The consequences of INSET (Martin Lamb)

For homework last night we read The consequences of INSET, an ELT Journal article from 1995 by Martin Lamb (Volume 49 Issue 1, pp72-79). I’m really sorry to keep sharing articles which are hidden behind paywalls 😦 but hopefully my very short summary will give you the general idea. This article was a real eye-opener for me, and I hope you get to read the original at some point!


Teachers attending short INSET courses are usually exposed to a great amount of new information and ideas. While this can be exciting at the time, the after-effects may be less salutary. This article describes one particular INSET course and the reactions of the participating teachers one year later. It suggests that very few of this ideas presented on the course were taken up in the way anticipated by the tutors, mainly due to the mediating effects of the participants’ own beliefs about teaching and learning. Any INSET course which is seriously concerned with long-term change in teachers’ practice will have to take these beliefs into account.

Before reading this article, I knew that training that I do is not always taken wholesale into the classroom and incorporated into teachers’ practice – if anyone could manage that, it would be a miracle! But I suspected there were three states for any given activity/theory/idea I might present:

  • No uptake
  • Confusion
  • Complete uptake

How wrong I was! In fact, according to a study done by Lamb there are lots of different ways that ideas from courses can be taken up. Interviewing and observing teachers one year after a 2-week, 25-hour course, Lamb found “seven different ways in which participants had reacted, consciously or unconsciously, to ideas presented on the course” (p75):

  • No update
  • Confusion
  • Labelling (applying a term to an activity they were already doing)
  • Appropriation (justifying changes in teaching not anticipated by the tutors)
  • Assimilation (transferring techniques without necessarily understanding the rationale)
  • Adaptation and rejection
  • Engagement

In short, very few of the ideas from the training were actually incorporated into the practice of the participants, although they had responded positively to the course.

As a result, Lamb highlights the importance of making participants aware of their routine practice and the values [beliefs] behind it. He also reminds us that participants should decide which areas to develop and “formulate their own agenda for change” (p79).

For me, it’s another example of the importance of including an examination of teacher beliefs in training courses, something which I rarely remember being included in any of the training I have done or delivered (!) but will definitely be adding to my training!

4 thoughts on “The consequences of INSET (Martin Lamb)

  1. I would summarize my reaction to INSET as follows:

    No update- not relevant

    Confusion- mainly not sure about relevance and how to incorporate ideas in my teaching.

    Labelling (applying a term to an activity they were already doing)- often a process of self-realisation and maybe validation.

    Adaptation and rejection- try new ideas and end up rejecting as they don’t produce the desired result. Whether this is due to my misunderstanding and bad implementation or some problemwith the new ideas themselveswould be for someone elseto judge.

    Engagement- the crown jewel. Fully incorporating new ideas into teaching practice for me is a gradual process. In doing self-reflection this year,I have realised my approach to teaching has incorporated several new ideas, when compared to 3 or 4 years ago. Iintroduce new ideas tentatively at first; reflect; adapt ; validate and finally fully adopt.

    We don’t expect our language learners to fully adopt new language, fully and correctly, immediately. So why should we expect sifferently with new teaching ideas?


    1. Your final paragraph is completely true. However, I think the surprise was that almost none of the 16 teachers were using any ideas from a two-week course that had been specifically designed based on problems they described, a year after the course finished.
      Thanks for sharing your take on it Charles!


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