Disaster education: It should be all about the learners

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I remember whilst doing teacher training, a lecturer said to the class, ‘you won’t be a good teacher until you can gauge the value of the learning activity from being in the shoes of the student’.

This adage rings true for any type of learning, for any age. Education should be learner-centred.

In some cases emergency agencies and other organisations have forgotten this basic principle of education, communications and engagement (ECE) and have sent messages and information hoping that they may hit the mark with all people. This ‘hit and miss’ approach has generally failed according to research from around the world.

To improve Disaster ECE and better understand learners in at-risk communities, four processes are recommended:

  1. Relate Disaster ECE to learning theory. As shown in the graphic above there are many different theories that can guide the design of Disaster ECE not only for children but also for adults. There are four main learning domains: behavioural, cognitive, affective and social. Unfortunately, there has been little disaster ECE research linking disaster learning to these learning theories which have been developed and tested over many years. I have explored this link in the my new book ‘Disaster Education, Communication and Engagement; to be published by Wiley in 2020.
  2. Relate Disaster ECE to specific groups or sectors of learners in the community. For example, school students in the formal education system learn in different ways to businesses in at-risk areas. The learning needs of the potentially vulnerable in the community (e.g. disabled, elderly, youth) should particularly be addressed.
  3. Use archetypes if available. The use of archetypes can help identify learners in an at-risk community and appropriate Disaster ECE content and methods. Carl Jung instigated the popular use of archetypes in psychology. He viewed an archetype as a typical character to whom an observer might emotionally resonate. Archetypes have been developed for several hazards including bushfire in Australia.
  4. Encourage participation of the learners in the design, implementation and evaluation of the Disaster ECE activities. This will help ensure that their learning needs will be met.

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