Two Courses Down… What Have I Learned So Far?

As I just finished up my second course in my Masters Degree in Instructional Design and Technology, which I passed with an A (I have to brag a little!), I want to stop and reflect for a moment on what I have learned so far.

I was sitting around a fire pit with friends the other night and a 16-year-old sophomore started talking about under water dragons or dinosaurs. She was fascinated with the subject and started telling us all these different facts. When we inquired where she learned all of this she said that she initially saw it on TV, but she was so intrigued that she Googled it and read more about them. This was an “ah ha” moment for me, connecting what I have learned about how children, and adults really, are learning in such a different world than they ever have before. They have access to all of this information at their finger tips, and when the motivation is right, they can learn about any topic by simply using a search engine. What an amazing tool that could be used within the world of education. We need to take advantage of this new way of learning and not avoid it.

Change is happening! Change is ALWAYS happening. It is the one thing we can always rely on – Change! So, as we develop instruction for any field we must consider the learners and the channels which they typically use to gather information. If we are using out of date, dinosaur aged technology will we ever really be effective in helping these learners to grasp our curriculum? I don’t think so. If they are bored with how we present the information, then it may not matter what the information is. There must be a change in the mindset of instructional design to meet the needs of this new generation of learners! It’s an exciting time to enter this field!

So, change and technology… and the theory behind both, this is what we have gotten through so far. So much more to learn!

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Fitting the Pieces Together

“There is nothing so practical as a good theory, but a theory without the opportunity for real-life implementation will soon fade away” (Blythe & Gardner, 1990). As I am coming to the end of my course on learning theories instruction at Walden University, I read this quote with different eyes than I might have when I first started. Theory has always been a word that left me with little to no emotion or excitement. However, as I studied learning theory over the past month and a half, I have actually found myself excited at the prospect of, not just studying theory, but having the opportunity to implement it in real life.

When I first began this course and was asked which theories were most in line with how I learn, I pointed to the cognitive and constructivist theories. In the seven weeks since that time, after studying multiple learning theories, I would still agree that I learn through a cognitive and constructivist view. However, I would also have to include a connectivist and adult learning theory approaches.

I connect with the cognitivist theory as I believe that, for myself, it is extremely important to understand how I am learning just as much as what I am learning. Using metacognitive strategies is something I do regularly to check my comprehension of information. Before this course I did not have a name or definition for what I was doing, but this is something that I now understand as not just a concept that helps me to learn better, but one that needs to be brought to light with the learners I work with to help them to be more effective in their learning as well. Bransford and Donovan (2005) gave three principles of learning that are particularly important for teachers to understand and be able to incorporate in their teaching, the third of these three principles is that “a metacognitive approach to instruction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them.” (p.2) This is true for me and for the learners I work with, and thus I believe the cognitive theory is in line with the way I learn best.

The constructivist theory is one that I connected with immediately when reading and learning about its basis. I think this stems from the fact that I grew up in an environment that required me to learn to do things on my own. My parents worked hard and were not always there to guide me in my learning. This meant I was constantly learning from watching others and applying what I observed. The social constructivist theory specifically stood out as how I have learned many skills in my personal life. I also described in my original post for this course that the constructivist theory is the theory that best describes my learning of instructional design before entering the Master’s program. I learned from observation of others and observation of design. I was put into the environment and learned by doing the work. Through this observation and practice I developed my understanding and beliefs about the field.

In adding to my original post, I would also include the connectivist theory approach as being in line with the way I learn best. This learning “theory for the digital age, where individuals learn and work in a networked environment” (Anderson, 2008) is one that makes sense in my world. As an instructional designer that has worked in a building where I am the only person doing what I do, the only way to learn is to connect to the network of instructional designers and information on the internet and social networking. I learn so much about the new trends and information of instructional design through these avenues, and now through my courses at Walden. I have a network of other students that I discuss the issues of the current world of instructional design on a weekly basis. This theory, though it has a lot of push back, holds validity in how I learn. And I think it also must be considered with the current generation of students that we work with as well.

And the final learning theory I want to speak of my connection with is the adult learning theory. Not only because I am an adult, but because of the basic principles of the theory, I think this is one that falls in line with the way I learn. I am a self-directed learner who wants to be involved in the planning and evaluation of my learning. I need to be able to apply what I am learning in my life and learn from my experiences with that application. I prefer to learn through a problem-centered learning environment rather than a content-oriented one. (Conlan, Grabowski, & Smith, 2002) I also find that in being an instructional designer in the corporate world that these principles are key to being successful in my day-to-day work.

Lastly, I want to touch on how technology plays a role in my learning. On a daily basis, I probably use a search engine of some type, Google, Bing, etc., an average of 3-5 times a day. When I am looking for a new way to put people into groups, a new format to develop a lesson, or a new animation action in Power Point, I go to the internet. I have an iPhone and apps that help me to know the weather, my class grades, and keep up with my favorite internet sites. There is no end to the use of technology in my learning. When I think back to how learning occurred only 5 years ago, it is amazing the changes! With my knowledge of learning theories and the access to technology to aid in my continuous improvement, I hope to be able to always stay abreast of the latest trends and be the best that I can be in my field.

References:

Anderson, T. (2008) The theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed.). Edmonton, AB: AU Press

Blythe, T. & Gardner, H. (1990) A school for all intelligences. Educational Leadership.47(7), 33-37

Bransford, J. D. & Donovan, S. M., (2005). How students learn: History in the classroom. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/catalog.11100.html

Conlan, J., Grabowski, S., & Smith, K. (2003). Adult learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Adult_Learning