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Improved Knowledge Acquisition Through Systematic Training in Gathering Knowledge
Raphael L. Vitalo, Ph.D.

  • Subjects
  • Gathering Knowledge Training
  • Procedure
  • Results
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    Teaching-learning is an interactive process whose outcome depends on how well each party executes his or her role. The effectiveness of the process is limited by the instructor's level of the expertise both in the content area being taught and in teaching itself as well as the trainee's skill in learning. This study evaluates whether training learners in gathering knowledge skills will elevate the success of teaching-learning. Specifically, the study investigates the effect that learning gathering knowledge skills has on how well students acquire content delivered by instructors during a graduate level workshop.




    The participants in the study were 22 students enrolled in a master's program in counseling and human relation skills. The program allowed for the participation of persons not living near the college through a system of graduate instructors located in selected cities. Regular instruction occurred in the student's locale. This local instruction was augmented by quarterly weekend workshops held on the main college campus.

    Almost all the graduate students were employed in human service delivery roles. All students had completed undergraduate education and were in their second semester of graduate work. Of the twenty-two students enrolled in the program, six students received systematic training in gathering knowledge skills. These six students comprised a natural grouping. They were studying together under a single graduate advisor. They were assigned to the advisor based on the geographical location of the students.

    All the students had prior training in human relation skills. These skills included attending, observing, listening, responding, personalizing and initiating (Carkhuff and Anthony, 1979). The skills were taught in a dyadic helping application. None of the 22 students had been taught how to apply communication skills to learning from an instructor. Ratings of the classroom behavior of the 22 students prior to this study showed no difference in their spontaneous use of interpersonal skills while learning from an instructor.


    Gather Knowledge Training

    The teaching content was labeled learning to learn. This content transferred the use of basic interpersonal skills (Carkhuff and Berenson, 1976; Carkhuff, 1981) to learning from an instructor by refocusing their application and augmenting their content with new elements of knowledge. Learning to learn was defined as the way one acquires knowledge and skills from an instructor operating within a classroom context. One new element in the training was teaching students what set of knowledge they needed to obtain from an instructor in order to grasp the topic being taught. This knowledge enables learners to shape the learning delivery so that it is certain to address all the elements of knowledge a learner needs.

    Learning to learn was seen as encompassing two major objectives:

    1. Mastering the "know" and
    2. Mastering the "do".

    The training program implemented in this study focused on mastering the "know." Mastering the "know" means gathering and understanding the ideas that guide implementing the task or skill being taught. The steps of mastering the know include attending to sources of learning, observing the cues of learning, listening to the presenters of learning, responding to content of learning, personalizing the content of learning for self and others, and initiating transfers of new knowledge to use outside the classroom.

    The training begins with engaging learners by responding to their frames of reference, relating the content to the learner's values, and shaping the teaching to the students' initial level of mastery as demonstrated in a pre-assessment exercise. The delivery process uses tell, show, and do steps in which the concepts and skills are presented and demonstrated by the instructor, and then explored and practiced by the students.



    The experimental group was provided fifteen hours of training in learning to learn. Students were tested at the beginning of training by observing their learning behavior during teacher led instruction. Students were re-tested at the conclusion of training using the same method. In both pre- and post-testing, the rater used a scale measuring the use of learning to learn skills. The scale had five levels; each level described progressively more complete execution of the skills being measured. An observer completed ratings at 10-minute intervals during a 50-minute classroom presentation and an average score was computed.

    Following this training phase, the application of learning to learn skills in a different classroom setting was evaluated. The context of the evaluation was a 3-day workshop conducted by the students' graduate program. The workshop took place at the main campus of the college, which was some 500 miles from the site of initial training. The three-day workshop ran approximately 10 hours each day with a one-hour break for lunch and 10- to 15-minute breaks between teaching units. Teaching units were approximately two hours in length and delivered by instructors other than the experimental group's advisor.

    Seventeen different topics were instructed across 11 workshop units. No one at the workshop knew about the study and none of the students had prior knowledge of the content taught during the workshop. Two trained raters who were also unfamiliar with the study rated the performance of all students. The assignment of students to raters was based on the co-location of students so that raters did not have to search for the persons they were rating. To ensure that neither rater had a preponderance of the experimental group, the members of that group were made to disperse throughout the audience. Students were also required to maintain their initial seating patterns throughout the session to assist instructors in recalling student names.

    Ratings were made at 10-minute intervals during each workshop unit. During breaks between units, students in the experimental group were caucused and provided feedback as to the level of learning to learn skills they demonstrated and assisted in diagnosing and remedying any problems they encountered in applying their skills. The caucusing occurred apart from the control group; however, other students noted the fact that the group caucused in that it represented a different behavior from the norm (other students took breaks).

    Following the completion of the three-day workshop, a survey was sent to all participants in the workshop by the graduate program. The survey introduced itself as an effort to gather a complete set of notes from the workshop. The recipients were asked to fill out a form that asked for which elements of knowledge the student had notes. The incentive for participation was the receipt back of a complete set of notes including materials not possessed by the respondent. These would be a valuable resource in preparing for course exams. The check against false reporting was that the person would be asked to supply the notes he or she reported having.



    Table 1 summarizes the results of the training, application and achievement phase for the experimental and control groups. As it is noted, the experimental group displayed a pre-training performance of 2.0 (SD = .32, Range 1.75-2.50) on the 5-point scale measuring learning to learn skills. Essentially, students were good passive learners in that they were attentive during instruction, appeared to be observant of visual materials presented, and listened to the content as it was presented. However, students did not interact with the instructor, demonstrated no understanding of the material during the class, and did not personalize the implications of the material for themselves or for their roles. Subsequent to training, students showed improved learning to learn skills averaging 3.75 (SD = .39, Range 3.5 to 4.5) on a 5-point scale of skill performance (t = -27.11, df = 5, p < .0005). At this level, students demonstrated frequent interactions in which they responded interchangeably to material presented and spontaneously verified their understanding of it. Additionally, they periodically generated implications of the material for themselves, their roles, and for the field to which the content referred.

    As reported in Table 1, the experimental group's application of learning to learn skills averaged 3.35 (SD = .86, Range 2.00-4.20) across the 11 teaching units. The control group averaged 2.24 (SD = .21, Range 2.00-2.50). The difference was statistically significant (t = -12.60, df = 5, p < .05).


    Table 1. Data Depicting Skill Levels of the Experimental and Control Groups at Each of the Assessment Points






      Pre- Training Skill Level Post- Training Skill Level Average Skill Level at Workshop Percent Knowledge Acquisition  
      Experimental Group (n=6) 2.001 3.75 3.35 58%2  
      Control Group (n=16) N/A3 N/A 2.24 36%4  

    1. All skill levels are based on 5-point scales.

    2. All the experimental group members responded to the survey.

    3. N/A - not assessed.

    4. 5 of 16 students responded to the survey.

    Finally, the experimental group reported, on average, capturing 58% of the content provided in the workshop as compared to an average of 36% reported by the control group.

    Anecdotal information from the workshop leaders was dramatic. Even though the members of the experimental group were dispersed throughout the audience, the different instructors commented about the students in the trained group, praising them for their intensity of involvement and dedication to the learning endeavor. The student body echoed these sentiments as well.



    The study results suggest the value of systematic training in gathering knowledge skills as a vehicle for enhancing student acquisition of knowledge from an instructor. Students trained in these skills brought away from the learning endeavor approximately 61% more of the content being taught than students who are not trained. This difference emerged despite the prior training of all students to the same level of proficiency in the interpersonal skills that underpinned gathering knowledge. Thus, while communication skills are essential to learning from a human source, the results suggest that training in gathering knowledge provided unique additional capability important to learning. It appears that training in interpersonal skills alone will not produce improved learning behavior on the part of an individual despite the obvious relevance of these skills to learning from an instructor. Indeed, it appears that knowledge acquisition must be systematically trained and the skills to produce that outcome must be taught as a distinct curriculum.

    Another implication from the study appears to be that performance coaching in the transfer setting can boost the application of skills acquired in a training context. Thus, while the students in the experimental group demonstrated significant acquisition of skills at the conclusion of training (pre-training level = 2.00 versus post-training level of 3.75), their initial application within a real life situation was below their trained proficiency. The use of feedback and problem solving of difficulties in skill transfer enabled students to apply their skills at the level of proficiency they demonstrated at the end of training.

    Finally, it appears that skills properly identified to achieve a specified life outcome, effectively taught so that they are acquired by students, and systematically applied within the context for which they were designed can raise achievement and success. This linkage of acquisition, application, and achievement bridges the transfer of expertise from instructor to student.



    Carkhuff, R.R. (1981) Toward Actualizing Human Potential. Amherst, MA: Human Resources Development Press, Inc.

    Carkhuff, R.R. and Anthony, W.B. (1979) The Skills of Helping. Amherst, MA: Human Resources Development Press, Inc.

    Carkhuff, R.R. and Berenson, B.G. (1976) Teaching as Treatment. Amherst, MA: Human Resources Development Press, Inc.


    Published May 2004; Updated 2019

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