Sunday, March 3, 2013

Thoughts About Learning

Prior to this class, I never thought that much about how people learn. I had developed effective learning strategies (thanks to many teachers), including how to take notes, organize information, review information, and remember information. Getting good grades and positive feedback motivated me. I knew these learning strategies worked for me, and I assumed everyone else used whatever strategies worked for them. I guess this makes me a Behaviorist and a Cognitivist. This semester, I realized that learning is very complex, involving attention, motivation, theoretical approaches, learning styles, and educational technologies, and an Instructional Designer must consider all of these factors.

My personal learning process contains elements of all of the learning theories we studied this semester. In addition to Behaviorism and Cognitivism, I am somewhat of a Connectivist.  My personal learning network supports the central concept of Connectivism that learning is “distributed within a network, social, and technologically enhanced” (Davis, Edmunds, & Kelly-Bateman, 2008). I identify with 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 restore a 1967 Ford Mustang. Like Bobby, I use Web 2.0 tools like blogs, RSS readers, and social networking applications to expand my personal learning network when I am learning something new. These technology tools facilitate learning best for me because they help me subscribe to, save, and organize information that interests me.

In addition to learning about my personal learning process, I was surprised to learn how much issues like attention span and motivation affect student learning. Ormrod, Schunk & Gredler state that “attention is a necessary prerequisite of learning” (56). As an Instructional Designer, understanding the role of attention in learning will help me design learning materials that engage students. Ormrod, Schunk & Gredler (2009) discuss tips for maintaining student attention, such as using a variety of presentations, learning materials, student activities, and teaching styles so that the classroom doesn’t become repetitive and predictable. I will try to use a variety of techniques to maintain student attention, such as discussions, interactive quizzes that give feedback, group projects, and more.  I will try and appeal to students’ interests and make learning meaningful to them, an important point emphasized by Ormrod, Schunk & Gredler (2009, p. 48, 58). I can make learning meaningful by understanding who the students are and what kinds of degrees they are seeking, and providing anecdotes, case studies, and hands-on learning activities that are tailored to the interests and goals of these students.

In addition to attention, it’s important for Instructional Designers to consider motivation. Motivation can be an issue in the online environment, where students may not feel a sense of community. Keller (1999) says that there are serious motivational challenges among distance learners:  “Students’ comments often focus on their feelings of isolation, lack of feeling of making steady progress, and great doubts about being able to finish the course given their other responsibilities and time constraints” (p. 43). Vygotsky’s theory includes the notion that learners construct motivational beliefs about their ability levels (Ormrod, Schunk, & Gredler, 2009, p. 221). To address motivation, I will use the ARCS motivational design technique as shown by Keller (1999) in Table 4.1 (p. 41). Completing these motivational design matrices will allow me to target specific aspects of a course with motivational strategies, including sending unexpected motivational messages, providing scaffolding in assignments such as “process modeling” and “question prompting,” and including technical support opportunities and modeling effective learning strategies (e.g., a “learn how to learn online” session) (Lim, 2004, p. 17-18). When considering motivation, I think it’s also important to consider principles of Constructivism and Adult learning theory, which stress the importance of social learning and group interaction. LMS tools such as Discussion groups and Web Conferencing tools can allow us to foster a unique sense of collaboration and community in the online environment.

The most striking concept I learned this semester is the idea of matching course content with the appropriate instructional approach. I have always tried to use a variety of instructional strategies and techniques so as to appeal to many types of learners. I am most familiar with the definition of learning styles presented by McCarthy (1981), as quoted by Gilbert & Swanier (2008), who contends that there are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. The concept that will have the biggest impact on me as an Instructional Designer is the idea that students’ learning styles may change depending on the course, content, or learning objective.  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). 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.

The Learning Theories matrix helped me understand 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. An Instructional Designer must also consider attention, motivation, learning styles, educational technologies, the students, and the learning environment. Overall, the Ertmer & Newby (1993) article was critical for my understanding of the different learning theories and as an Instructional Designer, I will practice their advice: “The critical question instructional designers must ask I not ‘Which is the best theory?’ but ‘Which theory is the most effective in fostering mastery of specific tasks by specific learners?” (p. 64).

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

Keller, J. M. (1999). Using the ARCS motivational process in computer-based instruction and distance education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning (78).

Lim, C. P. (2004). Engaging learners in online learning environments. TechTrends: Linking Research and Practice to Improve Learning, 48(4), 16–23.

Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2009). Learning theories and instruction (Laureate custom edition). New York: Pearson.