Ministry Resources

Guiding the Learning Experience

Guiding the Learning Experience

Manuel enjoyed going to school and found the lessons to be fun. At first the tasks were quite simple: memorizing the alphabet, recognizing the printed letters, counting from 1 to 10, and spelling his name. Later the tasks became more difficult and he learned to read, spell, write and solve mathematical problems.

When Maria went to a parent-teacher conference, she found that Manuel was a good pupil, and she could understand why. Miss Gonzales, Manuel’s teacher, knew how to help children learn. She knew how to make learning experiences interesting, challenging, and effective.

Biblical information can be learned when a teacher guides the learning experience. In directing Bible study, teachers lead learners to investigate the Scriptures, to determine their implications, and to apply them to their own lives.

In this lesson, you will study the teaching task, what discovery Bible study involves, how to do inductive Bible study, and how to plan meaningful learning encounters.

The Teaching Task

In our last lesson we discussed wholeness based on faith. Wholeness, we saw, develops as we gain Bible knowledge, which includes many basic facts and deeper doctrinal truths. As food is to the physical body so is biblical content to spiritual life. In fact, it is the source of faith (Romans 10:17). We found that wholeness requires not only knowledge but also the application of this knowledge to everyday life situations. As we grow in knowledge and apply it consistently, we develop a lifestyle that is characterized by faith.

What is the value of growing in faith? What difference does it make if we develop spiritually, gain stature in the faith, and know many biblical facts? Is this development an end in itself? By no means is this the goal of Christian maturity, for our lives are not lived in isolation. We are admonished to grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18), become workers who correctly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15), and be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us for the reason we have hope (1 Peter 3:15). We are saved to serve others in the body of Christ, especially those who are spiritual babes. Our own growing experiences and our knowledge of God’s Word enable us to teach others and thus strengthen the body of Christ and make possible its extension.

In Lesson 6 we examined the informal pattern of Christian nurture. We saw that whereas much learning takes place informally in the home and neighborhood in the natural process (socialization) so in the spiritual realm we learn the Christlife by imitating the attitudes and behavior of more mature Christians. Finally, we discussed the importance of our own character development as a means of becoming the kind of persons that others will want to imitate.

Now we consider formal patterns of Christian nurturing. In this lesson you will study how to teach biblical truth through teaching-learning activities in the classroom setting.

The Teaching Task Defined

We have seen that the teaching task is more than imparting information. It is more than telling or talking. Telling a story, stating facts, describing events, or explaining information may not necessarily equal effective teaching. If no one learns, teaching is apparently ineffective. At this point we must analyze the problem. Has the teacher failed to communicate effectively because he has used poor teaching methods? Has he appealed to only one of the senses and failed to enhance his students’ learning experiences by ignoring the seeing, hearing, and interacting opportunities that tend to enrich their learning experience? The saying “a salesman has not sold a product until the customer has made a purchase” is somewhat appropriate for the teaching-learning experience. If, for example, the learner does not learn effectively, then our teaching is ineffective or faulty. One doesn’t just deliver a lecture or teach a lesson and assume that learning will occur automatically. Teaching and learning are so vitally intertwined that to be meaningful one cannot be effective unless the other is. Truth should not be dispensed in a tasteless way, and it cannot be imposed on a learner. He cannot be forced to learn. How, then, should the teaching task be done?

We should reemphasize our earlier point: that the learner must interact with the material and discover truth for himself if the learning experience is to be meaningful to him. No teacher can do that for the learner. However, truth can be discovered under the guidance and leadership of a teacher. Teachers, therefore, are guides in the process of learning. The teaching task is to facilitate learning, to help learners learn. The learner must integrate the new material he learns with what he has already learned. He must consider how it relates to him, apply it in his own life, and bring his life into harmony with the truth he discovers. This is why we say, “change is essential to learning.” Thus, the teacher is a “change agent.” When change is demonstrated in attitudes, values, and behavior, we know that learning has occurred.

Both the learner and the teacher play important roles in the teaching-learning process. The following chart shows each role and the relationship of each to the other.

The teaching task, then, involves creating an environment in which learning can take place, motivating learning, and guiding discovery. Teaching involves structuring opportunities in which learning can occur. It includes planning activities which will enable the student to encounter and interact with the material and designing experiences which lead to change. To bring about the desired change, that is, to move learners from their present level to that desired by the teacher, the teacher must: 1) determine what the learners know (often this is accomplished by means of a pretest), 2) specify learning objectives, 3) prescribe learning activities that will lead to the fulfillment of the objectives, and 4) evaluate progress.

If you as the teacher are to direct the learning experience effectively, you must understand the principle of discovery Bible study. You must also be able to guide learners in this method of study.

Discovery Bible Study

As you study further into methods that nurture Christian growth, it will be helpful to put yourself occasionally in the learner’s role to see how learning experiences affect him. For example, would you rather be involved actively in learning situations, or do you prefer to receive passively what others prepare? As an active participant, you can enjoy the fruit of your own labor; as a passive recipient, you receive the benefit of someone else’s labor. In the learning experience this means either that you do your own thinking or you have others think for you. You may have experienced, as I have, the satisfaction of personal accomplishment. If so, you will probably agree that few experiences are more rewarding.

Perhaps you have experienced an exciting moment when a new truth burst in on you. Before that moment you did not know it; after that moment, you could never forget it. You discovered truth! Nowhere is this experience more thrilling and enjoyable than in Bible study. Personal discovery of God’s truth revealed in the Bible is a wonderful experience.

To discover truth means that you obtain for the first time insight into or knowledge of previously existing truth. It involves uncovering, exposing, disclosing, or bringing into light truth which you did not previously know. Discovery is not inventing or making up new information. The truth existed before, but for the first time you perceive or discover it. God’s truth has always existed. It was recorded in the Bible. The Bible student’s task is to discover God’s truth, not invent it.

Discovery Bible study, then, is a method of study which leads the learner to study the Scriptures to uncover the truth God has revealed and how it applies to his own life. He approaches this study with the assumption that God’s truth is to be obeyed and lived out in his own life. God’s truth is more than facts to be known; when applied to his life, it is a living testimony to the dynamic power and vitality of the Christian life. The learner is thus actively involved in the processes of finding out what God has revealed, how this truth relates to him, and how he may apply it in his own life. In discovery Bible study the learner is personally involved in searching the Scriptures to learn what God is revealing. His intention is to respond obediently to Him. This is what the Christians at Berea did: they searched or examined the Scriptures so that they could respond appropriately to the truth (Acts 17:11).

In discovery Bible study, we are confronted first with our true spiritual needs (which are often different from our current nonspiritual interests and the things which concern our earthly goals, that is, our life needs). Second, we are faced with God’s perspective on eternal values and how we can please Him and thus share in what He has provided. Third, in discovery Bible study we are involved actively in searching God’s Word to master its contents and to harmonize our daily lives with its teachings. Fourth, this type of Bible study leads the learner to relate his deepest personal needs to God, to explore life’s most vital issues in the light of God’s revelation, and to live patterned after God’s design and revealed will. Such a study begins at a very elementary level as one learns the basic doctrines and applies them to his life. With the passage of time, this study becomes even more challenging as new perspectives open up to us. The Holy Spirit takes us progressively onward from one level of faith to another as our Christian experience matures.

You may wonder if you have grown to the level of spiritual maturity where you can develop insights into God’s truth which is revealed in the Bible. Before receiving new life in Christ, you may have been taught that only ministers, priests, or religious leaders who have received specialized training or have been given extraordinary spiritual authority can understand the Bible. But remember the divine resources God has made available to help us understand His Word. John 14:26 and 16:13 remind us that the Holy Spirit will help enable all Christians, including you, to understand God’s truth. You must remember that the same divine Author who guided the revelation of truth initially is your Teacher and Guide in discovery Bible study (2 Peter 1:19–21). You can, and indeed must, study God’s Word to hear what He is saying if you are to develop spiritually. And you must apply His truth to your own life if you expect to become a mature Christian. No one can do this for you. To help others grow toward spiritual maturity, then, you need to learn how to discover biblical truth for yourself and how to lead others to discover God’s truth for application to their lives.

Approaches to Discovery Bible Study

In the previous section we saw that discovery Bible study involves four steps which may be summarized as follows:

1. Defining life needs
2. Discovering biblical truth
3. Deciding how to apply biblical truth to life needs
4. Doing (that is, implementing) God’s Word in real life

The order of working through these steps determines which approach is used. For the purposes of our study, two approaches are indicated: the systematic approach and the life-needs approach. The systematic approach may be diagrammed as follows:

Discover Bible Truth  -> Define Human Needs and Problems -> Decide how to apply Truth to Life -> Do God’s Truth in Life

This approach is called systematic because it employs a systematic approach to the study of the Bible. You select a book or passage of Scripture and study it to learn what truth God has revealed in the passage. Then you ask yourself this question: How does this truth apply to my life needs? Finally, you implement your discoveries.

The life-needs approach differs slightly and may be diagrammed as follows:

Define Life need and Problems -> Discover Bible Truth -> Decide how to apply Truth to Life -> Do God’s Truth in Life

When following this approach you begin by probing life related problems, by identifying your needs and interests. The next step is to look for Bible teachings which apply to the needs or become a basis for solving the problems. Then you link what you discover in your Bible study to your life needs. This forms a basis for solving your life problem. In the final step you implement your conclusions.

The basic difference between the two approaches is whether you begin with your needs and move to God’s perspective or if you begin with a systematic approach to Scripture and move to life needs. Both approaches are valid and may be useful. The systematic approach may tend to result in a more in-depth knowledge of the age being studied, but it may not contain the full teaching of Scripture on a given issue. The life-needs approach may lead you to consult a broader range of biblical teaching, but it may not lead you to study areas of divine truth where you may not feel particular problems or needs. For this reason, many Bible scholars favor the systematic approach.

Inductive Bible Study

Tasks of Inductive Bible Study

We have seen that in two approaches to discovery Bible study one must seek to discover biblical truth for himself and then endeavor to lead others to discover biblical truth for themselves. In our efforts to help others discover biblical truth we use an approach that is referred to as inductive Bible study.

Inductive Bible study is a method of studying Scripture by observing carefully what the text says, understanding what was meant by what was said, and applying that truth to our lives and times today. It involves direct observation of the biblical text, interpretation of what is stated, and application of the revealed truth to our lives.

Inductive Bible study involves us in two basic tasks: 1) discovering the message God intended for the original readers, and 2) determining how to apply that message properly to our lives today. In the first of these tasks, we seek to hear what God was saying to those who first received the message under consideration. The Bible was written centuries ago to specific people who lived in a particular part of the world and who understood certain conditions. To hear what they heard, we must try to understand them, their times, their lifestyles, and their social conditions. Their historical, geographical, cultural, and social settings are important keys that help us understand what they knew and what they heard as they read God’s Word. Many times the messages of Scripture can neither be understood properly nor applied to our lives appropriately apart from the knowledge of these factors.

For example, without knowledge of the context, one might just lift a biblical command out of its setting and do something never intended by our Lord. A case in point may be seen on the occasion when Jesus said to a man who was an expert in the Law, “‘Go and do likewise’” (Luke 10:37). Without knowledge of Luke 10:25–37, one would not know that the man had asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Nor would he know that this question prompted Jesus to relate the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Thus, if by chance a person who wanted some justification for swearing were to read in turn Mark 14:71 and Luke 10:37 (concerning the command to go and do likewise), he might feel, wrongly, that he had a full biblical warrant to swear. Obviously, this is not the intent of Jesus’ statement in Luke 10:37, but some people do twist the Scriptures to serve their own interests. We must avoid this practice and correctly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

The second task involves us in applying the truth of Scripture within our own circumstances, cultures, and particular situations. We are not the ones to whom God’s truth was originally revealed. Therefore, the meaning of Scripture to us must grow out of what it meant originally. Attempting to give new, deeper, or fuller meaning to Scripture other than what God originally intended is dangerous and has often led to heresy.

Steps to Inductive Bible Study

The inductive method of Bible study takes us inside a passage of Scripture to discover its message and meaning. There are three basic steps to this method: 1) observation, 2) interpretation, and 3) application.

Observation calls for reading and re-reading the passage several times. It requires looking, seeing, and noticing what is actually stated. Observation involves concentration on the words, their logical arrangement, and their grammatical usage. The following questions may help you discover truth
in a passage: Who is the writer? To whom is the message addressed? What do we know about these people? When was the message written? What were the particular conditions or circumstances which occasioned the message? What is the central message of the book or passage? What is the writer saying generally? What is he saying specifically? Read the passage and observe what it says.

Interpretation of the written message involves us in the process of determining what the writer meant by what he said or wrote. The writer had a thought or concept in his mind. Through the medium of writing, he sought to communicate that message to those who would read what he wrote. The words are the vehicles which carry the idea from the writer’s mind to the reader’s mind. It is that idea, the message, which the reader should seek to understand. Any written message must be interpreted correctly to be understood. Interpretation is the process of determining accurately what a writer means by what he writes.

These two steps, observation and interpretation, lead us to accomplish the first task: discovering the message which was intended for the original readers. But the process does not end here. God speaks in the Scriptures not only to the original readers to whom the message was primarily addressed but also to us. Second Timothy 3:16–17 indicates that there is an expanded use for all Scriptures: that the man of God (of all times) may grow and mature spiritually. Therefore, the goal of all Bible study is to hear the general principles which God has revealed to us and apply them in our particular set of life circumstances.

We discover what God is saying to us in His Word through the application of the truth to our lives and our needs. In applying the Scriptures we should look for direct commands which state general, spiritual principles that are to be obeyed by all Christians. We should also look for promises made by God and the conditions which must be met to receive those promises. We should search for examples, either positive or negative, which may act as guides for us. Sometimes God’s requirements are explicitly stated, while at other times they take the form of principles which must be related to our circumstances. Some Bible passages identify attitudes and behaviors which are sinful. We should ask ourselves how these passages apply to our lives. If they reveal unworthy faults which are evident in our lives, then we must move swiftly to get rid of them. And we should seek to discover if there are things we are neglecting. Applying biblical truth to our lives involves relating it to our present situations.

Inductive Bible study may be conducted by an individual or a group. As you prepare Bible studies to teach others, you will employ the inductive Bible study approach. And as you teach, you will lead learners through the steps of inductive Bible study.

Planning Learning Encounters

The inductive method of Bible study takes us inside a passage of Scripture to discover its message and meaning. There are three basic steps to this method: 1) observation, 2) interpretation, and 3) application.

Observation calls for reading and re-reading the passage several times. It requires looking, seeing, and noticing what is actually stated. Observation involves concentration on the words, their logical arrangement, and their grammatical usage. The following questions may help you discover truth
in a passage: Who is the writer? To whom is the message addressed? What do we know about these people? When was the message written? What were the particular conditions or circumstances which occasioned the message? What is the central message of the book or passage? What is the writer saying generally? What is he saying specifically? Read the passage and observe what it says.

Interpretation of the written message involves us in the process of determining what the writer meant by what he said or wrote. The writer had a thought or concept in his mind. Through the medium of writing, he sought to communicate that message to those who would read what he wrote. The words are the vehicles which carry the idea from the writer’s mind to the reader’s mind. It is that idea, the message, which the reader should seek to understand. Any written message must be interpreted correctly to be understood. Interpretation is the process of determining accurately what a writer means by what he writes.

These two steps, observation and interpretation, lead us to accomplish the first task: discovering the message which was intended for the original readers. But the process does not end here. God speaks in the Scriptures not only to the original readers to whom the message was primarily addressed but also to us. Second Timothy 3:16–17 indicates that there is an expanded use for all Scriptures: that the man of God (of all times) may grow and mature spiritually. Therefore, the goal of all Bible study is to hear the general principles which God has revealed to us and apply them in our particular set of life circumstances.

We discover what God is saying to us in His Word through the application of the truth to our lives and our needs. In applying the Scriptures we should look for direct commands which state general, spiritual principles that are to be obeyed by all Christians. We should also look for promises made by God and the conditions which must be met to receive those promises. We should search for examples, either positive or negative, which may act as guides for us. Sometimes God’s requirements are explicitly stated, while at other times they take the form of principles which must be related to our circumstances. Some Bible passages identify attitudes and behaviors which are sinful. We should ask ourselves how these passages apply to our lives. If they reveal unworthy faults which are evident in our lives, then we must move swiftly to get rid of them. And we should seek to discover if there are things we are neglecting. Applying biblical truth to our lives involves relating it to our present situations.

Inductive Bible study may be conducted by an individual or a group. As you prepare Bible studies to teach others, you will employ the inductive Bible study approach. And as you teach, you will lead learners through the steps of inductive Bible study.

Planning Learning Encounters

To help others discover biblical truth through inductive Bible study you will need to plan effective learning encounters. Planning learning encounters which enable learners to interact with the material and to discover God’s truth is not difficult once you understand how to do it. The following diagram shows three essential steps to follow in planning learning encounters:

Determine Learning Objectives -> Design Learning Activities -> Evaluate Learner Progress

Learning objectives grow out of the interests and needs of learners and the content of the material being studied. Determining learning objectives is a matter of determining in advance the changes you want to see in learners. Based on the material being studied and the needs of learners, what changes would you like to see take place? The learning objectives should state what learners should be able to do after instruction that they could not do before. The changes should occur in each of the areas you studied in Lesson 4—knowledge, attitudes, and behavior.

We have stated objectives at the beginning of each lesson in this course. These can serve as examples to you of how to state learning objectives. Study them carefully.

Once you have determined what changes you want to occur in the learners, you are ready to design activities to enable those changes to take place. The task here is to move the learner from where he is to the place you want him to be— where the objectives state he should be. Here you are choosing appropriate teaching methods, planning learner assignments, and deciding how to use the available time to produce the desired changes. These activities should lead the student to interact with the material in a meaningful way. They should lead him to see the possible applications of the truth to his own life.

Since learning is the goal of the teaching-learning situation, the emphasis in designing learning activities should be on what the learners will do rather than on what the teacher will do. This is one of the major areas where we must keep in mind that the learner must encounter the material personally and interact with it for himself. Consequently, designing learning encounters involves planning ways to induce the learner to encounter and interact with the material.

The final step is to evaluate the learner’s progress. This is done by comparing the learner’s actual progress with the intended progress. The intended progress is stated in the learning objectives. Hence, the learning objectives become the criteria for evaluating learner progress. Did he make the desired changes? To what extent did he make those changes?

There are several ways to determine if the desired changes were actually made. One common way is to administer a test. Test questions may be either of the objective type, in which the answers are either correct or incorrect, or they may be of the subjective type, in which the learner states his responses in his own words. True-false, multiple choice, and matching type questions are of the objective type, while essay and short answer questions are of the subjective type.

Another way for you to evaluate learner progress is through personal observation of learner behavior. This calls for you to see if the learner actually uses the material in real-life situations.

You can also determine the progress the learner is making through the learning encounters by means of an interview. As you talk with him, you may be able to see evidence of growth and change. While this may be subjective, it nevertheless can be a valid means of determining learner progress.

Next Lesson