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.

 

 

 

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