Sunday, February 24, 2013

Fitting the Pieces Together

When we began studying learning theories, I identified with the Cognitivist and Constructivist learning theories, which recognize the active role of the learner in the learning process. As someone who learns best with hands-on, real-world learning experiences, I identified the most with Constructivism, which allows learners the most flexibility and freedom in creating meaning. Initially I thought that the stimuli-response definition of Behaviorism described in the Ertmer & Newby article put the learner in a very passive role and minimized the complexity of the learner and the learning process. However, I came to recognize that, as the Ertmer & Newby article pointed out, Instructional Designers need to consider the learners and the learning objectives and apply the learning theory that will be most effective.

Although I initially identified with Cognitivism and Constructivism, Connectivism is the best match for me when describing how I learn. When I read the Bobby and the Mustang example of Connectivism provided by Davis, Edmunds, & Kelly-Bateman (2008), in which Bobby uses various aspects of his personal learning network to learn about restoring a 1967 Ford Mustang, I felt like it was describing me (except my interest is in cooking, not cars). Like Bobby, I start expanding my personal learning network whenever I am attempting to learn something new, and my network has grown increasingly digital. Web 2.0 tools like blogs, RSS readers, and social networking applications facilitate learning best for me because they integrate text, audio, and video, and because they help me subscribe to, save, and organize information that interests me. 

After completing the Learning Theories matrix, I see Constructivism being much less successful as the primary theoretical perspective in the online courses I support, where students need clearly defined objectives, instruction, and assessments. I feel that elements of each learning theory are useful with different learners in different situations, and sometimes multiple learning theories are useful in a particular instructional situation. In my position as an Instructional Designer for an online MBA program, some of the principles of Behaviorism are always present in our course design. For example, we set up online quizzes and assessments in our learning management system that provide students with immediate feedback, giving students opportunities to practice, and providing reinforcement for the correct responses. We also develop our courses around Quality Matters standards, which focuses on providing measurable outcomes (course-level and module-level) for student learning. However, some of our other assignments take on different theoretical approaches. For example, our courses that involve practicum work and internships take on a Constructivist approach. Many of the students in our online classes are working adults, so some assignments take on principles of Adult Learning Theory and Connectivism, such as group Discussions, project-based assignments, and the use of Web 2.0 and social networking tools.

One of the most important concepts I learned while studying the learning theories was the idea of matching content to instructional method, rather than trying to match content to learning styles, and the idea that learning styles can change depending on the content being taught. Gilbert & Swanier (2008) state that the “learning styles of students may fluctuate within the context of a course from concept to concept, or lesson to lesson. These findings suggest that students needed repetitive instruction while varying the instructional method before mastering each concept” (37). As an Instructional Designer, this concept will always be in the forefront of my mind. This suggests that we should be more concerned with aligning instructional methods with the content being taught, rather than trying to match content with the various “learning styles” of students. Learning about the various learning theories has already helped me consider what types of content are best suited to certain instructional approaches.

Davis, C., Edmunds, E., & Kelly-Bateman, V. (2008). Connectivism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from
Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4),50-71.
Gilbert, J., & Swanier, C. (2008). Learning styles: How do they fluctuate? Institute for Learning Styles Journal [Vol. l]. Retrieved from

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