Dr Carrera, aka, Dr Mario, has been teaching business related courses to mostly undergraduates at Thai universities since 2016. Before teaching, Dr Mario spent 20 years in the petroleum industry in Trinidad and Tobago, Oman, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. Having studied in Jamaica, UK and USA, Dr Mario has a global perspective on learning and work, and is interested in making education, simple, practical and usable.
Students (and quite a few parents) believe that simply attending class is the only requirement for learning. I emphasise “attending class” because many undergraduate students at Thai universities spend the majority of their time talking with friends, on social media and in general idleness. Having taught at three Thai universities, I observe classes to improve my teaching. Learning from these observations, my experience, and research, I now do things differently in my class; I now include meditation, reflective writing, and, most importantly, emphasising what learning actually is.
Teaching how to learn has been a revelation. After 12 years of schooling, only a few students have been taught how to learn. Learning is seen as only occurring in a classroom; research and practice show this is not so. It is now time for teachers, parents and society to prioritise learning to learn.
Learning occurs everywhere, most notably outside the classroom. The learning pyramid shows that classroom activity accounts for less than one-third of learning. Using what is presented in class accounts for almost half of learning. Teaching others is where the completion of the learning process occurs. Children used to learn and apply topics by working with their parents. Spending eight hours a day for five days a week on school-related activities still left time for continuous learning. Same with work. There are time and resources to help learning outside of work or school.
Classrooms serve to collate, organise, structure, and equalise learning, so students can learn from each other. Students attend with different desires, dreams, issues, families, and so on, so they are all given the same information to add to their experience. Schools are supposed to be the great equaliser translating these experiences into something new for everyone. Students have a common base to explain, share and grow ideas. This levelling happens in robust school systems where graduates can thrive in society, choose their path, and use their foundation to continually learn and progress.
Executive education shows the extent to which a classroom is for learning from others. Facilitators gather executives and coordinate exchanges among the participants, who leave knowing that they have learnt something new. The learning occurs from sharing experiences, knowledge and ideas among the participants. Facilitators help contextualise the exchanges so participants can take something away. Thus, learning is about sharing no matter what stage of life.
This positioning leads to how university lecturers should teach, standing at the back of the classroom; placing the emphasis squarely on the material not the teacher. Also, the position allows for better monitoring of students’ activities (hint social media usage), student focus and identifying which students need the most attention. Standing in the back of the classroom links well with project-based and activity-based learning models. In my classroom, refocusing teaches students to depend on themselves to learn. They look and move forward but there is support behind and around them; but they must be brave, focus on the material, and use their own abilities to manipulate the issues and learn.
Developing independent thinkers is a common theme among educators. But exactly how do we do that? Not one way but a combination of steps. In Asian societies, lecturers face a mindset that seeks harmony. Framing independent thinking as a means to grow, build on what was done before and assist others’ works. Group projects are favoured at universities, yet individual work has its place in developing individual thinking. Combining reflective writing with group work develops individual thought. Lecturers must balance projects, teamwork and grading so students explore for themselves.
Research indicates that learning outside the classroom is immensely beneficial. By incorporating individual activities outside of class, students are pushed to create for themselves without the crutches, distractions, or guidance of friends. For example, I had my students interview ten professionals each about career development and then write a reflective essay to develop their career path. This activity promotes the idea of exploration and speaking with strangers, a vital part of learning.
There is a sociocultural aspect of learning. Hence, as situations and environments change, so does learning. This feature is well-known in teaching circles. For example, puberty, being away from home, family breakups and so on are reflected in students’ ability to learn. This malleability of learning means that we can continue learning as we age. Sadly, in Thailand and many Asian countries, few 40 or 50-year-olds are interested in returning to school. Even worse, even fewer institutes offer such an opportunity. The learning ecosystem is an integrated system with schools being one branch for lifelong learning. I show this to my students by being an example and discussing the courses I attend with them. Docendo discimus “by teaching, we learn”.
Critical thinking has been cited as one of the most crucial life skills. Yet developing thinking skills requires using a wide range of tools—exposure to new problems, ideas and environments. Writing essays, especially by hand, is another. These activities may be seen as antiquated but have proven effective in developing thinking skills. Luckily, thinking skills can be developed anywhere. Exposure, awareness, and guidance are what is needed. Schools must teach and encourage asking questions – more of the Socratic method. Focus on test preparation lessens thinking skills by teaching the answers, removing the need to find solutions. The lecturer’s role is thus to help students frame questions to get the most out of the situation. Therefore, all my classes have an essay writing component with a rubric emphasising thinking.
However, learning starts with a desire—one’s motivation. Then, desires grow until one wants to create and teach. How do we maintain this desire in the world of convenience and AI? One approach requires deep conversations and explaining one’s rationale for action. These discussions can stimulate interest in others’ activities and help one understand one’s actions. So, my classes generally start with a group discussion and end with one-on-one talks.
A lack of interest in learning transfers to the workplace, where showing up is considered working (presenteeism). Hence, many Thai businesses are inefficient. The person at Desk A is not interested in learning what the person at Desk B is doing and vice versa. So, if a customer or client shows up at Desk A or B and the attendant is not there, no one else can help. Large swathes of employees are not interested in increasing their value and, hence, the company’s value by doing more and learning more. To learn more, one has to do more. Learners add value to their environment and are generally better rewarded at work.
With industrial, technological and social evolutionary cycles shortening, the importance of learning is becoming increasingly apparent. Existing theories are still valid. Education occurs on a wide spectrum of motivation, theories, idiosyncrasies, and experiences. Establishing a balance is what encourages learning. Schools help establish this balance.
Education systems must encourage continuous learning to avoid problems of increasing financial disparities and a mindset chasm that will lock people in a cycle that they may be unable to escape. Some universities are addressing the issues with microcredits, short courses, professional certification and mentoring. There are many ways of learning. Lecturers must encourage learning by showing that learning occurs everywhere.