Intrinsic Education

Linking today's course content to tomorrow's

By Daniel Sedory

Daniel Sedory, MS, ATC, NHLAT, is Assistant Professor and Program Director of the Athletic Training Educational Program at the University of New Hampshire.

Training & Conditioning, 12.3, April 2002,

Teachers want you to learn as much as possible. They also want you to retain that knowledge so you can use it later in life. If the teacher succeeds, you will absorb the material, pass the NATABOC Certification Examination, and get a job. If your teacher's efforts are unsuccessful, your class notes will be trashed and your textbooks will be sold back to the college bookstore as soon as your final exam is complete.

When it comes to absorbing--and retaining--information learned in class, one useful strategy for both teachers and students alike is to shift the learning process from a teacher-centered format to a student-centered format.

Teacher-centered methods of instruction are common in the traditional classroom setting. They involve a teacher giving lectures, assigning papers, and testing the students. Overall, teacher-oriented learning puts the students in relatively passive roles in which they receive information and direction from the instructors.

While teacher-centered methods of instruction can be successful, your learning and retention would be optimized if student-centered methods were incorporated into your education. Student-centered methods of learning put students in active roles and change the flow of information from a one-way street (from teacher to class) to an intersection of ideas that move between you, your teacher, and other students.

How can you make the shift to student-centered learning? The first step toward this learning ideal is for you to recognize the long-term relationship between what you learn in class today and what you will be doing on the job a decade or more from now. Once you recognize that connection, your interest will be stimulated and you will want to move from a passive to an active role in the class. Unfortunately, many students do not make this connection, and, therefore, tend to limit their view of college courses to simply satisfying immediate goals such as accumulating credits and getting a passing grade.

Another step you can take toward a more student-centered role in your learning is to understand the difference between intrinsically motivated learning and extrinsically motivated learning. Most students' learning occurs via extrinsic motivation, which is limited to immediate, external goals, such as passing the next exam. In contrast, intrinsically motivated students have an interest in the subject matter itself, because they understand how it relates to long-term career goals. I have found that an intrinsically motivated student is not content to sit back and receive information, but instead will ask more questions and will think about how information presented in the classroom relates to topics previously covered in class as well as to job-related skills and abilities.

Once you understand the importance of intrinsic learning, you can apply the following strategy, which is designed to make your education more student-centered.

While the ideal class environment creates links between what is taught (and learned) and real life, sometimes that doesn't happen. However, you can forge these links yourself by creating and solving issues related to the discipline outside the classroom. For example, instead of studying ankle injuries by simply reading books and reviewing your course notes, try to envision how that injury might appear in a female collegiate soccer player, an adolescent athlete, or a recreational softball player. How would that injury be different in each situation? How would it be similar? What would you have to do differently (or the same) in your management of each scenario?

The application of your knowledge to real-world situations will enhance the intrinsic, personal nature of learning. As situations arise during your clinical education, use those opportunities to review your knowledge of that injury. Try to accelerate your understanding and comprehension through communication with the athlete who is being treated (to get his or her personal perspective on the injury), your supervising athletic trainer (for their experiential insight), and the doctor (to access the medical perspective).

Working in groups can also enhance your overall learning. Meeting regularly with fellow students gives you the opportunity to share stories, compare perspectives, and identify common areas that need further learning or clarification. And, of course, inside the classroom, you should not be afraid to interrupt your teacher and ask "What is the purpose of learning that?"

When you personalize your education, you enhance its value. This value is measured and assessed through reflection as you develop your sense of responsibility and an ability to care for your future patients. All of us need to identify our own sets of values, beliefs, and experiences in the profession. So, ask yourself what type of athletic training student you are today and what type of athletic trainer you want to become.