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- The researcher has used the terms “tutor” and “midwife” in an interchangeable format.
Midwifery is about far more than delivering babies. The skills that a midwife needs to carry out her job successfully are legion. In this essay we shall specifically consider the role of the midwife as an educator, and her ability to impart information successfully to a group in a planned parenting session.
In order to do this successfully it is obviously important for the midwife (or tutor) to appreciate how adults learn optimally in a different way from children. In this essay we shall explore both the theoretical and practical principles which underpin the delivery of a successful course for prospective parents. We shall also consider the importance of course evaluation in the construction and presentation of future courses.
It is important to appreciate that adults learn optimally in a different way to children. The dichotomy is often refered to as pedagogy and andragogy. The fundamental difference between the two is that pedagogy is essentially the process whereby the tutor instructs the students and andragogy is the process which involves more of an interaction between the two, with the tutor guiding the students. (Cervero, R. M et al 1999)
In the prospective parenting classes clearly the group are likely to be mainly young adults (the researcher states that they are making a number of assumptions here) and an alternative name for andragogy is experiential learning. This involves the tutor drawing out various experiences that the group, collectively, have had and using them as a basis for discussion and communal learning. (Donaldson, J. F et al. 2000)
One could reasonably assume that the participants in the group have not had previous direct experience of parenting, but this does not preclude this method of teaching in this circumstance. They certainly will have observed friends, family and others bringing up their children and of course will have their own experiences with their own upbringing which will have formed a number of their opinions, expectations and values. These can usefully be explored and brought out in discussion for the whole group to use as a learning experience. It is likely that a typical group will include participants from different social backgrounds, ethnic groups and classes. This is also a valuable asset which can be exploited for the benefit of all.
Specific examples could be the breast feeding and weaning habits of different ethnic communities and how they differ from what is currently considered to be best practice. Clearly this type of learning is quite different from that which could be used for children (pedagogy) who have very little life experience to draw on. (Johnson-Bailey, J et al 1997)
Obviously the midwife will have their own professional learning and agenda together with a vast wealth of practical experience. This should ideally be presented in a sensitive but authoritative way, so that the group can have the opportunity to discuss, evaluate and adopt those elements that they collectively feel are or value and importance to themselves. (Ross-Gordon, J. M et al 2002).
Although adults will clearly need to assimilate information – as this is a basic definition of learning – they are far more amenable to techniques which involve self motivation and self-directed learning. (Sheared, V et al. 2001). In this context it is important that the midwife, in addition to simply acting as a tutor and resource, should also suggest other sources of information. Local libraries, NHS leaflets, Local Authority pamphlets and of course the Internet, are all valuable resource options that the prospective parents can access themselves. Part of the information providing responsibility incumbent on the midwife, is the generation of interest which will allow the group members to feel empowered to make further exploration of the area themselves. (EHC 1999)
The concept of metacognition is also important in this area. Traditionally a midwife might expect to give a talk on various important points of parenting and the prospective parents would sit passively and absorb the elements that they felt were important to them. The talk would finish and the group would disperse. Metacognition is the ability of the student to appreciate the overall context and content of what they are learning about. This is primarily a two way interaction between student and tutor. (Smith, M. C et al. 1998).
If the midwife is able to establish a dialogue between herself and the group it is easier to evaluate and assess the gaps in knowledge and then to suggest strategies for filling them. Equally, it is a valid strategy to establish where the gaps are and then to encourage the student to find the information for themselves in order to bring back to the group for discussion on the next occasion. (Titmus, C 1999).
When the tutor is constructing the course, if the andragogical approach is chosen as the most appropriate then they should:
Encourage the group members to participate and put forward their own life experiences as much as possible in order to utilise them as exploratory and discussion tools for the group as a whole.
Demonstrate to the group how their collective life experiences can be adapted and utilised within the framework of the current discussion (after Merriam, S. B et al. 1999).
This is a difficult topic since evaluation is ultimately the most appropriate tool to assess whether the particular course has been successful. There are basically three appropriate viewpoints of evaluation – whether the tutor feels that they have delivered the course successfully, whether the student feels that they have benefited from the course and whether an independent assessor would consider the course appropriate. (Vaske, J. M et al 2001).
There is not space to fully appraise all of these eventualities, but clearly it is utterly appropriate to consider the student’s appreciation of the course, whether it fulfilled their expectations and needs together with an assessment of the various areas where they felt that the learning experience was either good or lacking.
This is clearly vital, not only from the point of view of deciding whether it is appropriate to continue delivering the course as a public service, but possibly more importantly, to provide feedback to the tutor on just how their delivery was perceived and received. There is obviously no value in presenting a course which is neither appreciated nor useful to the recipients (Tice, E. T et al 1997).
It is clear that the presentation of a successful adult-orientated course is not just a matter of chance and an informed professional standing up and presenting a series of facts. It is obviously important to optimise the impact and usefulness of the effort involved with an appreciation of the theory and practice of adult learning.
The involvement of the audience group, particularly with an invitation and an expectation to share and learn from their own collective experiences, is clearly an important learning tool and should be maximally exploited by the tutor.
It is also important to the overall optimisation of the learning experience for the student, that the tutor should develop clear and concise learning objectives for the group and tailor the structure of the group to those objectives. Central to that process is the formulation of an appropriate learning plan, which, in this particular format does not necessarily have to be a formal written plan, but can take the form of either notes or a mentally organised format by the tutor. (Taylor, K et al 2000).
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