#dimi_02: Didactics

What is it anyway and what is it good for?

Didactics is generally understood to be „the study of teaching and learning“ – in other words, it is the scientific examination of how learning can be supported and promoted.

I understand didactics as something alive that thrives on reflection and discussion. As a trainer, I am in a permanent process of research and development. Every time I plan a training or decide with my colleagues during a break which adjustments are necessary, I expand my didactic sensitivity. This builds on the knowledge of how adults learn, but always needs a view of the learning group. Learning is always a social process. You can read about the many dimensions (learning) groups can have in #grumo.

Didactics aims to increase the quality of learning processes. The exchange with colleagues, attending further education, reading blog series (such as the REFAK blog) are part of it.
But where do you get your didactic inspiration? Feel free to leave a comment on the blog post.

Didactics as an enabler of learning

Didactics is a broad field. I would like to pick up on just a few important aspects here that seem important to me from my experience. Ralf Arnold describes an important approach in his „enabling didactics“ – a didactics that takes a look at the factors that make learning possible in the first place. Here we meet the core question of didactics. To answer this question, we have to look at the learners. Factors such as motivation and prior knowledge influence learning. Learning is an active process in which the learners are at the centre. But on the subject of learning there is an extra #dimi_03.

In didactic understanding, this attitude is often described as learner-centredness (also participant-orientation or target group orientation). What is meant is that both the planning and the implementation are thought and designed from the learners‘ side. This is of great importance in the context of trade union education because the target group is very heterogeneous and the different learning prerequisites should be more strongly included in the didactic preliminary considerations and reflections. More on this in #dimi_09.

Taking a closer look at your own understanding of your role

How do you define your role? How do you live it? These questions are important because they express your basic didactic attitude.

Do you see yourself as a coach or as a speaker with a clear expertise? How do you live your role as a coach or learning facilitator? How you design a seminar is closely related to your own understanding of learning. The name you give yourself describes how you define the role for yourself and how you live it in the seminar room. For me, it is important to critically reflect on how I see my role from time to time and to ask the learners or fellow trainers if this comes across. The understanding of my role can change or vary in different contexts.

The importance of experience

Adult learners usually have a solid foundation of experience and expertise. Works council members and staff representatives in particular bring with them a wealth of prior knowledge about their company and the context of their sector. You can find ideas on how to use this prior knowledge for learning HERE. However, prior knowledge also becomes apparent when participants are already working in the field of training. Recently, a participant told me about a situation she had experienced as a trainer, which probably sounds familiar to others. In one of her seminars there was a participant who had much more practical knowledge than she did. This situation made her sweat a lot. If I, as a trainer, define myself very strongly in terms of the role of expert, such a situation can quickly be experienced as competition. If I see the experiences of the participants as a resource, I become a learning facilitator in such a situation. I try to access the knowledge of the participants at various points and make it useful for the joint learning process.

On the overvaluation of knowledge transfer

Many people who work in adult education initially do so in their role as subject matter experts. Thus, many trainers approach planning from the content side. The first (and not infrequently the only) step in planning is to put together a comprehensive PowerPoint presentation. It is not uncommon for this (despite the knowledge that overcrowded slides cannot be grasped by the learners) to be bursting with technical terms, tables and bullet points. Others try to spice up the slide with pictures and give no more than three bullet points. Which type are you? You can find ideas for „slimming down“ seminar content HERE.

If you rely on content planning as the most important pillar of planning, you tend to overlook the learners‘ side. Without putting oneself in the learners‘ shoes, the learning process often remains a one-way street, the success of which is usually not long-term. You can find a more in-depth article on the topic of learning at #thedi_01. Doing plays a central role in anchoring knowledge, but more on this in the next blog post #dimi_03. Therefore, it is essential for the planning of your educational unit which goals you want to achieve. We will deal with the question of goal work in #dimi_06.

Adult learners want self-determination

Adults are used to taking responsibility for themselves and want to be seen as adults in the seminar room. Self-organisation and self-responsibility is an essential aspect of successful educational processes. What does that mean in practical terms? For example, I can offer several choices for group work, so that everyone can decide for themselves which topic is most appealing or relevant. Or I can allow learners to take a break from the group and focus on a topic individually. There are many ways in which I can design a learning process in such a way that learning at eye level does not remain just an empty phrase, but a real-life practice.

If you want to delve further into the topic of didactics, you can find a few links here:

  • The online portal wb-web has set itself the goal of providing resources for developing the competence of adult educators. You can find a suitable contribution to today’s topic here.
  • The Austrian online portal erwachsenenbildung.at offers many exciting articles on adult learning from a socio-political perspective. The magazine offers material to deepen relevant topics. For example, here on the topic of didactics.

Here is a video in which Ralf Arnold explains his learning model Lena. This is based on the idea of enabling didactics and shows how it is implemented in the context of WIFI.

Further literature to read:

  • Arnold, Rolf (2007): Ich lerne, also bin ich. Eine systemisch-konstruktivistische Didaktik. Heidelberg: Carl-Auer Verl.
  • Hippel, Aiga von; Kulmus, Claudia (2018): Didaktik der Erwachsenenbildung. 1. Auflage. Stuttgart: UTB.

The above-mentioned books (and others) can be ordered free of charge from the ÖGB-Verlag webshop HERE.

Author: Margret Steixner

German version

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