Exploring Learning Theories (Part 1 of a 5 part series)

In my more jaded and skeptical years, I saw discussions of learning theories in the same light as the early theological discussions concerning the number of angels that could dance on the head of a pin. It was often hard to see the relevance to actual teaching and learning.

Having been sufficiently socialized, however, I now feel a good theory provides insight into the learning process, and it provides a useful working metaphor. As Moore & Kearsley (1996) point out in Distance Education: A Systems View:

“A theory is a representation of everything that we know about something. Theory gives us a common framework, a common perspective, and a common vocabulary that help us ask questions in a sensible way and make sense of problems.”

So what changed my mind?

The realization that designers, trainers, and teachers all need a framework — a belief system — to explain why things work, and why they don’t work. We need an approach to focus and expand our vision. Plus, in the last ten years, there have been some substantial changes in our understanding of how people learn, and therefore, how we need to teach.

One danger, of course, is that our thought process can get locked on a particular model, stunting growth and retarding discovery. For any number of reasons, we may clutch onto a belief with a fervor, because it fits with the way we have always seen things, despite the fact that the world has changed.

In this issue I would like you to join me in looking at a few of these beliefs. To assist in this process we will take a couple of field trips on the Web to look at some resources and other theories. As with most everything in this series, the Web sites play two roles. First, they are interesting resources. Two, they offer examples of Web-based teaching, with you as the learner. Do they work?

Some things to think about…

  • Driscoll (2002) lists four indications of when Web-Based Education is appropriate:
  • There is a measurable gap in learner’s skills and knowledge.
  • There is a need for cognitive skills.
  • Learners have adequate computer skills.
  • The organization has the capacity to adequately deliver materials.
  • Reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of your idea for an online course using each of these. Which are you most concerned about?
  • Drawing from your own experiences, how would you define distance learning?
  • Given the continuum of approaches to learning, do you feel distance learning is a unique system? Why or why not?
  • Describe why the reflective process and self-reflection are an important ingredient in learning according to Mezirow.

A Few Surfing Trips…

  • Engines for Education does not link to other sites. Follow one of its threads for 10-15 screens. What did you like and/or dislike about this approach to constructivist learning.
  • The Theory Into Practice Database (TIP) was assembled by Greg Kearsley. Pick 5 learning theories to read. Reflect on why you picked them, and what you think about them.
  • Meeting of the Minds – this role play WebQuest assists students in understanding learning theories and models. Are role plays appropriate
    for presenting this type of material?
  • Please let me know if you found this article to be of assistance or would like to discuss any of your findings.

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