It is important to understand that student resistance to learning is rooted in an intrinsic fear of change. We know that learning is all about change as we are exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking and that change is a significant part of the learning process (Brookfield, 2015).
Several factors can be responsible student resistance to learning such as: fear of the unknown, unmatched teaching and learning styles, irrelevance to the learning activity, learner readiness, instruction that lacks of clarity, or even teacher dislike, to name a few. However, as an instructor we need to understand that resistance to learning will inevitably always be present in our classrooms and overcoming it completely is highly unlikely. Our job therefore, is to explore the nature of the resistance, consider that possibly it is justified, and then employ strategies that will respond to students’ resistance to learning.
Brookfield has highlighted several ways to respond to resistance in Chapter 17 of his book. There are three that I found particularly valuable: involving former resisters, using a variety of teaching methods, and assessing learning incrementally.
Involving Former Resisters – I love this idea! Former resistant students presenting the value found in the learning after the fact. They provide credible feedback that is validated by the instructor as the course gets underway.
Using a Variety of Teaching Methods – Using a minimum of three different learning strategies will hopefully cater to most learning styles and reduce learner resistance. Variety is essential to keep all learners engaged.
Assess Learning Incrementally – resistance to learning often results in lack of participation and effort. Formative assessment is key for these students so that ongoing they are made aware of their status, giving them opportunity to address their own lack of commitment which may result in negative outcomes. Additionally, ongoing assessment and feedback can empower students to make decisions about how they want to proceed, such as getting extra help, more practice or study more. (Fenwick & Parsons, 2009)
“Remember that resistance to learning is normal, natural, and inevitable. The trick is to make sure it interferes as little as possible with classroom activities that others see as important and helpful.” (Brookfield, 2015 p. 238)
Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Fenwick, T. & Parsons, J. (2009). The Art of Evaluation: A Resource for Educators and Trainers (2nd ed.). Thompson Educational Publishing Inc.