Brookfield Chapter 16: Understanding Students’ Resistance to Learning (3260)

Posted by: Nesha Milicevic

Student disagree with teacher

Author Stephen D. Brookfield  points out in Chapter 16 of the “The Skillful Teacher On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom”, that “The ground zero of resistance to learning is the fear of change.” (Brookfield,S., 2015, p.213).

He goes on to add 11 more possible explanations of resistance to learning.

Poor self-image as a learner (p. 219). This learner has a lack of confidence in their abilities as a learner and will resist efforts to move them forward (Brookfield, 2015).

  • A lot of Students at the College I teach are International, they come from different cultures and learning styles, so it is understandable that this is an issue for them. It takes a while for them to overcome this, and the Instructor plays an important role.

– Fear of the Unknown (p. 219). This learner is afraid how the learning will affect their status quo and will therefore be resistant to learn.

  • Another problem that is very present with Students, rather than making the effort to learn they choose to avoid the situation.

– A normal Rhythm of Learning. Brookfield states that while this processing state is temporary, it is “. . . experienced as permanent until some external prompt reignites forward movement” (p. 220).

  • It is up to the instructor to understand their Students and make sure everyone is getting the full value of teaching and learning at the same pace.

– A Disjunction of Learning and Teaching Styles. Brookfield explains, “ . . . an anal-compulsive, extremely organized learner who is taught by an improvisational intuitive teacher will resist that teacher’s tendency to make changes in the middle of a planned activity because of some change in the classroom mood or teachable opportunity she detects” (p. 220).

  • This is again about the Instructor understanding the classroom he/she is dealing with.

– Apparent Irrelevance of the learning activity (p. 221).

  • This one I have seen many times, many Students will “tune out” if they feel that they are getting no value from what is being taught.

– Level of Required Learning in Inappropriate. “Enthusiastic teachers who travel too far, too fast, for their students and don’t’ regularly check in to see if students are keeping up with the pace, quickly leave learners behind” (Brookfield, 2015, p. 222).

  • This is where daily feedback shows its importance. Helps the Instructor keep a pulse on the classroom and make necessary adjustments.

– Fear of Looking Foolish in Public. Brookfield states that  “students’ egos are fragile creations . . .” (p. 222).

  • All adult learners have this problem. As I mentioned, I teach in an International environment and not all my Students are comfortable with the level of their language. I find that making them work in groups is a good solution for this.

– Cultural Suicide (p. 223)

  • Again, I deal with Students from all over the world, and I see this particular issue all, the time, Students are taken out of their comfort zone. This is where the Instructor needs to pay attention and take corrective measures if necessary.

– Lack of Clarity in Teachers Instructions (p. 223). Expectations need to be very clear. If they are not Students will feel like “ . . . being set up for failure”               (Brookfield, 2015, p. 223).

  • To me, one of the most important things that an Instructor has to do is be absolutely clear on the Instructions, and provide the Students with all the necessary tools to be successful in the course.

– Students dislike of teachers (p. 224)

  • This can happen to anyone. I would have a one-on-one meeting with the Student and try and overcome this problem by making them realize that personal feeling do not have anything to do with a learning environment, and for their own sake they have to make an effort to move forward.

– Going too far, too fast (p. 224)

  • Teaching is not just about delivering the lecture and checking it of your list. As Instructors, we need to make sure our Students are following the curriculum and getting the best value out of it.


Brookfield, S. (2015). The Skillful Teacher On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in

the Classroom. (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Wiley.




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