An introduction to three integrated theories
It has been said that much of ‘traditional’ school activity is inauthentic, and so not able to fully produce ‘useful learning’ because it tends to be “implicitly framed by one culture”, but explicitly attributes it to another (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989, p. 34). Through this correspondence method it seems that “students usually assume a passive role as listener while the instructor imparts the information” Sturges, D., Maurer, T. W., & Cole, O. (2009). Studies show that students feel “they are required to absorb factual information provided in a ‘transmission’ style of delivery largely devoid of any authenticity” (Herrington & Oliver, 2000, p. 21).
For a learner-centered perspective to teaching and learning, a central challenge to learning is that “circulating human knowledge is not simply about search and retrieval” (p. 124). The harvesting of information and intellectual capital are important to knowledge management but are “subordinate to the matter of learning for it is learning that makes intellectual property, capital, and assets usable” (Brown & Duguid, 2000, p. 124).
This chapter provides a primer for three theories that support learner centered teaching and learning in blended and online learner experiences. The first and overarching theory introduced in this chapter is constructivism. Constructivism most importantly recognizes that learners are not passive recipients of knowledge but those who ‘construct’ knowledge.
In support of constructivism our second theory, connectivism assists us in designing technology enabled spaces, as it supports the distribution of knowledge across networks. Learners then traverse those networks to make connections. A third connected theory which supports authentic learning is situated learning. Because it views learning as a social process, it further supports the co-construction of knowledge, situated in contexts, embedded within environments (both physical and virtual).
These three frameworks, introduced in this chapter, were chosen to help you design routes that your learners might take to ‘cross the finish line’ of your course. These routes may challenge and direct learners toward a variety of assessments and activities that may further challenge learners. If well designed, these routes translate to engaging blended and online learner experiences, and effective facilitation processes.
These three frameworks, introduced in this chapter, were chosen to help you design routes that your learners might take to ‘cross the finish line’ of your course. These routes may challenge, agitate, and even reroute learners toward a variety of assessments and activities that may further challenge, agitate, and even reroute learners. If well designed, these routes translate to engaging blended and online learner experiences, and effective facilitation processes.
A Constructivism Primer
Constructivism and Social Constructivism are two similar learning theories which share a large number of underlying assumptions, and an interpretive epistemological position.
|Both approaches||Social constructivism|
|Deep roots classical antiquity. Socrates, in dialogue with his followers, asked directed questions that led his students to realize for themselves the weaknesses in their thinking.||Emphasis is on the collaborative nature of learning and the importance of cultural and social context.|
|Learning is perceived as an active, not a passive, process, where knowledge is constructed, not acquired.||All cognitive functions are believed to originate in, and are explained as products of social interactions|
|Knowledge construction is based on personal experiences and the continual testing of hypotheses.||Learning is more than the assimilation of new knowledge by learners; it was the process by which learners were integrated into a knowledge community.|
|Each person has a different interpretation and construction of knowledge process, based on past experiences and cultural factors.||Believed that constructivists such as Piaget had overlooked the essentially social nature of language and consequently failed to understand that learning is a collaborative process.|
Jonassen (1994) proposed that there are eight characteristics that underline the constructivist learning environments and are applicable to both perspectives:
- Constructivist learning environments provide multiple representations of reality.
Multiple representations avoid oversimplification and represent the complexity of the real world.
- Constructivist learning environments emphasize knowledge construction inserted of knowledge reproduction.
- Constructivist learning environments emphasize authentic tasks in a meaningful context rather than abstract instruction out of context.
- Constructivist learning environments provide learning environments such as real-world settings or case-based learning instead of predetermined sequences of instruction.
- Constructivist learning environments encourage thoughtful reflection on experience.
- Constructivist learning environments “enable context- and content- dependent knowledge construction.”
- Constructivist learning environments support “collaborative construction of knowledge through social negotiation, not competition among learners for recognition.
Becoming a Better University Teacher. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2018, from http://www.ucdoer.ie/index.php/Main_Page
Example #1: Constructivism in Education Curriculum
Based on methods to operationalize the critical characteristics of a constructivist learning environment, table 1 summarizes the elements of constructivist learning (COL), guidelines for the design and implementation of the COL, and how this will be manifested within a second year Education course.
Table 1: Manifestations of elements of constructivist learning (COL) in context
|Elements of COL||Guideline for Implementation||Manifestation in a second year Education learning environment|
Beers, M., & Wilson, M., Kearns, M. (2002). Constructivist e-learning methodologies: A module development guide. Retrieved from https://connect.ubc.ca/bbcswebdav/pid-4895-dt-content-rid-22463_1/courses/SIS.UBC.ETEC.530.66A.2012S.75/download/unit5-construct-method.pdf
A Connectivism Primer
Networks, Small Worlds, Weak Ties
A network can simply be defined as connections between entities. Computer networks, power grids, and social networks all function on the simple principle that people, groups, systems, nodes, entities can be connected to create an integrated whole. Alterations within the network have ripple effects on the whole.
Albert-László Barabási states that “nodes always compete for connections because links represent survival in an interconnected world” (2002, p.106). This competition is largely dulled within a personal learning network, but the placing of value on certain nodes over others is a reality. Nodes that successfully acquire greater profile will be more successful at acquiring additional connections. In a learning sense, the likelihood that a concept of learning will be linked depends on how well it is currently linked. Nodes (can be fields, ideas, communities) that specialize and gain recognition for their expertise have greater chances of recognition, thus resulting in cross-pollination of learning communities.
Weak ties are links or bridges that allow short connections between information. Our small world networks are generally populated with people whose interests and knowledge are similar to ours. Finding a new job, as an example, often occurs through weak ties. This principle has great merit in the notion of serendipity, innovation, and creativity. Connections between disparate ideas and fields can create new innovations.
Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.
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.
Principles of connectivism:
- Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
- Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
- Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
- Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
- Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
- Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
- Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
- Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.
Connectivism also addresses the challenges that many corporations face in knowledge management activities. Knowledge that resides in a database needs to be connected with the right people in the right context in order to be classified as learning. Behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism do not attempt to address the challenges of organizational knowledge and transference.
Information flow within an organization is an important element in organizational effectiveness. In a knowledge economy, the flow of information is the equivalent of the oil pipe in an industrial economy. Creating, preserving, and utilizing information flow should be a key organizational activity. Knowledge flow can be likened to a river that meanders through the ecology of an organization. In certain areas, the river pools and in other areas it ebbs. The health of the learning ecology of the organization depends on effective nurturing of information flow.
Social network analysis is an additional element in understanding learning models in a digital era. Art Kleiner (2002) explores Karen Stephenson’s “quantum theory of trust” which “explains not just how to recognize the collective cognitive capability of an organization, but how to cultivate and increase it”. Within social networks, hubs are well-connected people who are able to foster and maintain knowledge flow. Their interdependence results in effective knowledge flow, enabling the personal understanding of the state of activities organizationally.
The starting point of connectivism is the individual. Personal knowledge is comprised of a network, which feeds into organizations and institutions, which in turn feed back into the network, and then continue to provide learning to individual. This cycle of knowledge development (personal to network to organization) allows learners to remain current in their field through the connections they have formed.
Landauer and Dumais (1997) explore the phenomenon that “people have much more knowledge than appears to be present in the information to which they have been exposed”. They provide a connectivist focus in stating “the simple notion that some domains of knowledge contain vast numbers of weak interrelations that, if properly exploited, can greatly amplify learning by a process of inference”. The value of pattern recognition and connecting our own “small worlds of knowledge” are apparent in the exponential impact provided to our personal learning.
John Seely Brown presents an interesting notion that the internet leverages the small efforts of many with the large efforts of few. The central premise is that connections created with unusual nodes supports and intensifies existing large effort activities. Brown provides the example of a Maricopa County Community College system project that links senior citizens with elementary school students in a mentor program. The children “listen to these “grandparents” better than they do their own parents, the mentoring really helps the teachers…the small efforts of the many- the seniors – complement the large efforts of the few – the teachers.” (2002). This amplification of learning, knowledge and understanding through the extension of a personal network is the epitome of connectivism.
“Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age” by George Siemens is licensed under CC BY 4.0
Siemens, G. (2004, December 12). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Retrieved April 12, 2018, from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm
Similar to the constructivism, the connectivism believes that learning happens when learners go beyond memorizing the factual knowledge to actively interpret the new information to solve problems. Different from the constructivism, connectivism assumes the knowledge resides in each individual that comprise the larger social network rather than limiting to the content experts, i.e. the course instructor, textbook, and course materials in the traditional classroom. Knowledge is ever changing and evolving as the personal knowledge is constantly changing. Such changes are absorbed into and affect the knowledge network, which in turn will also lead to the changes of the personal knowledge of individuals in the network as they will find the new information and modify their knowledge accordingly. In this sense, learning an on-going knowledge renewal cycle.
To implement the connectivism in the classroom, it is vital to create opportunities to embed and facilitate social interactions in the instruction — not only the traditional in-class peer-to-peer, student-to-material, and student-to-instructor interaction, but more importantly the interactions with larger external communities — to unbind students from the constraints of the classroom, the academic institution, and the learning management system. By socializing with larger community, learners can acquire new information constantly , make connections with and build on their prior knowledge, engage in community of inquiry so that they can interpret their new experience to construct understanding and new knowledge. A word of caution here: connectivism might sound extremely relevant and promising with the unprecedented abundance of information and the easiness to connect brought by the current advances of digital technology. However, there has been numerous criticism on Connectivism. Indeed, implementing connectivism to guide the instructional design might be challenging as connectivism assumes high levels of self-regulatory learning, motivation, learning skills, critical thinking skill, and certain prior knowledge in the subject area that unfortunately many students do not have. The high enrollment and dropout rates in MOOC courses might be an example of such challenge. From the author’s perspective, it is more realistic and effective to implement connectivism in parts of the higher level courses where you are confident that students have had the solid foundation to seek out the information to solve ill-defined problems (example: problem-based learning).
A Situated Learning Primer
With coherence theories knowledge is the result of acting on established but immutable patterns that maintain fit with dynamic contexts. This inevitably leads instructors to attend to multiple levels of organization within the agent and between agent and context (Davis, J. H. (2000). p. 166). Most contemporary coherence theories, like constructivism, are concerned with interpretation so encourage instructors to “affect the webs of implicit and explicit association” that connect our individual and collective worlds together. Indirect instruction is understood to be more ‘student-centered’ and tends to be aligned with widely espoused theory of knowing and learning like constructivism (Bruner 1966; Dewey, 1938; Vygotsky, 1978). Constructivist approaches to learning are also understood as situated, discovery, task-based, and scaffolded learning as they share many common elements (Davis, J. H. (2000). p. 166).
The notion that thinking is situated in contexts that build relationships between cognitive agents and situated action (Barab & Plucker, 2002) aligns with my own beliefs, and research into differentiating online instruction to positively affect learner performance (Hengstler & O’Neill, 2002). With that said the consultation I provide, as an instructional designer, must support a balanced approach to instruction, directed toward learner achievement of lesson and course outcomes. Constructivism alone “does not lead to a prescriptive instructional design theory” (Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006)., pg. 78). The relative utility of direct instruction, and constructivist approaches are neither mutually exclusive nor independent. Provided that students have the basic knowledge, initially delivered by direct instruction, engagement can be incorporated through situated, constructivist learning activities (Rowe, 2006).
It is common, through correspondence approach, for students to acquire decontextualized definitions, and practices that they cannot use, and that therefore lie inert. Brown et al. (1989) advance theories of situated cognition as an alternative to conventional practice (direct, correspondence teaching models), through their work on learning and situated activity. They propose the use of cognitive apprenticeship  to honor “the situated nature of knowledge” (p. 32). These authors see learning as a process of enculturation, and see authentic activity as the ‘ordinary practice’ of a culture (Brown, et al., 1989).
In an effort to avoid replicating correspondence teaching models, activities and assessments designed for your course should support a learner’s reasoning of laws, to act on symbols, by resolving emergent problems. This helps you build a bridge for your learners to transform them from the ‘just plain folks’ that enter your course, to the ‘practitioners’ who complete it. This process fosters meaningful learning while remaining true to individual learner and instructor beliefs (Brown et al., 1989; Herrington & Oliver, 2000).
Example #2: Situated learning in Biology curriculum
Based on methods to operationalize the critical characteristics of a situated learning environment provided by Herrington and Oliver (2000) an implementation matrix for this case is presented in Table 3. This table summarizes the elements of situated learning (SL), guidelines for the design and implementation of situated teaching, and how this will be manifested within a first year Biology course (Herrington & Oliver, 2000).
Table 3: Manifestations of critical elements for situated learning (SL) in context
|Element of SL||Guideline for Implementation||Manifestation in a first year Biology learning environment|
|Provide authentic context that reflects the way the knowledge will be used in real life||
|Provide authentic activity||
|Provide access to expert performance and the modelling of process||
|Provide multiple roles and perspectives||
|Support collaborative construction of knowledge||
|Provide coaching and scaffolding||
|Provide for authentic assessment of learning within tasks||Fidelity of context
Adapted from “An instructional design framework for authentic learning environments” by J. Herrington, and R. Oliver, 2008.
So is situated learning the ‘better’ model of teaching? Learners come to formal learning environment seeking support structures that will help them learn. “The goal of instruction is rarely simply to search for or discover information. The goal is to give learners specific guidance… in ways that are consistent with a learning goal” (Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006), p. 78). Situated learning, in a formal environment, should not just be about ‘just plain folks’ doing self-directed activity, but about students seeking usable domain knowledge. The interventions proposed (in the form of lesson plans, and course blueprints) needs to help support a learner’s reasoning of laws, to act on symbols, by resolving emergent problems, through socially constructed understanding. This will create a bridge between just plain folks and practitioners, to foster meaningful learning (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989; Herrington & Oliver, 2000).
In applying the theory of situated cognition and its focus on situating learning, the example proposes to introduce course content through cycles of learning and application. This proposition is based on Brown, Collins and Duguids’ model of student progress from situated activity to generality. By locating the mid week session in a lab environment, faculty can focus course content on the integration of structure and function of biochemistry as an integrative experience. Learners will first be introduced to terminology, and expert performance and modeling of biochemical structure during the Monday lecture. In lab, through paired activity, learners will have the opportunity for collaboration and practice on the function, and functionality of biochemical principles. In the Friday session learners and faculty work together to incorporate the two into an integrated understanding of the structure and function of biochemistry. This final articulation and reflection piece will also assist in the assessment of the degree to which learners are able to move from embedded activity to generality (from ‘just plain folks’ to ‘practitioners’).
Engaging learners in Blended & Online spaces
“Part of the plan is knowing that the situation will compel you to change your plan” – Vella (2006)
A course plan can take on a variety of shapes, and is always informed by context: the audience, the venue, and the resources you have available to you. It is also informed by the educational values, beliefs, and philosophies of the design team. With so many possibilities and unknowns, how can we work towards a common language of what planning is all about?
The most basic question to begin with is, why design an online course. The emphasis here can be on the word why, or on the word design. A very common response to the question why is that learners will be geographically distributed, and having a course online is an obvious solution. However, an online course, or a course enhanced with online resources and communication tools, will add educational value to any face-to-face course by making resources available to learners and by providing opportunities to deepen learning through dialogue and sharing. In this sense the divisions between online courses and campus-based courses are becoming hazy. So the question of why is shifting from technology as a means to change the delivery method to technology as a means to enhance learning.
A more philosophical but very practical question emphasizes the word design. Is it important to create a structure in a virtual environment? How much design work should be done before involving the learners in the curriculum process? These questions have challenged educators for some time, and they seem especially complex when applied to designing online courses. Where then do we turn for guidance?
Some would argue that instructional design literature does little to guide the process of planning online courses because there is insufficient consideration for the social context of learning (Le Blanc, 2003). Furthermore, the recent advances in technologies to support networked learning, or more informal connections among people and information, are challenging our notions about advance planning and fixed design of online spaces. Consider this description by George Siemens:
By recognizing learning as a messy, nebulous, in formal, chaotic process, we need to rethink how we design our instruction. Instruction is currently largely housed in courses and other artificial constructs of information organization and presentation. Leaving this theory behind and moving towards a networked model requires that we place less emphasis on our tasks of presenting information, and more emphasis on building the learner’s ability to navigate the information—or connectivism.
Blogs, wikis, and other open, collaborative platforms are reshaping learning as a two-way process. Instead of presenting content/information/ knowledge in a linear sequential manner, learners can be provided with a rich array of tools and information sources to use in creating their own learning pathways. The instructor or institution can still ensure that critical learning elements are achieved by focusing instead on the creation of the knowledge ecology. The links and connections are formed by the learners themselves. (Siemens, 2002)
The best plan will anticipate learner experiences, but provide plenty of opportunities for learner-defined goals and assessments. In broad terms, this would be called design for flexible learning. However, in practice, a systems and linear approach is often favoured because it ensures consistency and is more easily administered and supported at the organizational level. By planning out each module carefully in terms of instructional goals, content, assignments, and assessments, each course can undergo rigorous quality control.
Flexible and systems approaches represent opposite ends of the course planning spectrum, one more learner-centred (or more favourably referred to by Jane Vella (2001) as learning-centred ), and the other more teacher-centred. With each approach there are obvious considerations for your own context. While a systems approach may require substantial resources, it may be more effective for managing quality control and for preparing and supporting instructors. Brent Wilson (1995), a pioneer in e-learning, has been cautioning online course designers about the downside of a systems approach for the past decade: An environment that is good for learning cannot be fully prepackaged and defined A more flexible approach will open the doors to more possibilities based on learner goals and needs. However, as pointed out by Bates and Poole (2003), “a flexible approach requires a high level of skill to be effective”.
There are many helpful models to guide the design process, each informed by learning theory and each providing a set of actions by phase (often overlapping) in the design process. There are too many to expand on in this short chapter—an Internet search on “instructional design models” will yield a dozen or more. A model is useful for providing a framework for managing course design and ensuring that all decisions are attended to. Furthermore, a good model is cyclical so that evaluation and reflection on implementation will always inform the next iteration of the course design. Keep in mind that while learning theory and prescriptive models help to guide the work, a model “should be used only to the extent that it is manageable for the particular situation or task”. In other words, context is always at the core of the planning and design process.
Prepare by considering these four tips:
- Begin with relevant metaphors for learning. Often the language commonly used to describe e-learning dismisses the notion that learning with technology is a valuable experience in its own right. When we speak about “distance learning”, “covering course content”, and “delivering courses” we are imposing an intent and framework for learning that calls for little involvement from the learner.
- The focus should be first on the learning, and second on the technologies that will support that learning. Think of your primary role in the planning process as keeping learning, and not technology, at the centre of the design process. Plan to include team members in the design process who can provide the expertise required to carry out your plan and also take full advantage of the medium.
- Creating good online learning experiences requires effort. While the basic planning guidelines are the same for both face-to-face and online courses, “the process of planning a quality e-learning experience is very likely to be more complex and time-consuming than planning a conventional classroom experience. (Anderson & Elloumi, 2004)
- Context is king! You can choose an instructional model that suits your project and personal beliefs about teaching and learning, but always be prepared to adapt.
Le Blanc, D., & Vella, J. Understanding Blended Learning. Retrieved April 19, 2018, from https://tcnj.instructure.com/courses/1349570/modules/items/13055957
Our primary source of guidance to effectively direct learners and learning experience, when designing environments conducive to learning, stems from a view of the traditional 20th century classroom, the brick and mortar buildings, with mounted boards and flipchart paper. If we view technology as tools that support teaching and learning experiences, used with purpose similarly to our use of boards to express calculations, and flipcharts paper for brainstorming, we start to realize that no matter the tools we employ, learning will always be about experiences that connect the hands (psychomotor action), head (cognitive reasoning), and the heart (feeling and appreciating). Teaching will always be about initiating and guiding these experiences.
The literature has not provided consensus on how and at what level of the organization effective technology integration occurs in public educational institutions. Policies are created at the institutional level, and departmental goals articulate how technology will be resourced in the learning environment, but faculties’ perceived value of any initiative determines it sustainability. “No organization can institute change if its employees will not, at the very least, accept the change. No change will ‘work’ if employees don’t help in the effort. And, change is not possible without people changing themselves.” (Jick, 1993, p. 323)
Technological change will remain localized and have little overall impact without full faculty support. The problem is that there is too little administrative impulse for this transformative value of technology… changes will occur if the introduction of technology is guided by an institutional vision for its use in teaching and learning. (Gandalfo, 1998, pg. 30) This means that we must align our purposeful use of technology to our institutional priorities. A quick look to your strategic plan will provide with this guidance.
“Institutions wishing to promote faculty use of technology need policies that enhance the perceived value of incorporating technology into teaching, scholarship and service”, and identifies one challenge to be the “three part academic role (of teaching, scholarship and service) [that] has been in place since the beginning of the century” (Baldwin, 1998, pg. 16). Bates (2000), however, is cautious about a “top-down strategic planning approach”, and puts more emphasis on developing vision and goals at a departmental level (Bates, 2000). This same determination, at the same time in history, was being made within the diffuse organizations of British universities, who found that there has been very little scope for any one section of a university to dictate the action of another. In this context the academic department is the basic unit of the university, and what Moodie and Eunace (as cited in MacLaughlin, et al. 1999) consider the locus of autonomous academic decision-making, and the academic staff’s primary identification with the organization. You are most aligned with your department, and your course will directly impact the achievement of students not just in your course ,but across their program experience.
The guidance from your institutional strategic plan, and appreciation for how your departments impacts this plan, readies you to focus your efforts, that will primarily be driven by your “assessment of the needs of students in the twenty-first century, and not by the existing institutional requirements that they must fit into. The best place to develop such a vision is at the program level” (p. 477). This text encourages “a myriad of different visions, to meet the diversity of learning environments”, and “discussion about teaching models appropriate to a technology-rich environment.” (Bates, Bates, and Sangra, 2011). This means that your best allies for the design, and redesign of your course will be your program colleague’s. Their course will prepare learners to be successful in your course, and your learners success will prepare them to move forward in their program experience.
Reflective Questions and Tasks
- “The problem arises when constructivist learning activities precede explicit teaching, or replace it, with the assumption that students have adequate knowledge and skills to efficiently and effectively engage with constructivist learning activities designed to generate new learning.” (Rowe, 2006, p. 14) To avoid such problems from derailing your learners success, what two methods could you design into your course blueprint that would set the stage for authentic activity and assessment?
- To revisit this chapters central question: Can educators work towards a common language of what elearning instructional design is all about? What are the patterns that you see from your review of the three theories provided?
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- [The development of concepts through continuing authentic activity is the approach of cognitive apprenticeship (Brown et al., 1989, p. 39). “Cognitive apprentices are the academic and theoretical offspring of real world counterparts” (Agostino, 1999, p. 7).] ↵
- For interesting discussions and resources related to networked learning see the work of Leigh Blackall http://leighblackall.wikispaces.org/ ↵
- See http://carbon.cudenver.edu/%7Emryder/itc_data/idmodels.html for a comprehensive list. ↵