The End and a New Beginning

It’s hard to believe the semester is almost over.  Our assignment this week is to reflect on what we have learned about The Adult as a Learner.  I can honestly say that I learned a lot, and that learning has been on a deeper level than I had originally expected.

I find myself looking at training events differently.  I now see how theories I didn’t think held true for adult learners have a place in adult learning environments.  For example, I have long known that behavorism has its place with children and certainly animals, but I didn’t realize that when you want learning to become so ingrained that its response is automatic, a behaviorist approach is applicable to adult learning.

The same is true for the other learning theories addressed in this course.  I still align closest to cognitivism, but I can see how other approaches, especially constructivism, are beneficial. My strong alignment with cognitivism is largely due to its premise that learners are capable of processing information and use prior knowledge to enhance current understanding and bridge gaps.  While I find constructivist beliefs applicable in certain situations, it is best applied to knowledge that the learner has the luxury of choosing to learn, which is not always the case in on-the-job and other training environments.

I am still not “sold” on experiential learning and connectivism, but am now more open to learning more about them. My concern about experiental learning is the level of self-discovery involved.  I suspect learners benefit from a little more direction such as rubrics that allow students to understand what is required of their work.  Regarding connectivism, I certainly see the benefits of technology and digital media, but am concerned about the quality of information available, as well as the learner’s ability to discern what is important and correct. I also suspect that the rapid speed at which learners can collect vast amounts of information may have a negative impact on retention.

I also learned a lot about motivation in this course.  I believe motivation is key to successful, long-term learning.  I would read the assigned readings and think, “Yes! This is the key!”  I now intend to apply theories by Keller, Wlodkowski, and other motivation theorists to learning I create.

The most important thing I have learned in this course is to continue learning myself.  I can see how applying select components of each theory can be beneficial, especially when working with different types of learners.  Therefore, I will apply my pursuit of lifelong learning to the learning theories presented in this course.  By continuing to learn more about and apply learning theories, I will increase my knowledge so I am able to reach the highest levels Instructional Design of which I am capable.

Connectivism

As the semester wraps up, we are now on to connectivism in one of my Instructional Design courses.  This is the first time I have chosen to incorporate a “featured image” in one of my posts, but when I saw this, it just made sense to me.  This image implies movement.  To me, it also implies speed – moving so fast you don’t really see much, which reminds somewhat of technology today.

Connectivism is a lot like the lights captured in this image.  In connectivism, the learner connects ideas to emotions and through the use of digital media.  Learners can learn more and more quickly – almost bypassing the “means” in the means to an end scenario – by plugging into and filtering through existing media.

While I understand this very basic premise of connectivism, I wonder what is lost.  Other learning theories, which are much more deeply rooted in research, claim that some high-level learning occurs when the mind is able to process and think about what it is learning – something that is very true in my personal experience.

So what happens when learners skip that “means?” My suspicion? The learning never makes it to long-term memory.  So while the learner spent less time learning and perhaps had access to greater amounts of resources, that learning is superficial and temporary – not so “connected” after all.

Communities of Practice

I love the idea of Communities of Practice (CoP) for many reasons.  A quality discussion can lead a person to a “light bulb” moment. A mentor can offer advice.  A peer can ignite creativity.  The possibilities are endless.

My team at work has an informal CoP – if someone gets stuck on a problem, we turn to each other for ideas.  Sometimes we seek to increase creativity; sometimes we simply want to improve the quality of our work.  We often do this informally but at other times, it’s a bit more organized.

For several months, one of my very creative co-workers – someone who is always striving to improve his work and stay on top of trends – had a designated time during team meetings where he presented the latest trends in eLearning to the rest of us.  He would show us new ideas, and then we would discuss how we could incorporate the ideas into our own work.  The sessions were informal and fun and also similar to an in-person CoP.

Just like adult learning, CoPs can come in all shapes and forms.  They can be in-person or online.  They can be facilitated or collaborative.  They can be formal or in-formal. They can also be on just about any topic imaginable.  There is, however, a common goal for CoPs:  They are an information forum where adults come together to learn, talk, and network. And the possibilities are endless.

Constructivism and Learning

When I first started reading about learning theories, I was so excited to learn about constructivism.  Constructivism’s learner-centric approach to relevant, collaborative, authentic learning was completely in-line with my beliefs.  However, as I delved further into the topic, I came to believe that while the theory has its merits, it also has its limitations.

Constructivism and its focus on learners are best applied to knowledge that the learner has the luxury of choosing to learn.  In other words, I can utilize a constructivist approach to grad school because I chose to study instructional design. However, even undergraduates only have so much control over what they chose to learn–they can select a major but each major has core requirements, some of which may not hold a learner’s interest.

Constructivism may best be used in higher educational settings, where in-depth knowledge is the focus, not in on-the-job training situations where there is limited time to teach and learn key concepts and tasks.

One concept from this week’s reading that really hit home was the idea that constructivism is more of a philosophy or a theory of knowledge than an instructional design or teaching theory. And yet, despite its limitations, I will work to apply some constructivist approaches to learning I create.

Cognitivism and My Beliefs

I am definitely a proponent of cognitivism.  I fully agree that learners are capable of processing information, using prior knowledge to enhance current understanding, and bridge gaps in information.  I guess what I find most surprising is that cognitivism grew out of behaviorism.  While I completely understand the how, I am surprised that behaviorism was the prominent theory for humans at all.  So I suppose it should not be surprising then, that cognitivism arose from something I believe is more focused on humans’–and others’–more base natures.

Cognitivism’s belief that learning is within the learner and that the brain actively organizes information and that prior knowledge is an important component of learning is completely in line with my own beliefs.  I remember visiting a number of schools when my daughter was applying to private primary schools.  One of my most important considerations was finding a school that taught her how to learn, but not what to learn.  Little did I know then that the beliefs I was adhering to were cognitivist.  I just knew that’s what I wanted for my daughter.

Behaviorism and Adults

This week’s topic in one of my classes is behaviorism.  I always think of behaviorism as something that works best with children-reinforcing positive behavior, allowing natural consequences to take care of most negative behavior.

When we were asked to apply behaviorist approaches to our work in the “real world,” I was stumped.  I work in technology training, and I always thought that that meant a cognitive or constructionist approach. I stated as much but then my professor reminded me that behaviorism applies to learning that needs to become automatic in the learner.

This really got me thinking, but I confess that I don’t know that it’s all that simple.  Yes, you want the learners to complete certain tasks almost automatically-no thinking required.  But what about all the situations where the learners needs to make decisions or problem-solve?

In manufacturing, our learners apply those skills daily.  Many of those decisions can have significant impacts on expensive equipment or employee safety or in correcting costly errors.  So, I still don’t think it’s behaviorism all the way.  Perhaps it really is a combined approach.

Oh, The Places (I’ll) Go!

Recently I have been thinking about what I want to do with my M.Ed in Instructional Design.  Obviously, I want to work in the field, but what else? There are so many opportunities!

With my communications, writing, and editing background, perhaps I will expand this blog and submit articles to ID journals.  But I also enjoy people.  Maybe I will end up teaching at seminars or a university.  Also, I could become a mentor to someone just starting out in the field.  I have diverse interests, so perhaps I will do contract work that allows me to work on a variety of projects.  Or, I may possibly end up a Subject Matter Expert in the ID field itself.

While I do know I will do something with my graduate degree, I am just starting to consider the possibilities.  Who knows the places I’ll go, but wherever that ends up being, like the title of this blog, it is sure to be an adventure!