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ERIC Number: EJ1080719
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2014
Sea Lions and Honors Students: More in Common than You May Think
Lindemann-Biolsi, Kristy L.
Honors in Practice, v10 p71-79 2014
One can easily find a link between the general principles of learning in relation to both nonhuman and human animals. What may be a more difficult but equally important parallel is how these learning principles are applied to the training of animals and the teaching of honors students. The author considers what teachers can learn from observing the similarities and differences between animal training practices and teaching practices with honors students. The example of a trainer teaching a sea lion a new behavior, such as vocalizing on cue, is presented. The animal first works with one specific trainer in one specific area of the habitat in order to keep the environmental context consistent. This procedure has been shown to facilitate learning of novel behaviors. Once the sea lion consistently performs this behavior correctly, the training does not stop--whereas for many students in classrooms the training does stop--after an experience in the same classroom with the same professor--on the day of the final exam. The author argues that educators teach students information in the context of a course and a classroom, and then typically ask them to demonstrate their grasp of that knowledge in exactly the same context. For the sea lion, knowing to perform a specific behavior in a specific location with a specific person is not very useful. The sea lion is not considered to have completed learning a behavior until it can be performed in any context, e.g., required by any trainer, in any location, with a verbal or gestural cue, alone or with other animals. Then, even when the behavior has been solidly established, the trainer understands that the animal must continue to work on the skill, at least occasionally, in order to maintain its ability to perform at a high level. The same can be said for students. Being able to discuss the material that a professor teaches in the context of the classroom is an important accomplishment, one that should not be discounted, but the teaching and learning process should not be considered complete at this stage; it is often just the beginning. Knowledge gained, whether through formal academic study or general life experience, is not useful if one cannot apply it across various contexts. "Very often, in instructional settings (and in everyday life) we do not get the transfer we want. Learners acquire skills and knowledge in one situation and fail to make connections to other situations where those skills and knowledge would prove valuable". The author argues that educators need to explicitly instruct students and teach them not only course material but also to learn how to learn. While the first goal is to have students grasp the basic subject matter, the second goal is to provide them with the tools necessary to use this knowledge beyond the classroom.
Descriptors: Honors Curriculum, Learning Processes, Training Methods, Animals, Comparative Analysis, Student Educational Objectives, Lifelong Learning, Teaching Methods, Learning Strategies
National Collegiate Honors Council. 1100 Neihardt Residence Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 540 North 16th Street, Lincoln, NE 68588. Tel: 402-472-9150; Fax: 402-472-9152; e-mail: email@example.com; Web site: http://nchchonors.org
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
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