Reflections on Learning Theory and Instructional Design

October 31, 2010 at 11:34 am 1 comment

Learning theories are useful tools for instructional designers. They provide a set of principles to explain how and why learning occurs. A useful theory offers predictions about how learning strategies and techniques facilitate the transfer of knowledge and skills. The Learning Theory and Instructional Design course has given me the opportunity to consider how learning theories apply to the technologies that are becoming more widespread in the delivery of instruction. It has also given me the opportunity to examine emerging theories such as Connectivism that focus on the role of technology in learning. What I find striking is that, while the fundamentals of how we learn have not changed, the context in which learning takes place has evolved so that the ways in which we learn have changed.

When considering my own learning processes for example, I recognize that my basic learning preferences have remained fairly constant over the years. I have developed a set of metacognitive strategies for processing and encoding information that seem to serve me well. And the factors that reinforce and motivate my learning are pretty consistent. However, I have gained an appreciation for how much the context in which my learning takes place has changed. The most significant realization is that learning for me is an ongoing process rather than the occasional formal continuing education activity. Since knowledge is constantly evolving, I must constantly be learning. For me, this means that learning has become more social. In order to manage the need for ongoing learning, I have to be able to identify and engage knowledge and expertise across a variety of disciplines almost on-demand. I must also work with others to process and interpret information because the knowledge we gather is often ambiguous with no clear solution for the issues we are trying to address. I have become dependent on technology to facilitate this process. I use online databases, social networks, e-mail, blogs, wikis, and social bookmarks to build and maintain a personal learning network to meet my needs. This is vastly different from the ways in which I learned just a few years ago.

For me, this has several implications for how I might approach instructional design. First, it is not enough to equip learners with a body of knowledge. The so-called facts of what we know change, often in subtle but fundamental ways that we don’t communicate to learners. I think this is why health educators are always being accused of changing their minds about recommendations. More than once I have heard complaints such as, “first you said eggs were bad, then they were good again.” The reality for most health recommendations is “it depends,” but this is not what we communicate. I think we have to move away from presenting information as the absolute truth and instead equip learners with the skills to find and interpret information, work effectively with others, and contribute what they have learned back into their learning networks. This means that the role of the instructor changes from the person who is the expert imparting knowledge, to the facilitator who helps participants learn to process information, collaborate, and build good learning networks.

I think these issues reinforce the need to be grounded in theory. Technology offers opportunities to expand the delivery of education to many more people and provide just-in-time instruction. However, there is the temptation to jump on the latest innovation without considering how it may fit with what we know about the basic principles of how people learn. Technology is a tool that expands our capacity to learn when applied correctly.  For me, this course has reinforced the need to utilize learning theories as guiding frameworks for how educational technologies might support learning.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Elia Lora  |  May 3, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    Dropping by to let you know I will be following your blog. Enjoyed your Reflection post.
    Elia Lora

    Reply

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