Understanding Students’ Resistance to Learning – a reflection of Brookfield

In chapter 16 of The Skillful Teacher,  Brookfield discusses students’ resistance to learning.  The first thing to consider is that the resistance to learning may have nothing to do with you as a Teacher, it may be something that is beyond your control. Brookfield suggests one way we can try to understand students’ resistance to learning is by putting ourselves in their shoes.  Think of something you have been resistant to learning and why you felt resistant. Personally I start to tune out when learning if I feel the content is too scattered and I struggle to follow what I am meant to be learning.  If I get lost and it is too hard for me to pick the thread back up, I may just become disinterested in the session.  I also agree with Brookfield, if I feel the teacher is not clear themselves on what they are teaching, I find it hard to stay focused on what they are teaching.  I need to feel that the teacher has valuable knowledge to share that I can not get on my own, and if they don’t come across as knowledgeable I may become resistant to their teaching.

Another thing Brookfield discusses, is that some students’ just may not want to learn.  Pouring all your energy into getting them to engage may be at the detriment of the learning of other students.  If you focus all your energy on a few students and neglect the ones that want to learn, then you may end up in a lose/lose situation. Somethings may be out of your control, such as a personal distraction for the learner that is restricting them from learning at this moment.  No matter how hard you try to engage that learner, they are still going to be distracted and resistant to what you are trying to teach them.  In these situations, it may be best to reschedule training to a time when the learner is better able to focus.

Setting clear learning objectives may help ease resistance to learning.  If they know what they should be learning and why, they may be more inclined to learn. Learning objectives provide the structure for a lesson and act as a guide for learners. Without learning objectives, we have no way of measuring learning effectiveness and the learner has no way of gauging how they are going.

There is also the possibility the learner may just not like your style.  This is why it is important to try to incorporate a variety of different instructional techniques into your lessons.  While it may not be possible to cover exactly what all learners want, you can still have a variety of activities so that learners who are resistance to discussion groups have options as to how they can contribute.

Active learning is one area you often see resistance to learning, as you are asking students to contribute where they would traditionally sit and absorb.  David Gooblar wrote an article with some ideas on what you can do to ease this resistance.


Key is letting your learners know the approach you are taking and why.  David suggests backing up your reasoning with some research, so students know this is not just a hunch and that the technique has been researched and proven. David also recommends that you use a mix of teaching methods, as I mentioned earlier, you should have a range of activities that allow all learners to participate. There may be cases where a lecture works best, so there is no need to completely do away with lecturing.

Overall I would say the key to understanding students’ resistance to learning is to try and put yourself in their shoes.  It is also important to accept that there may be some students you are unable to help and you need to weight the benefit of spending time and energy on trying to force it.

The below link provides a nice summary of the six causes of resistance to learning Brookfield discusses.



Brookfield, S.D., (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass


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