State of Mind: A Reflection on Learning Theories and Instruction

ImageAs an experienced teacher, I have had classes and training in educational psychology before, but that was a long time ago. I was looking forward to this class to refresh the topics I had covered and learn the new areas since my last classes. I was surprised how many concepts have developed and evolved since I studied Skinner, Piaget and Bloom. Even though I had studied psychology before, the concepts this term focused me toward instructional design and adult learners; an area that was new to me.

This class was better than I had imagined as it brought more depth and was more expansive than my previous classes. I learned a good deal more about Cognitivism and Social Cognitivism than I had in the past. Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development was a new concept for me (Timeline of the History of Learning). His observation that we learn best when we are challenged within a certain level of competency and get support from an experienced other or teacher for areas we need support in shed light on why group work is helpful for so many learners. I also like Dr. Ormrod’s (Laureate Education, Inc.) addition that this approach helps us develop our ability to think “around” a subject, “What Vygotsky said is we internalize that arguing process. So gradually, we become capable of thinking about different perspectives about an issue by ourselves”. Understanding how this process develops helps me with high school students who are working on their abilities to think critically. Another area that surprised me was Connectivism; how technology affects when and how we learn.

Connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired. The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital. The ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday is also critical (Siemens, 2005).

The reason this quote resonates with me is the statement not only focuses on how important having access to technology is, but how vital it is to understand “information shift”, and even more, how essential it has become to recognize how and where to access the information we need.  Connectivism opened a whole new door for how I perceive learning and these concepts will help me as I develop as an online learner and teacher by making use of the digital tools and connections I have access to.

As a result of the readings and discussion in this class, my view of how I learn has also deepened. I am an adult learner; which that means that I am highly motivated to learn and can direct the course my learning takes. Spencer, (2004) mentions that many DE (direct education) schools are designed to complement the adult learner. A good point since the very reason I chose Walden was because of how well it fit the criteria I needed so I could work on a degree from my location without having to travel. I just did not know that what I was searching for was what many other adult learners want as well. Conlan, Grabowski, & Smith, (2003) summarize Malcom Knowles’ definition of androgogy: adult learners direct their own learning, use life experiences as a resource, work well with problem-centered issues that they can apply to their own situations, and are usually internally motivated.  I can see these traits in me now and I know were weaker traits when I was younger.

When asked in the past as to what kind of learning style I had, I was not really sure but thought I was basically a “visual learner”.  Since I have taken this course, I can see my learning process is much more complex than learning best by what I see.  I use many techniques that depend upon what it is I am trying to learn: elaboration, organization, comprehension monitoring, and expanding on information I gather from teachers and peers (Ormrod, Schunk, & Gredler, 2008). What is more, I can be a visual learner when I watch a presentation, an auditory learner when am part of a discussion, or a kinesthetic learner when I am learning a new knitting skill. Another excellent point by Gilbert & Swanier (2008) is that learners are not married to one particular learning style; they use a variety of methods depending upon what it is they are learning. They even mention that students often switch styles within the same lesson. “…identifying a student’s learning style and teaching to that learning style may not be enough because the student’s learning style may fluctuate across concepts/lessons” (Gilbert & Swanier, 2008, p. 37). Ultimately, Fenwich & Tennant, (2004) make an important point, “…learning is not a mental process occurring in a vacuum. The context of a person’s life—with its unique cultural, political, physical and social dynamics—influences what learning experiences are encountered and how they are engaged. Furthermore, “context” is not a static container in which learners float but is active and dynamic” (p. 55).  Generally speaking, adults make prime use of their contexts/life experiences and I am no different.

Understanding that the theories of how people learn, that people approach learning differently and that the instructor needs to take these concepts under consideration when designing and implementing a class can determine if the experience for the students is a successful one or one of frustration. As an instructor I would need to design for maximum student engagement. A helpful tool is John Keller’s (1999) system of ARCS motivational design which helps the designer approach a plan that supports learning through planning for these specific factors: Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction.  When working in an online class, motivation is critical as the interaction between student and instructor is by its very nature constrained in an online environment. Making sure motivating factors are embedded in the design helps the student succeed. A key concept with ARCS is focusing on the student support system, rather than the instruction. (Keller, 1999). As technology expands and our educational paradigm shifts to more online learning and a greater reliance on digital tools, designing classes that satisfy and challenge learners is more critical, not to mention that the design should be optimized for successful learning. Lim, (2004) lists strategies to maximize support for online learners: advanced organizers and scaffolding help students by having support in place as they learn new material. He also mentions ways to engage students by providing problem solving and simulations to create authentic learning activities. As technology evolves, the options for how students learn expand as well. In the Horizon 2013 report, an up and coming technology, gaming and gamification will offer more ways to simulate and problem solve in settings that could incorporate case studies or “real world” problem solving (Johnson, Cummins, Freeman, Ludgate, & Adams Becker, 2013).

I cannot imagine preparing for a class and not thinking about the learners who will be taking the class, but after this course, I have quite the toolbox to rummage through! As I progress through the program, I will be learning more about designing courses, managing a program, etc. However a class cannot be considered well-designed if it does not take the learners and what they will need to succeed into consideration first. I love Cathy Moore’s mottos on her website: “What do they need to know do? Let’s make sure they can know use the info. Our job is to design information an experience” (Moore, 2013). These mottos pinpoint excellence in design because the goal is to create authentic learning experiences with the learner front and center. The information for a little over the first half of the course analyzed different theories concerning how different schools of thought perceive the learning process. The information provides a good support for the other important topics to build on such as learning styles, motivation and the increasing role of technology. I will need the complete foundation so in the future I can design courses that meet the goals of the class, but more importantly, provide the best assistance I can to help the students learn successfully, with authentic projects and activities, challenging inquiry and discussion, and providing timely feedback and assessment.

These eight weeks were challenging but insightful. I understand myself better in a classroom and that means not just in the “desk” along with other students, but behind the “podium”.  My explorations of different perspectives on learning and different types of learners are critical as I take these concepts into account when designing lessons and training. I loved learning about blogs as part of my research and beginning a foray into developing a blog myself. I am grateful for the challenge this summer and look forward to the next step.

References

Conlan, J., Grabowski, S., & Smith, K. (2003). Adult learning. Emerging Perspectives on Learning, Teaching, and Technology. Retrieved July 29, 2013, from http://epltt.coe.uga.edu/index.php?title=Adult_Learning

Fenwick, T., & Tennant, M. (2004). Understanding adult learners. Dimensions of Adult Learning (pp. 55–73). Berkshire, GBR: McGraw Hill Professional.

Gilbert, J., & Swanier, C. (2008). Learning styles: How do they fluctuate? Institute for Learning Styles Journal, 1, 29–40.

Johnson, L., Cummins, M., Freeman, A., Ludgate, H., & Adams Becker, S. (2013). 2013-horizon-report. NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Higher Education Edition. Retrieved from http://www.nmc.org/pdf/2013-horizon-report-HE.pdf

Keller, J. M. (1999). Using the ARCS motivational process in computer-based instruction and distance education. New Directions for Teaching & Learning, 78, 39–47.

Lev Vygotsky. Timeline of the history of learning. [Flash media program]. Retrieved July 1, 2013, from http://mym.cdn.laureate-media.com/Walden/EDUC/6115/01/mm/tec_timeline.html

Lim, C. P. (2004). Engaging learners in online learning environments. Tech Trends, 48(4), 16–23.

Moore, C. (2013). Let’s save the world from boring training! [Web log]. Retrieved from http://blog.cathy-moore.com/

Ormrod, J. Theory of social cognitive development. Laureate Education, Inc. [Transcript of video webcast]. Retrieved July 21, 2013, from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_3398766_1%26url%3D

Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2008). Cognitive learning process. Learning Theories and Instruction (p. 134-135). New York: Laureate Education, Inc.

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1).

Spencer, B. (2004). Understanding adult learners. Dimensions of Adult Learning (pp. 189–200). Berkshire, GBR: McGraw Hill Professional.

 

 

 

Filling in the Gaps

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As weeks of the Learning Theories and Instruction class have progressed, my view on how I learn has taken shape, and after reading my first week’s description, I find I still agree with what I wrote; however, I see I learn more broadly than my first week’s post indicated and I am filling in some of the gaps as to what happens ro me during the learning process.

During this term we covered many learning theories that, after analysis, I can see how they work when I learn. Behaviorist theory is apparent because there are times when I just have to learn through positive reinforcement and shaping or “the hard way”. According to behaviorists, the goal is for the learner to respond to the learning prompt with a targeted response (Ertmer & Newby, 1993).  Sometimes when I take on a knitting project, the learning prompt is to knit a gauge a certain size, I’ll think my gauge was “close enough”, but when I continued to knit the project, I found the garment was becoming too large. I had to take those gauge directions seriously! By becoming more precise, I l have learned that I can better predict the outcome.

As I work through problems on computers or as I organize what I learn, I find I learn as a Cognitivist would. As I read through different articles, blogs and texts, I need to organize what I learn so it makes sense; I need to make sense of the information so I can access it again as I write or work. Ertmer & Newby, (1993) make the point that learning “stems from our own interpretations of our experiences. Humans create meaning as opposed to acquiring it”. As I described in my first post, I like to learn by relating what I know to new information; finding patterns and making meaning. However, as an expansion of that concept, I also like to learn or problem solve with others, be they more experienced than me, or with peers. In my learning circles, I am the “yeah, but” person. I look to resolve stumbling blocks that I might see in a problem, and I like working with others to help me think the issue through. So in this regard, I am more of a Social Constructivist. Kim (2001) defines it as, “People create meaning through their interactions with each other and the objects in the environment”. I depend on that interaction to help me sharpen my understanding many times because others often see details I miss. However, I don’t fit completely in that box either. I am dependent upon the internet and its access to blogs, news and educational material. As an adult learner, I take pride in my years of experience, and the ability to connect with other professionals digitally enables me to develop information more completely than I have ever been able to before. Finally, I am learner who depends on technology to connect me to the multiple resources available now. Working with others no longer requires we be in the same room or interact over a phone. I can use Skype, email, my smartphone, and any number of apps or features evolving even as I write this. My blog has put me in touch with more people than I would have thought. So, as Siemens (Laureate Education, Inc.) notes, “we’re dealing with complex environments that are systems-based. And that means that it’s not just the individual learner that’s the key consideration, which it often is with traditional learning theories, but it’s actually the broader environment in which we are situated, and the complex nature of that environment needs to be considered as well”.

I am certainly a learner in this evolving environment, and I can see through my courses that I, too, have evolved in a Connectivist environment. So ultimately, after reconsidering how I learn, I find that I am not limited to one style of learning; I use whatever approach is most useful in the moment. I think the lines that separate each style of learning is blurred anyway and it can be hard to distinguish where one ends and the other begins.

In last week’s blog, I mapped out how my world was digitally connected. I commented on how, without even realizing it, I have been more connected than I knew. I DEPEND on technology perhaps in the same way my parents depended on their cars. I can’t not have a computing device. We are accustomed to having information at our fingertips. I was at lunch with friends the other day and someone wanted to know who the president of Uzbekistan was. Before she could even finish her question, another friend had her phone out and looked it up. Our world has so many ways to access information; news is immediate, (which can be a good or bad thing as we are more responsible now to vet its accuracy). I am still in awe at how I can access an academic library and find articles and ebooks so easily. Even 10 years ago that was a problem for me; I had to physically travel for that. As I also mentioned in my earlier blog, keeping track of my research is far easier digitally, but because of how the tool functions, I can more easily see connections and am able to learn from a tool I thought was primarily for sorting and organizing. I talked about word processing last week, but I didn’t have time to describe how working with media has helped me learn. I use many of the Adobe programs to help me visualize what I want to communicate. So last term, I created a video to show how a change process transpired at my school. I needed to find public domain music, to create vector graphics, and integrate photos I had taken on my cell. So I am very aware that the role of technology in my life is front and center! I love what is now possible and after reading Horizon 2013 and getting a glimpse of what is coming in the near future, it is exciting to think about what we will all be able to do. It does take work learn the new tools as they come, but they are a wonder!

References

Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4), 50–71.

Johnson, L., Cummins, M., Freeman, A., Ludgate, H., & Adams Becker, S. (2013). 2013-horizon-report. NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Higher Education Edition. Retrieved from http://www.nmc.org/pdf/2013-horizon-report-HE.pdf

Kim, B. (2001). Social Constructivism. Emerging Perspectives on Learning, Teaching, and Technology. Retrieved July 21, 2013, from http://epltt.coe.uga.edu/index.php?title=Social_Constructivism#Citation

Siemens, G. (n.d.). Connectivism. Laureate Education, Inc. Video Webcast. Retrieved July 29, 2013, from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_3398766_1%26url%3D

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore: Mapping It Out

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As we have been studying Connectivism in class this week, our assignment has been to put together a MindMap of how our digital networks provide us with information and support in our daily lives.  At first I thought that all I would have would be a big circle in the middle that said “Email”. I don’t have much time for Facebook, (I have an account, but never use it,) or any other type of social networking. I work on computers all day; the last thing I want to do when I get home is sit in front of a computer even more! I want time to knit!

However, when I started breaking my cyber network down, I could see I am much more connected than I thought. It is just simply second nature for me.  George Siemens (2005) comments in his article, Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age, “The value of pattern recognition and connecting our own ‘small worlds of knowledge’ are apparent in the exponential impact provided to our personal learning”.  I can certainly attest to how much my ability to access information has changed since I started college long ago. Probably the most amazing feature of my learning network is accessibility and timeliness. So often now, if I have a question on anything from recipes, to knitting patterns, or who was in what movie, I don’t think twice about looking it up online. As far as research goes, I can now find information that would have been inaccessible to me years ago, especially since I live in a rural area. When I have questions, I can not only get answers, I can get good answers with access to more detail if I want it.

While researching has certainly changed radically, how we manage and work with the information we gather has also changed dramatically. Now I am speaking for those of us who learned typing on a typewriter and even had to process our term papers on them. I know my writing ability blossomed with word processing. I could finally edit! After typing a ten page paper, if I found awkward writing on page one, “forget about it”. With word processing, I could finally really look at my writing and work on it as a true process.  Getting work in a digital format also makes it easier to post online in other locations and forums for sharing and interaction. As a student, I have found research tools such as Google Scholar, EBSCOhost, and the online research tools a huge help. I can cut down the amount of time looking for information and then storing it. Again, old folks, remember microfiche? Once I have gathered my research, I have discovered Zotero, an online/standalone software package to help organize my information which can then be accessible online if I need it. As I traveled this summer, and move from different locations throughout the day, most of the year, this program is a lifesaver, especially when working in an asynchronous classroom!

Another aspect that has changed dramatically is how easily it is to connect with my colleagues, friends, and other professionals. Right before I was married, my husband went to South America to work for two years. We could only communicate by airmail and it took weeks to have a conversation. Now, when my son was in Japan, or my business partner working in Syria or Nepal, I could communicate with both through Skype.  My partner, Barb, and I were working on some very complicated projects and we could easily discuss the issues almost as if we were in the same room. (Except when the power was out which happened frequently in both countries).  One of the observations Connectivists make is that information and its validity changes at lightning speed and being networked and aware helps manage the swiftness of information shifts. “As a result, the span of time between learning something new, being able to apply it, and finding that it is outdated and no longer useful continues to decrease” (Davis, Edmunds, & Kelly-Bateman, 2008). Even when I work in the same building, my work colleagues and I can exchange important documents and charts; also, when I have needed input from professionals outside of my local network, I have been able to get support through online forums and bulletin boards. Now that I am in an online university, my fellow students and the teachers also share their experience and research links so I can continue to learn from a larger educational community. Since I have been at Walden, I interact with my fellow students on our discussion board; I have been looking at blogs, researching for my blog, and using the online library.

Another critical element that I’ve emphasized with Connectivism is that we’re dealing with complex environments that are systems-based. And that means that it’s not just the individual learner that’s the key consideration, which often is with traditional learning theories, but it’s actually the broader environment in which we are situated, and the complex nature of that environment needs to be considered as well. (Laureate Education, Inc.)

As I have reviewed my learning network this week, I started thinking that I wouldn’t have much to post or share, but I found out that I had quite a large network, (and that’s without the social networking!) Even as I wrote this paper, I found I had to go back and revise my Mind Map because I realized I had left important features out. Therefore, I believe that my learning network supports the tenets of Connectivism and what is more, as I observe what the students in my high school use and will be able to use, it seems blatantly obvious to me that Connectivism will become clearer and better defined as time goes on.  

References

Davis, C., Edmunds, E., & Kelly-Bateman, V. (2008). Connectivism. Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved July 29, 2013, from http://epltt.coe.uga.edu/index.php?title=Connectivism

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1). Retrieved from http://itdl.org/journal/jan_05/article01.htm

Siemens, G. (n.d.). Connectivism. Laureate Education, Inc. [Video Webcast]. Retrieved July 29, 2013, from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_3398766_1%26url%3D