20. Learning by Being: The Nurturing and Social Reform Models of Teaching:

20.5. Strengths and Weaknesses of These Two Approaches

There are, as always, a number of drawbacks to these two perspectives on teaching:

  • The teacher in a nurturing approach needs to adopt a highly dedicated and unselfish approach, putting the demands and needs of the learner first. This often means for teachers who are experts in their subject holding back the transmission and sharing of their knowledge until the learner is ‘ready’, thus denying to many subject experts their own identity and needs to a large extent.
  • Pratt argues that ‘although the content is apparently neglected, children taught by nurturing educators do continue to master it at much the same rate as children taught by curriculum-driven teaching methodologies‘, but no empirical evidence is offered to support this statement, although it does derive in Pratt’s case from strong personal experience of teaching in this way.
  • like all the other teaching approaches the nurturing perspective is driven by a very strong belief system, which will not necessarily be shared by other educators (or parents – or even learners, for that matter).
  • a nurturing perspective necessitates probably the most labor-intensive of all the teaching models other than apprenticeship, requiring a deep understanding on the part of the teacher of each learner and that learner’s needs; every individual learner is different and needs to be treated differently, and teachers need to spend a great deal of time identifying learners’ needs, their readiness to learn, and building or creating supportive environments or contexts for that learning.
  • there may well be a conflict between what the learner identifies as their personal learning needs, and the demands of society in a digital age. Dedicated teachers maybe able to help a learner negotiate that divide, but in situations where learners are left without professional guidance, learners may end up just talking to other individuals with similar views that do not progress their learning (remembering that academic teaching is a rhetorical exercise, challenging learners to view the world differently).
  • social reform depends to a large extent on learners and teachers embracing similar belief systems, and can easily descend into dogmatism without challenges from outside the ‘in-community’ established by self-referential groups.

Nevertheless, there are aspects of both perspectives that have significance for a digital age:

  • Both nurturing and social reform perspectives seems to work well for many adults in particular, and the nurturing approach also works well for younger children.
  • Nurturing is an approach that has been adopted as much in advanced corporate training in companies such as Google as in informal adult education (see for instance, Tan, 2012).
  • The connectivist MOOCs strongly reflect both the nurturing approach and the ability to create webs of connections that enable the development of self-efficacy and attempts at social reform.
  • Both perspectives seem to be effective when learners are already fairly well educated and already have good prior knowledge and conceptual development.
  • Perspectives that focus on the needs of individuals rather than institutions or state bureaucracies can liberate thinking and learning and thus make the difference between ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ in creative thinking, problem-solving, and application of knowledge in complex and variable contexts.