Primed for Learning: Maximizing Teachable Moments When Students are Ready and Willing to Learn

Teachable moments, those special times when students are most ready and willing to learn, are traditionally considered unplanned opportunities. But should teachable moments be treated like unexpected gifts or can they actually be set in motion with a little advanced anticipation and planning by the instructor?

Perhaps they can be a little of both. Eric Frierson, a librarian and adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, encourages faculty to plan for teachable moments by viewing each syllabus through the eyes of their students. By doing this you can anticipate when a student might get stuck, and build in some added support and guidance in the form of an embedded video, online chat, or other learning objects that fulfill what he calls “needs-based” teachable moment.

The “when” and “where” you place these additional resources is critical.

“Students won’t go out of their way to find things and if they have to wait until the next day to get the answer to their question then the moment is lost,” says Frierson. “You need to place it as close as possible to when and where you think they will need it and are motivated to fully absorb the content you’re providing in a way that will stick.”

In the recent online seminar Capturing Teachable Moments Online, Frierson outlined strategies for maximizing teachable moments, including ways to overcome the unique challenges of the asynchronous online classroom when students often are working on assignments at odd times of the day and can’t simply raise their hand to ask for help. In some cases, online self-check quizzes can be used to “force” a needs-based teachable moment, he says.

Interest-based teachable moments, where there’s an intrinsic motivation to learn more, are harder to anticipate and should be supported with materials that appeal to emotions, and provide open-ended exploration opportunities, Frierson says. The challenge here lies with the grade-driven students who may be troubled by supplemental material that’s not required.

“The struggle here is how do we give our students these materials in a way that’s not going to distract grade-driven students but will provide access for students who do want to get involved in their learning a deeper way?” Frierson asked. “My assertion is that you can convert these grade-driven students to become more meaningful learners by using these techniques.”