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May Update: Dispositions and Training Transfer

We're gearing up for big things this summer.  By the end of July we expect to have performance standards set for the first two modules.  We'll use the results of the field tests to establish criteria (i.e. cut scores) for how well we expect students to do on the test when they are entering college, when they've completed the bulk of their GE, and when they're ready to graduate with a bachelor's degree.  This is a major step forward for making the test ready to be used for course-level, program-level, and institutional assessment.

Over the past few months, we've also been thinking more about the role of dispositions in students' IL outcomes.  We know from the research on learning mindsets by Andrea Dweck and her colleagues that it’s vitally important for educators to instill in students the belief that they can develop their aptitudes through consistent effort.  Students who believe that their intelligence or skills are already fixed and cannot improve over time are more likely to struggle in their courses and may not persist to achieve their academic goals.

Because the Framework describes learners’ dispositions as well as their knowledge, it invites librarians to think carefully about how we can help students target the non-cognitive factors, like learning mindset and productive persistence, that shape their IL behaviors.  Productive persistence, for example, combines the affective factors that allow students to work at a task until it is complete with the knowledge of the learning strategies they need to apply in order to complete the task successfully. It’s helpful to understand that non-cognitive factors like these are actually very cognitive, since they depend on the beliefs and strategies that students develop as they learn (Yeager, Paunesku, Walton, & Dweck, 2013).  All of this is to say that we are responsible for teaching students IL knowledge as well as IL dispositions, especially if we are committed to increasing the chances that students will transfer their learning from one class to the next and apply their IL in novel situations.     

In an earlier post in this blog, I explored a connection between learning dispositions and learning transfer.  The literature on transfer leaves many questions open for investigation.  For example, are learning dispositions constant despite differences that our undergraduates encounter as they take courses in various disciplines?  Are learning dispositions independent from learners’ personalities/general dispositions and are they accessing disciplinary or learning temperaments that they think are appropriate for the specific challenge they’re facing?  How does each IL disposition interact with students’ process of defining an ill structured information problem in a new environment so that they can transfer their learning and try to solve it?

As educators, most of us have practical theories about the answers to these questions.  For me, I am interested in the barriers that students are likely to encounter when they try to apply IL knowledge and dispositions to the variety of classes they’re going to take as part of their general education curriculum.  I see librarians’ work as often analogous to the work done by instructors who offer training to employees, getting a brief opportunity to inculcate a better set of strategies for learners to apply in order to achieve their goals and satisfy the expectations of their evaluators (either employers or professors).  

Research done about the effectiveness of training suggests that there are dispositional reasons why learning does not always transfer from the training session to the applied environment (Perkins & Solomon, 2012; Volet, 2013).  And I think it could be useful as we consider how to address the challenges students will face when they try to apply the dispositions we’re advocating, some of which are counterintuitive or seemingly at odds with students’ values and social belonging (Yeager, Paunesku, Walton, & Dweck, 2013).  Based on the research, librarians should help students to “anticipate counterhabits and countermotivations undermining later opportunities” to make IL dispositions into a habit of mind (Perkins & Solomon, 2012).  Volet (2013) suggests “making individuals metacognitively aware of the types of social hindrance they may be faced with when trying to use newly acquired knowledge or ideas” will make it more likely that they are able to overcome these obstacles because they understand them to be normal.  

Our one-shots, tutorials, videos, professional development for faculty, and credit courses could all benefit from what Volet (2013) recommends for employee trainings: “Scenarios grounded in social psychology theories or participants’ authentic stories could be used to stimulate discussions on how obstacles emerging in the work environment may affect intentions to change behavioural or social practices, and what could be done.”  If we understand that general education (and higher education generally) is an environment that might present obstacles, librarians can encourage discussions of how it will be difficult but important for students to counter the forces that encourage common non-cognitive approaches to information like satisficing and confirmation bias.  This foreknowledge may empower students to confront the counter-forces.  And adding this to our understanding of the IL Framework could result in some great conversations among librarians about how to achieve our goals.

For more information, check out:

Perkins & Salomon's Knowledge to go: A motivational and dispositional view of transfer in Educational Psychologist

Volet's Extending, broadening and rethinking existing research on transfer of training in Educational Research Review

Yeager, Paunesku, Walton, & Dweck's How can we instill productive mindsets at scale? A review of the evidence and an initial R&D agenda, a white paper for Excellence in Education: The Importance of Academic Mindsets