Constructivism 3: Bruner and Scaffolding
The main body of the chapter discussed six ways in which the instructor figure might give scaffolding support to a learner. Those six are: recruiting the interest of the child; reducing elements of freedom; maintaining goal orientation; highlighting the typical features of the task under consideration; controlling the build-up of frustration; and the demonstration of idealised solutions. As we discussed in the chapter, these six elements are not necessarily in any sequence of use, nor are they equally weighted; they are aspects of scaffolding which may be called upon (or not) depending on the context of the support being given and the changing nature of the teaching and learning encounter.
In this scenario, you are working in a training capacity in a retail environment; part of your duties involves inducting new employees into the company and the expectations of their job, and in leading in the new workers becoming proficient in the day-to-day operations which any staff member might be expected to be called upon to do. These roles include operating the tills and serving customers, cash handling, having a thorough knowledge of the stock, displaying and rearranging new items for sale, and keeping the store clean and tidy at all times. Scaffolding is an approach to learning that you use in the training and development of new inductees: in this case, one trainee has simply moved to your store from another branch, whereas the other has never worked in the retail sector before. Part of the remit of your job role is to get these new employees up to speed with these everyday operations as soon as possible so that they can become productive members of the story team, and also so that their training is not taking up other colleagues' time which might be spent on customer-facing working.
Task: With all this in mind, what considerations and strategies would be in play in deciding how best to train these employees?
Different employees will have different levels of previous experience in retail, and so might need different and personalised levels of training; a new colleague who has worked for the same company in a different location, for example, might only need some familiarisation with updated or new staff policies and shop operations, whereas someone who has never worked in retail before might be reasonably expected to need training in all of the store's operations as there is no previous knowledge to build upon. A scaffolding-based approach, therefore, allows for personalisation of learning, which can support its being made meaningful, as well as is respectful of the current level of knowledge and expertise of the employee being trained.
In this scenario, would it be advisable to train both employees at the same time and at the same pace, effectively ignoring the relative expertise of one and instead focusing on the inexperience of the other? You might think not, as this would impact upon the role of the scaffolder, as well as going against elements of scaffolding such as those related to learner frustration, recruiting their interest, and being goal-focused. No-one likes to be patronised, and to take such an impersonal approach to both learners, in not taking into consideration their existing competencies, is perhaps unlikely to be a productive use of time or an appropriate way to treat new colleagues.
What alternatives might present themselves, then? One possibility is to have the more experienced recruit take the lead in showing the less experienced new starter some of the shop operations themselves, with you as the facilitator in the background, both monitoring the extent of both recruits' development and supporting more directly where there is explicit need to so do. There is an element of reward and use-value in the more experienced starter's skillset being used to scaffold that of their co-worker, and there is value also in both having your expertise as the staff trainer directing the training appropriately in the background.
A second alternative is to assign these new starters to other colleagues for shadowing purposes, or even to the same colleague on different working days. It might make sense initially, for example, to have the less-experienced new worker shadowing a co-worker (or being trained by yourself) on a quieter day in the store, or at a time of the day when the shop footfall allows for a more relaxed pace of learning. This gives time to spend on detail and to build up the new worker's confidence and competence in a measured way, scaffolding them towards independence. A lighter touch may be appropriate with the other new starter, but there is the need to ensure that no bad habits have crept into their way of working, and that the worker is performing to your standards and to those expected of the organisation. At the end of the induction and basic training period the aim is to have both employees brought up to that same level of competence so that their induction paperwork might be completed, and so that they are fully-productive team members.
One way of ensuring compliance with company standards is the demonstration of ideal solutions; there may well be several ways to cash up a register at the end of the day, or to package purchased goods for customers, but there may well be only one perfect or company-endorsed approach. The value of such approaches needs to be embedded into any training and support; compliance without agency can lead to frustration, so if it can be demonstrated why the advocated approaches are the best ones to use, rather than simply asserting that this is the approved way of working, then the tasks generate their own meaning for each learner.
The move towards independence requires a gradual and personalised stepping back so that each of the new starters can find their own way toward the required standards. However, that does not mean that once that such standards have been met that there is no room for growth; if you are established in the trainees' minds that you are a flexible, accommodating, productive and supportive coaching figure, then the trainees will feel not only empowered in what they have learned thus far, but will also be able to come to you when there are new situations to be covered, and when questions arise which are job-related. In that sense, the mentoring relationship is ongoing.
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