Monthly Archives: August 2012

Teaching and Learning – what is it?

This is the first in a series of posts based on things I’m thinking about in relation to the courses I’m teaching this fall. One of the courses is titled the “Teaching/Learning Transaction” and since I inherited the title and description I’m starting out by exploring what the term “transaction” might mean in the context of adult teaching and learning and how choice of terms can influence how we think about what we do.


According to Merriam Webster:

  • Transaction is defined as a business exchange where goods, services, or money are passed from one person, account, etc., to another and the communication involved in that exchange.
  • Relationship is defined as the way in which two or more people, groups, or organizations talk to, behave toward, and deal with each other and the way in which two or more people, groups, or things are connected. 

Taking these terms at the “definitional” level, transaction is more a one-time interaction where relationship implies an ongoing connection. Jarvis (1995) argues that transactions are about self-interest while relationships are about connections and humanity. To muddy things a bit more Merriam Webster adds that:

  • process is a series of actions that produce something or that lead to a particular result or a series of changes that happen naturally.

When we talk about learning we can do that without bringing teaching into the picture at all. Learning is on the learner’s end. What they do. What they know. How their synapses wire together. How their behavior adjusts or skills improve. We spend a good deal of time in adult education talking about self-directed learning and at times it seems like there is an assumption there that no teacher is involved – only a learner and material resources and other people in a more “consulting” role. But when we talk about teaching and learning we bring a more complex interaction into the picture. Whether the context is a community college classroom, a community workshop, an academic or career advising session, an online class, or a private piano lesson the interpersonal interaction drives the process.*

Dees, et. al. (2007) define transaction merely as “the ‘back and forth’ or ‘to-and-fro’ quality of the teaching/learning experience.” (p. 131) and picture an “overall instructional transaction” as a container holding the teacher, the learner(s), the environment, content, assessment, mode of instruction, and teaching style but it’s all crystallized in a specific moment of teaching (and presumably learning). Their purpose is to encourage in-the-moment reflection (likely reflexivity) in faculty so focusing on an individual transaction makes sense there.

Kansanen (1999) talks about this as a teaching-studying-learning process which describes teachers’ activities as teaching, learners’ activities as studying, and the outcome (hopefully) being learning. The description of this interaction is set firmly in an institutional classroom setting but the point that talking about a teaching-learning interaction brings up an impression of the teacher as active and the learner as more passive. While active learning and active construction of understanding/schema/neural networks is much more effective than passive “absorbsion” the language we use influences how we think about concepts and how we act on them.

* An aside: Zürcher (2010) suggests that technically the resources used in more individual self-directed learning can be considered limited “teachers” in an informal learning context and expands the concept of teaching/learning to include things such as videos, books, and study guides. Within the scope of this class many of the topics and strategies we will discuss will be applicable to these non-human interactions but the focus here is on human-human interaction – albeit mediated by time, distance, or mode of communication.

Bradford, L. P. (1958). The teaching-learning transaction. Adult Education Quarterly, 8(3), 135-145.

Dees, D. M., et al. (2007). A Transactional Model of College Teaching. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 19(2), 130-139.

Jarvis, P. (1995). Teachers and learners in adult education: Transaction or moral interaction? Studies in the Education of Adults, 27(1), 24-36.

Kansanen, P. (1999). Teaching as teaching-studying-learning interaction. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 43(1). 81-89

Zürcher, R. (2010). Teaching-learning processes between informality and formalization. the encyclopaedia of informal education.

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