I have never been a university professor, although I have been involved in adult education for much of my life beginning in 1968. Dr. Nigel Wilson’s view of teaching and learning is drawn from his experiences, and he has compressed much of what he has learned about those domains into 100 pages. I am writing this review of Teaching Professionals: The Art of the Teaching Professional and How to Teach Professionals: The CAISSEP Technique, from my own experience, angled toward what I believe to be the interests and needs of Learning Solutions readers, who themselves are not university professors (with a very few exceptions). In my opinion, there is much for the reader to learn from Dr. Wilson, as long as the reader is willing to allow for differences of experience.
It is important for you to know about the author and his distinguished teaching career. Quoting from the publisher’s press release, “Nigel Wilson, PhD, is an Australian lawyer and teaching professional. He has over 28 years' experience in legal education, curriculum development, and legal practice. He was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy by the University of South Australia and holds degrees in law (Honors, First Class) and economics from the University of Adelaide and a graduate diploma in legal practice from the University of South Australia. Dr. Wilson also holds a master’s degree in law from Oxford University and has been awarded Harvard University’s Premier Certificate in Cybersecurity. As an expert teaching professional since 1992, Dr. Wilson has been a tutor, seminar leader, examiner, course coordinator, continuing professional development presenter, convenor, senior lecturer, and director of studies of undergraduate, postgraduate and post-admission law programs. For over two decades, he has conducted educational training programs for Australian legal practices, workplaces, and Australian judicial colleges. Dr. Wilson is the inventor and owner of the CAISSEP® teaching and learning technique. He currently resides in Adelaide, Australia."
In Chapter 1, Dr. Wilson says this about what he set out to do: “The title of this book, Teaching Professionals, is deliberate. On the one hand, using the word teaching as an adjective, its intended audience is professional teachers—now often referred to as teaching professionals, teaching experts, or teaching specialists. It is to the art of teaching for the teaching professional that this book is dedicated. On the other hand, using teaching as a verb, its further intended audience is those teachers who teach professionals. For example, it is intended for those who teach undergraduate and postgraduate students who aspire to become professionals, but it is also for those who teach in continuous learning programs, in compulsory professional development courses, in postgraduate training, and in lifelong learning.”
To execute this plan, there are 10 chapters, each one short, well-illustrated with graphics that assist understanding, and each one with a set of objectives and related questions at the end. It is clear that this was done to support understanding the book as educational material.
- Chapter 1 The Art of the Teaching Professional
- Chapter 2 Experiential Learning for Teaching Professionals
- Chapter 3 Introducing the CAISSEP Technique
- Chapter 4 Teaching Small Groups
- Chapter 5 Teaching Large Groups and Team Teaching
- Chapter 6 Clinical Practice Teaching and Teaching Postgraduate Students
- Chapter 7 Culturally Sensitive and Inclusive Teaching
- Chapter 8 The Teaching-Research Nexus
- Chapter 9 Teaching and Technology
- Chapter 10 Conclusion: Learning More
I would have to say overall the book has an academic tone that is quite different from what we are used to in L&D (learning and development) materials and texts. This includes the need for readers to do their own exploration to find current research on much of what is recommended. Many if not most of the references in the book are significantly dated, that is to say, before the changes in practice that came into being in the years following the massive adoption of the world wide web and mobile devices. Dr. Wilson asserts that the COVID pandemic has been the greatest disruptor of education, but it seems to me that were it not for mobile technology (especially laptops, mobile phones, and the supporting communication networks that allow access to the web), learning delivery in L&D organizations in enterprise organizations would have come to a full stop in March of 2020.
One consequence of this difference in experience, reference, and point of view is that the discussion of actual best practice in the field seemed to me to be behind what I see in L&D. The use cases in the book are focused on traditional teaching: synchronous classroom instruction (other perhaps than “virtual classrooms”).
Terminology, for example “role play”, relates to classroom technique and makes me wonder why current delivery modes such as virtual reality, serious games and learning games, adaptive learning, scenario-based learning, and learning experience design were not addressed. To be fair, the flipped classroom is recommended for use within the traditional lecture format. The section on development of teaching plans and integrated assessments (formative and summative) offers a format (template) for the CAISSEP teaching plan, including pre- and post- class content and reflection. I think this is an important missing piece from the usual practice in the L&D field, and Dr. Wilson points out an omission that needs to be corrected.
CAISSEP is Dr. Wilson’s guide to a variety of teaching and learning techniques that include the key principles of effective adult learning, the four elements of experiential learning, a variety of practical teaching techniques and approaches, and guidance on how to develop a teaching plan using the CAISSEP template. At the same time, I believe that overall the coverage shortchanges the ways in which technology can benefit teaching and learning in professional adult education.
Much of CAISSEP seemed to me to be heavily modeled on lecture and teaching as practiced in university classrooms. I wondered about the omissions I mentioned in the previous paragraph. The provision of this template is a great idea, I only wish there were more help for instructors who want to make their practice more fully technology-supported. On the whole, teachers in primary and secondary schools seem to be making a great effort to do this. This is probably because their school boards are making it matter, and that happens because business leaders are insisting that the schools do a better job of preparing future employees to function in a technology-driven world of work. At the same time, students find themselves immersed in a digital world that teaches them (or perhaps abuses them) with more effective approaches to behavior change and learning (not in the academic mode). We are already seeing how AI and machine learning are joining up to support learning. If there is a digital divide, all too often it seems to be between education professionals and their students, with the advantage going to students and AI. Where are the drivers for higher education?
This was a difficult review to write. I liked that Teaching Professionals is only 100 pages long, and I liked the CAISSEP template. Overall, this is a very efficient approach that is easy to understand and apply.
There were some things that I hope are addressed in the next edition. I’ve already said that I found much of what is proposed to be seriously behind the state of the art as practiced or aspired to in L&D organizations. Some of the content relies on models and ideas that are outdated or criticized for not having any supporting research. To name two of these: Dale’s Cone of Learning (although the author tries to lessen the impact by reframing the Cone a bit), and the notion of learning styles (again, reframed but many readers will miss the reframing). I wish that Chapter 9 had been placed earlier in the book.
Should you buy this book?
If you are teaching in higher education you will find CAISSEP useful, although you will need to work on updating the content and seeking current research. If you are in L&D, I recommend reading Chapter 9 first, and then reading Chapter 3 to learn about CAISSEP. Figure out how to integrate CAISSEP and the use of technology. Read the tables in Chapters 4 and 5 and identify how you will update your delivery practices to apply technology and our evolving understanding of how learning works in the digital age. I think you can skip Chapter 6 if you are not teaching postgraduate students. Chapter 7, on culturally sensitive and inclusive teaching is increasingly important in L&D, and it will be well worth considering how to apply this when you are delivering in a virtual classroom and when you are developing asynchronous apps to support learning. Table 7.4 is worth thoughtful study. Chapter 8 is probably not going to be especially relevant for instructional designers in L&D organizations. Chapter 10 is a good wrap-up for this modified reading sequence.
CAISSEP is clearly a doctrine, and Wilson is not very clear about the “research and scholarship” behind it. It seems to me that many readers may be uncomfortable with the citations of ideas that, in and of themselves, have been frequently “debunked” on the basis of lack of supporting research. Wilson seems to suggest that the reader should not take them as doctrine. In my opinion, readers should exercise some caution, being careful neither to be uncritically accepting of everything, yet not uncritically rejecting everything either. Traditional instructional design is still an appropriate choice, and CAISSEP clearly comes from that school of thought.
Finally, using older references does not invalidate the content of Teaching Professionals. However, readers would be wise to look up the references and consider whether they still apply, are relevant, or are no longer useful.
To answer my own question, instructional designers working in L&D should buy Teaching Professionals if they are willing to put in the work of doing their own discovery and to understand CAISSEP within the L&D context. If you can’t get past outdated references or someone else’s idea of what is debunked and what is not, or your own biases about how to develop online education and training for adult employees in the enterprise and government sectors, save your money if there is no way you will ever make that effort.
Nigel Wilson, PHD (2021). Teaching Professionals: The Art of the Teaching Professional and How to Teach Professionals. The CAISSEP Technique. 100 pages