learning.
• Clear roles and role development.
• Teamwork and use of small groups.
• Engagement of the learners in what they are learning.
• Accountability: how do they know they know?” (p. 3)
Successfully communicating with learners contributes to the learning process, assisting in creating environments that embrace individual differences, needs, and learning challenges.
Austin, N. (2002). The power of the pyramid. Incentive, 176(7), 10. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.
Conti, H. (2008). Multiple Intelligences. (p. 1). Great Neck Publishing. Retrieved from Research Starters – Education database.
Vella, J. (2002). Learning to listen, learning to teach: The power of dialogue in educating adults (Rev. ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Joyce, B., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2009). Models of Teaching. Boston:Pearson.