Unit 1: Learning as a process
Shift from Instruction to Engagement
Already in the educational system and in the literature we can see the shift from instruction to engagement.
- In the 1950s and 60s : Instruction based on behaviourist ideas of stimulus and reward, outcome based on memorization and rote
- The 1970s and 80s: New constructivist pedagogies based on engagement in authentic problems, outcome based on creation of cognitive or conceptual understanding
- 1990s and 2000s: Constructivism is a proven approach and employed by world-leading countries (including Canada) but vocal sceptics remain, basing their opposition on an emphasis on content knowledge
- 2010s: New models of network learning offer a viable response to instructivist critics of constructivism.
The process of learning
While previous pedagogical approaches focused on the organization and presentation of content, new pedagogies depict learning as a process. The learner is actively involved in all stages of learning. Following Garrison’s model, for example, we can identify four stages in this learning process:
- Knowing the learner – understanding the learner’s prior understanding, motivation, and self-efficacy, and placing the learner into a socio-economic context
- Planning for learning – setting learning goals and expectations, identifying social relations, professional advancement requirements, and deciding what to learn
- Understanding how to learn – understanding the different approaches to learning, deep versus surface learning, complex versus rote learning, the importance (if any) of learning styles, and effective learning practices
- Evaluating learning – self-monitoring and tracking progress, constructing and assessing meaning, associating quality and quantity of learning with outcomes
In academic literature numerous theories have been proposed describing ‘the learning process’. Reflecting on your own learning, can you identify a process that you currently follow?
It’s also worth asking what you know about how you learn. When you remember a new fact, or acquired a new skill, do you have a sense of what happened? Or is learning to you a ‘black box’ which you can’t really explain, something you just do without thinking about how you do it?
Unit 2: The Downes Theory of Learning
Downes Theory of Learning
The name ‘the Downes Theory of Learning’ is a misnomer, because the theory isn’t unique to me, and indeed, it is so simple that it could hardly be called a theory at all. Here is the theory, in full:
To learn is to practice and reflect. To teach is to model and demonstrate.
Critics of the theory have said both that learning involves a lot more than this, and teaching involves a lot more than this. For example, they say that someone needs to interact with others in order to learn, or they need to construct mental representations of the world, or they need to internalize and codify ideas. I think these are distractions from the core theory, and that by focusing on how we learn, as individuals, we can later determine whether any of these additions are useful or not useful.
Practice and reflection
Learning typically involves repetition. It need not be the same thing exactly – though there may be exceptions, such as in the learning of a precise skill – but the faculty or ability that we are trying to develop requires repeated employment. As the old saying goes, “use it or lose it.” Even the simple remembering of facts requires that these facts be stated (or written down, or recited) on a regular interval. This is the basis, for example, of Pimsleur’s spaced repetition programme.
It also requires some sort of feedback, which I characterize as ‘reflection’. Simply repeating the same thing over and over again will not lead to learning; it typically needs to be guided or corrected, so that each iteration is (in theory) slightly better than the last. The idea is not simply to create a habit, but to create a constantly improving habit.
To model and demonstrate
The important distinction here is that the teacher is required to show rather than to tell. It represents an understanding that the process of teaching must involve more than just lecturing. Indeed, educational theorists of the 21st century are almost unanimous in their agreement that the plain lecture by itself is an ineffective form of pedagogy.
The constructivist model of the instructor as the ‘guide by the side’, however, leaves the learner with no support at all. This is the basis for criticisms such as that offered by Kirschner, Sweller and Clark. Students need examples of successful practice, for example, worked examples, demonstrations of completed tasks, or descriptions of problem solving. They typically also need to know why one approach worked, while another may have failed. This is often accomplished by appeal to a model or representation of the discipline being studied.
In fact, the learning process involves both learning and teaching, and so involves all four of these activities: modeling and demonstrating, practicing and reflection. And as suggested previously, it is a process, so you as a learner are progressing from the choices you make to the person you become to the things you create.
Do you practice teaching as well as learning as part of educational activity? Do you make choices or do you do passively as you are told? If you don’t do either of these things, how do you think they might change your learning experience as you have it today? How might you become a better learner? And if these are a part of your learning practice, how would you feel if these were taken away, and you were returned to (say) a room with a lecturer and a pad to write notes on?
Unit 3: Personal Learning
Introduction to Personal Learning
We frequently think about how best to teach our students. But a better approach is to think about how best to support our own learning and professional development. When we think about how best to keep up with a rapidly changing field, we are thinking far less about taking courses and classes, and far more about finding people and resources that support their day-to-fay learning needs.
In this section we cover some major aspects of personal learning. In summary, what we want is learning that is interactive, usable and relevant. But what do these mean? And what do they have to do with the way we learn? These principles take the process of learning, and apply them to the individual. They create the context in which we can practice and reflect, and where they can best find models and demonstrations of the thing we are trying to learn, in the moment we are trying to learn it.
By interactivity we mean essentially participation in a learning community or a community of practice. It is the capacity to communicate with other people interested in the same topic or using the same online resource. Why do we need it? First, we need the content other people can provide: the models and methods, demonstrations and ideas. And second, we need to know that other people are in the learning experience with us. Terry Anderson calls this “presence” and argues that it is central to learning.
You cannot depend on traditional learning for interactivity, however. Most learning based on the broadcast model, where the teacher – not the learner – communicates. And in online learning, most interactivity is separated from learning. The emphasis is on the content. To generate interactivity, you need to build your own interaction network and place yourself, not the content, at the centre. If interaction isn’t provided, create it – build a blog, start a group, tweet a hashtag. If your software doesn’t support interaction, add it. And use back-channels, such as private mailing lists, online discussion groups, or social media.
Probably the greatest usability experts are found in the design labs of Google and Yahoo! They created interfaces that are simple and accessible and at the same time provide access to useful and timely services. What is usability? There are many definitions, but from the perspective of personal learning it is this:
- Consistency … I know what to expect…
- Simplicity … I can understand how it works…
Because learning resources come in numerous formats from a variety of sources, if you want usable learning resources, you will need to create them yourself. Organize your own knowledge according to your own needs, create your own taxonomy of important terms, and rewrite content in your own words. Simplify the presentation and make it easy to find. Create a concept map of your knowledge, as in the image. This may sound like a lot, but you can create your own distributed knowledge management system. Here are some ideas: Create a blog on Blogger, just to take notes. Store photos on Flickr. Create a GMail account and forward important emails to yourself (and take advantage of Google’s search).
The principle of relevance is that learners should get what they want, when they want it, and where they want it. Because this is almost never provided for you, you must provide it for yourself. There are two key steps:
Step One: maximize your sources – today’s best bet is still RSS – go to Feedly.com, set up an account, and search for topics of interest
Step Two: filter ruthlessly – if you don’t need it now, delete it (it will be online somewhere should you need it later)
Don’t let someone else dictate your information priorities – only you know what speaks to you. This is where you need to shun formal classes and sessions in favour of informal activities.
Remember: Information is a flow, not a collection of objects. Don’t worry about remembering, worry about repeated exposure to good information. Relevance is defined by function, not topic or category. Information is relevant only if it is available where it is needed.
When you take charge of your learning, clarify first principles. For example, how do you understand learning theory?
Read ‘‘Five Instructional Design Principles Worth Revisiting’’ (Brenda Sugrue, 2004).
Do these principles accord with the way you see your own learning?
- Learning is not performance
- The medium is not the method
- Match external and internal conditions
- Authentic practice makes perfect
- One size does not fit all
What do these mean? Why would you apply them – or not – to your own thinking about learning? Do you think you could improve your learning if you had a better understanding of how you learn?
Glasersfeld. 2005. Thirty Years Constructivism. Constructivist Foundations 1(1): 9–12.
Stäuble. 2005. Using concept maps to develop lifelong learning skills: A case study. Teaching and Learning Forum 2005.
Pimsleur. February 1967. "A Memory Schedule". The Modern Language Journal (Blackwell Publishing) 51 (2): 73–75. doi:10.2307/321812. JSTOR 321812.
Bajak. 2014. Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective Too. Science May. 12, 2014.
Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark, Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching, in Educational Psychologist, vol. 41, no. 2, pp. 75–86, 2006.
Risorse della lezione
Indice delle lezioni
- Lifelong Learning
- Free Learning
- Learning Theories
- Networked Learning
- The Learning Process
- Critical Literacies (1)
- Critical Literacies (2)
- The Semantic Condition
- Evaluating Learning