#PLENK2010 Reflection on learning theories and practice

I am interested in reading Heli’s post on Learning Theories: Recent discussion.
She made me smile, when sharing her background, as I also realised that I came from a different background – engineering,  education, and logistics, but found connected to her and Jenny too like an “everyday chat” in the blogosphere.

I learnt English whilst I was young, but still it wasn’t my mother language, so I would like to say to Heli: you are not alone in your expression of thoughts in a language other than your own 🙂  I reckon I just need to strive hard to share in English in my blog, or twitter/FB.  I think I understand how Heli feels, especially when it comes to the vocabulary for use in composing blog posts, and those critical literacies – syntax, pragmatics, semantics etc required when searching for information, and reflecting on experiences and observations.  Are those critical literacies also important in her mother tongue – Finnish?

About learning theories, I did find it interesting to explore the trends after my learning in a number of teacher training courses for decades.   I remembered my “old days” of teaching where as a teacher, I had to prepare a lesson plan for every lesson, and had to respond to every surprise visit by the inspector in charge during my In Service Course of Technical Teachers’ Training.  The one that I found most interesting at the time was cognitivism, where teachers were expected to develop teaching strategies throughout the curriculum and lesson planning.  So, an understanding of the learning theories was required in the teacher training and examination, but I reckon that it was the application of them in our daily teaching and learning that made the difference.  Moreover, it was the reflection of what worked and what didn’t that stimulated me to rethink about the significance of a particular learning theory in practice.  The students were also expected to learn both independently and collectively, through individual assignments, and group projects.  So students had to learn their critical thinking skills through individual thinking and reflection, and collaborative inquiry.

So is a learning theory useful for a particular learning context?  How would it help me and the learner in learning the content?  How about the process of learning involved?  These are the realities of teaching and learning even at this digital age.

It seems good to focus on one or two particular learning theories – like behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism or connectivism and see how they would make a difference to my teaching and learning.

Behaviorism could make a difference in teaching and learning when we use it wisely. Here are some of my learnings (adapted from ideas in various readings):

When you want to change people’s behavior, use warmth and kindness instead of push and pull, and openness and cooperation will be your reward, especially in teaching and learning online or networks.  Why? We respond more cooperatively when approached with a smile and a handshake, or an appreciation than when subjected to indifference, frowns and put downs, sarcasm, or destructive comments and criticisms.  If we as teachers or learners don’t treat others (teachers,  our learners or co-learners) with warmth and respect in the networks or online, they’ll go elsewhere, or just won’t be connected with us.  So inability to relate positively to teachers, other colleagues and learners could be a severe cultural handicap when teaching or learning online.  This may be a challenge for teachers and learners who may have been educated under the authoritarian school of thoughts, where discipline and disciplinary controls are strongly emphasized.

I think positive reinforcement would still be important in supporting adult learners in their learning journey,  as most adults would consider positive and constructive feedback a motivating factor for them to compose blog posts and reflect upon.  This also explains why many bloggers would like to receive comments from their readers or bloggers, as these comments could be perceived as good incentives for them to continue their blogging and learning with others.

Cognitivism could be used in various settings, including the classroom structured learning and informal online learning. Here individual, independent learning could be achieved through PLE/N based on reflective journals on blogs, and through the acquisition of metacognition skills, learners could achieve higher levels of deep learning through the practice and reflection process.

Constructivism seems to provide a useful framework when knowledge is co-constructed with others through the  mediation of technology or networks.  This may involve the use of tools of Web 2.0 or Learning Management Systems (LMS) in teaching and learning.  Here individuals would be encouraged and supported to share ideas and participate in the forums or blog visits and comments.  My recent experience with its use have been the Moodle forum discussion, where I could post resources in the Moodle, and allow students to be engaged in forum discussion.  There have been favorable responses from students on the use of Moodle as a teaching and learning resource and discussion platform.

The application of Social Constructivism and Situation Learning Theory (i.e. Community of Practice) provides exciting platforms for learning to happen in communities where learners could participate as legitimate peripheral learners or active core learners depending on their comfort levels, interests and capability.  I have participated in some COPs and found that there were both great rewards and challenges when involved in COP.

Great rewards include the sharing of common purpose, and development of capabilities together with other members of the community.  My learning and participation as a Committee Member of the Logistics Association of Australia further helped me in appreciating the importance of community work and how the practice as professional logisticians would make a difference to the community.  My involvement in CCK community and networks  (the course, FB, twitter etc.) also broadens my perspectives and learning extensively throughout the last two years.

Above photos: from Flickr

Great challenges in COPs however include the inactive participation of community members, and the lack of cohesion with the community.  This may likely be due to the divergent interests of community members, rendering it rather difficult to have any “consensus” views in the vision and mission for a community throughout the lifespan of the community.  Also, the autonomy of the community members may be “sacrificed” if the goals of community go against to that of some of the individual community members. The tensions amongst members of a community also arise when power relationships develop, leading to indecision and confusion in implementing actions within a community.

So, what is unique with Connectivism? Connectivism seems to work best when learning in a networked learning environment, where the goals of the teacher and learners may be to navigate, co-construct and grow the learning networks so as to facilitate and support learning with the learners.  Here PLE/N provides the tools and media for learner, experts of diverse background to be connected to various information sources, and to filter the information which are relevant to the teachers, experts and learners.  My experience in blogging and forum discussion reinforces its use in tackling complex problems and projects, where cooperation and collaboration with others are important in the learning process.  It could also be used in play as illustrated here by Carmen.

I have already used the metaphors of elephant in sharing the differences amongst instructivism, constructivism and connectivism here.

At the end, it is the learner (me inclusive) who would provide us with the feedback of the values each theory and application could add to his/her learning.

So much for the meandering.


8 thoughts on “#PLENK2010 Reflection on learning theories and practice

  1. Hi John,
    One of the interesting things I’ve observed about the conversations surrounding connectivism and PLEs/PLNs is the degree to which they are seen as descriptive or prescriptive. (I see we are both reading http://www.scribd.com/doc/36842226/Complexity-Theory-amp-Philosophy-of-Education, and this is brought out as an issue with complexity theory and education, as well.) So, for example, I tend to agree with the view play as a inherently connective activity, and you have suggested above (I think) that PLEs/PLNs may be a way of achieving a state of play, or perhaps a way to create a playful environment. This seems to potentially broaden our view or understanding of these ideas. (Of course, I suppose dedicated gamers have always known this:-)) Thanks!

  2. Hi John

    Thanks for a great post. I like all but the behaviourist section as I feel that affective issues and the presence of people are important to all learning, not just behaviorism.

  3. Hi Rita,
    Thanks for your comments. I agree. All learning theories should address the affective domains associated with human learning (personal and social)- as we are all human.

  4. Hi Carmen,
    Yes, I think that PLEs/PLNs may be a way of achieving a state of play, or perhaps a way to create a playful environment. I also like trying different tools, including games to understand the interplay between human-tools-games and the social dimensions involved in collaborative and cooperative games.
    Renewed thanks.

  5. This is the comment left on Jenny’s post. I reposted it here for reference.
    Hi Jenny and Rita,
    It’s great to understand your perspectives.
    @Rita you mentioned that empirical research has shown that they actually do what they say they do.
    I am not sure if some of principles highlighted or used in the earlier theories are still applicable to the current “teaching and learning” practice at this digital era, though the findings were supportive of the “industrial era” sort of mass education, or “situational and contextualised” learning at the time of application.
    This is a great challenge even for connectivism as an emerging or developmental “learning theory” as we realise that every one learns differently, that learning is complex in the networks, and that what works with certain learners may not work well for others, due to various factors, as revealed in our previous research on CCK08.
    Besides, it also depends on how the theory of learning is applied under different circumstances, as Jenny mentioned, in order to achieve effective learning.
    I also hope the level of research at this course could help in rectifying this.


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  8. Nowadays, teachers have to play the roles as faciliators in students’ learning. Therefore, teachers have to apply humanism or constructivism in the teaching framework.

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