Posted tagged ‘connectivism’

Something all learning pro’s should do

10 April 2012

Learn a language.

I don’t mean a programming language (although the theory probably still holds). I mean a bone fide foreign language like French, German, Japanese or Mandarin.

By going outside of your comfort zone, you stimulate your brain into new realms. But more importantly, you experience once again what it’s like to be a novice learner.

Now YOU are the one on a steep learning curve.

It’s daunting. It’s awkward. And it’s humbling.

Teacher assisting mature student in class

As a teenager I developed a fascination for the German language. I think it stemmed from my love of history and my desire to understand what the enemy soldiers were saying in the movies.

Over the years I dabbled by doing a class, listening to tapes, buying an English-German dictionary and reading a few language books.

However it wasn’t until recently when I planned to revisit Germany that I made a conscious effort to give it another red hot go. I didn’t want to be one of those tourists who’s first words are inevitably: “Do you speak English?”

No, I wanted to understand – and be understood – auf Deutsch. At least enough to get by.

And I did all right. But in no uncertain terms I reminded myself of what works and what doesn’t in the learning process.

All those fundamental pedagogical principles that had faded into the background came flooding back with avengeance…

Instructivism and formal learning

When you’re a novice in a domain, the guidance of an expert is golden.

For example, the teacher at the front of a language classroom already knows the grammar, vocabulary, phrases, habits and customs that you need to know. He or she is in a prime position to provide you with a programmed sequence of knowledge.

In my opinion, there is no other way of getting up to speed so quickly.

Constructivism, connectivism and informal learning

While instructivism and formal learning are valuable, they comprise only one piece of the puzzle. Anything else you can access is invaluable – whether it be a copy of Der Spiegel, an episode of Inspector Rex, or a Twitter buddy in Berlin.

The motivated learner who extends the learning process beyond the formal curriculum is destined for mastery.

Skills development

You can learn about a language until the Friesian cows come home, but to acquire the skill you have to actually do it. From simply saying new words aloud, through role plays, to full-blown conversation cafes, the objective is to practise.

Make mistakes, improve your pronunciation, get the vocab front of mind.

OTJ, PBL and job aids

Developing a skill is a waste of time if you never apply it in the real world. At some stage you need to immerse yourself in the environment (in my case, Germany) and actively participate (eg order food, buy train tickets, ask for directions). In doing so, you continue to learn.

When you are in the moment, job aids – especially mobile job aids – become indispensable. I gave Google Translate a beating!

Use it or lose it

Repetition is key. I’m not referring to rote learning, but rather to the continual application of the knowledge.

When I was overseas, I must have looked up the same words six or seven times each; they weren’t very common.

On the other hand, other words were everywhere. I only needed to look those up once; they were naturally reinforced thereafter.

Now that I’m back in Oz, I know that I’ll lose much of my German unless I find ways to keep up the reading, writing, listening and conversing.

World in the hand

Of course, I realise I’m not telling you – a fellow learning professional – anything you don’t already know. But honestly, when was the last time you consciously used the concepts and principles I have just mentioned to inform your work?

During the daily grind it’s easy to slip into production mode and put your brain into hibernation. As a profession, we need to shock ourselves out of that state.

It’s time to put some skin back in the game, so why not learn a language?

Wer wagt, gewinnt!

Vive la evolution

15 February 2011

Last week, Laura Layton-James stumbled upon my post Online courses must die! and she left a wonderfully detailed comment.

I was so enamoured with what she wrote that I feel compelled to repeat it here…

An excellent post Ryan. When running courses on how to create engaging eLearning (concentrating on the self-study module) we concentrate on designing, as Cathy Moore puts it, experiences. To me it’s a total waste of time reposting the information that already exists somewhere on the intranet in a pdf. As you say, a waste of resources when L&D’s expertise as learning consultants (which is what we are) can be put to better use creating those skills based activities that will test application rather than regurgitate facts and figures.

Unfortunately, the blame (if we have to lay blame) lies with the increasing need to tick boxes. It seems that if we just point people in the right direction for the information we can’t be sure they’ve read it. So we think the solution is to type it all up again in shorter chunks and ask them a load of questions which only tests immediate recall.

Bored at the computer

If it’s eInformation / eReference that’s needed, that’s fine. We can make that more visually appealing and easier to read on screen. We can even make it more enjoyable to view in the form of videos or podcasts.

Where the real learning takes place is in the analysis of the material in relation to a specific work-based problem. A problem that the learner is likely to face in the workplace.

An example I use is the mandatory fire safety course. It tends to be boring when done in the classroom where facts upon facts about the fire triangle are poured into learners’ heads. If they’re listening carefully enough they might be able to answer some questions on the fire triangle and what constitutes fuel, heat and oxygen (I’m still not sure if I’ve got it right). Tell me, in a fire how many people will be standing there pondering on the fire triangle. Really what would do us more good is to either assess realistic risks, or evacuate safely in the event of a fire.

The fire drill

Encouraging more of a user-generated and peer-to-peer learning environment may not be to everyone’s taste so a VLE such as Moodle will give more control. But L&D’s real and untapped value will be in the nurturing of learners, working with SMEs to provide digestible chunks of information, designing bite-sized resources and providing study guides and recommended personal learning plans so learning becomes more individual and task based.

Definitely, why force individuals to go through the same mandatory content year after year when all they may need is a yearly, skills based assessment. If that assessment highlights skills gaps then a more flexible learning programme will make sure individuals learn only what they need not what they don’t.

It’s no longer about what we know but more about where to find the information and apply it to tasks.

I couldn’t agree more.

Thanks Laura!

Campus firestarter

3 August 2010

Campus firestarter: Connectivism is a theory.

*** UPDATE: Due to popular demand, this t-shirt is now available
in real life. Order it now from CafePress. ***

Online courses must die!

7 July 2010

A touch dramatic, isn’t it?

Now that I have your attention, please bear with me.

There’s method in my madness…

The myth of rapid authoring

The proliferation of so-called rapid authoring tools over the last few years has coincided with an explosion in the number of online courses developed in-house.

In the bad old days, technically challenged L&D professionals had to pay exorbitant fees to development houses to produce simple modules. These days, however, everyone seems to be creating their own online courses and distributing them via an LMS.

In tandem with this trend, though, has been the increasingly familiar cry of “It’s not interactive!”. Critics rail against boring page turners – and rightly so.

Bored at the computer

But you know what? Even when L&D professionals consciously integrate interactivity into their online courseware, I usually don’t think it’s all that engaging anyway. Increasing the number of clicks required to view the content does not make it more interactive. It just makes it annoying, especially for time-poor employees in the corporate sector.

Yes, I know you can embed real interactivity into courseware via games, branched simulations, virtual worlds etc, but hardly anyone does that. It requires time – which you don’t have because you’re too busy building the online course – or dollars – which defeats the purpose of developing it in-house!

So what’s the alternative?

Frankly, there’s nothing most online courses do that a PDF can’t. Think about it: PDFs display structured text and pretty pictures. Just like a typical online course, without the fancy software or specialist skills.

Businessman typing on keyboardAnyone (and I mean just about anyone) can create and update a PDF. Suddenly SMEs are back in the game…

Write up a Word doc and convert it? Easy.

Update the Word doc and re-convert it? Easy.

Now that’s what I call rapid.

The best of both worlds

If we dispense with online courses in favour of PDFs, how can we incorporate interactivity into the learning experience?

Enter the Informal Learning Environment (ILE).

Occupying a place on the continuum somewhere between a VLE and a PLE, an ILE is an informal learning environment that a facilitator manages on behalf of a group of learners.

Essentially, an ILE is a space (like a website or intranet site) that centralises relevant learning resources in a particular domain. The site may host some of those resources and point to others that exist elsewhere.

So your PDFs can go in there, but so too can your audio clips, videos, puzzles, games, quizzes and simulations. Don’t forget podcasts, RSS feeds, slideshows, infographics, animations, articles and real-life case studies. Not to mention blogs, wikis, discussion forums and social bookmarks.

Man working on computer

Unlike a VLE, an ILE is strictly informal. The learners can explore its resources at their own pace and at their own discretion. No forced navigation, no completion status. In this sense, the pedagogy is constructivist.

Unlike a PLE, an ILE is communal. It exists to support a community of practice, whose members can (or more accurately, should) incorporate it into their own respective PLEs. In this sense, the pedagogy is connectivist.

But that’s not to say that the pedagogy of an ILE can’t be instructivist either. The facilitator should provide a learning plan for novice learners which defines a sequence of study, identifying specific resources among the potentially overwhelming array of options.

The sky’s the limit

An ILE is a scalable and flexible learning environment. If we view each resource within that environment as a learning object, we can appreciate how easy it is to add new content, update old content, and remove obsolete content.

Marbles

It’s incredibly inefficient to use up the precious time of an L&D professional to build, publish, test and upload an online course, only to edit, re-publish, re-test and re-upload it later, just because a few words need to be changed and a graph replaced. Instead, the SME can create and update the object via Word.

If you are keen on creating interactive tutorials, games or virtual worlds, now you can go for it! You have more time, and new tools are coming out that are making these kinds of thing easier to do. The finished product can be added to the ILE as another learning object. Again, if it needs to be updated later, there’s no need to edit, re-publish, re-test and re-upload a whole course – just that object.

If you commission an external developer to build a smokin’ hot immersive scenario, guess what: you add it to the ILE as another learning object. When it needs to be updated, you pay the developer to work on that object and that object only.

In this age of iPhones and Flip cameras, why not encourage your learners to generate their own content too? It’s another rich source of objects to add to the mix.

All these examples illustrate my central premise: when content is managed in the form of independent learning objects, it remains open and flexible, which means you can keep it current, relevant and organic.

Rockin’ role

Under the ILE model, the role of the L&D professional finally evolves.

Happy professionalThe SME is empowered to produce content, which frees you up to apply your own expertise: instructional design. This may involve a greater focus on engagement and interactivity.

The responsibility of learning is assigned back to the learners, which frees you up to guide, scaffold, encourage, discuss, prompt, probe, challenge and clarify. In other words, facilitate learning.

Your value in the organisation goes through the roof!

Take the ass out of assessment

I claimed earlier that there’s nothing most online courses do that a PDF can’t. I glaringly omitted assessment. Please note I left it out on purpose.

There are just some things that the company must know that you know. You get no argument from me on that.

However, how we assess that knowledge is bizarrely old fashioned.

Ass

While it’s convenient to wrap up some content and a quiz into a single package, I just don’t see the point from an instructional design perspective. Forcing someone to register into a course, just to pass a dinky quiz at the end, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

It is widely acknowledged that the vast majority of learning in the workplace is informal. From exploring an ILE to chatting around the water cooler, there is a myriad of ways that people learn stuff. Assessment should represent the sum of that learning.

This is where the LMS comes in. In my view it should manage assessment, not content. More specifically, it should deliver, track and record standalone tests that are linked to particular competencies.

When the LMS is used in this way, the L&D model aligns more closely with the learning process. The employees learn informally all over the place, using an ILE as their central support resource, then (if necessary) they record their competence. The focus of measurement shifts from activity to outcome.

This unorthodox approach makes many people nervous. Their primary concern is that someone can jump straight onto the test and pass it immediately, without ever “doing the course”. In response, I make these three points:

  1. You can jump straight to the assessment in most online courses anyway.

  2. If someone bluffs their way through the assessment and passes, clearly it wasn’t robust enough. That’s your fault.

  3. Conversely, if someone passes the assessment because they already have the knowledge, what’s the problem? You are recording competence, not making people’s lives difficult.

Of course, this kind of nervousness isn’t confined to the corporate sector nor to e-learning. For example, many universities have a minimum 80% attendance policy for face-to-face lectures. I don’t see the point of turning up just to fall asleep with my eyes open, but that’s another story!

The method in my madness

Online courses must die because they are unsustainable in the modern workplace. They aren’t rapid, flexible or scalable, and they usually don’t take full advantage of their medium anyway.

So unlock your content and manage it in the form of individual learning objects in an ILE.

Shift the bulk of the content to PDF. In the age of e-readers, no one will notice much difference.

By all means invest in authoring tools, but only in ones that will help you create interactive and engaging objects – easily.

Exploit Web 2.0.

Use standalone tests to record competence on your LMS. They cover all sources of knowledge.

Informalise learning. Formalise assessment.

My award-winning IQ

10 June 2010

Ryan collects awardToday I had the honour of collecting a Best Blended Learning Solution Award (Gold Level) at the 2010 LearnX Asia Pacific Conference.

The blended learning solution in question is “IQ”, an intranet-based portal that I developed for my colleagues at my workplace.

My driver for creating this portal was the realisation that, in a big corporation like the one I work for, knowledge is distributed everywhere – on random intranet pages, in obscure folders, in people’s heads – which makes it really hard to find.

As an L&D professional, my concern was: if someone wants to learn something, where do they start?

The answer is IQ

Essentially, IQ is a site that centralises learning resources for staff. It doesn’t host content itself, but rather points you in the right direction.

Businessman typing on keyboardFor example, if you want to attend an advanced negotiation skills workshop, you can look up the sessions delivered by our preferred training providers.

If you want to read about leadership, you can refer to our book list or search our e‑book catalogue.

If you want to do a self-paced course on Java programming, you can jump onto our e-learning platform.

In this way, IQ covers the full range of delivery modes that are available to our staff, from face-to-face classes and online courses, to books, e‑books, podcasts, blogs, wikis and other social media. I’m also keen to add information about our mentoring and coaching programs.

It’s our first port of call for learning.

So what?

Reading this, you might be scratching your head and asking yourself what all the fuss is about.

I’m the first one to put up my hand and say, as a blended learning solution, IQ is really simple. It doesn’t involve any new whizz-bang technology. After all, it’s an intranet site.

But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that it’s also an important step in the evolution of the learning model at my workplace.

5 Stages of Workscape EvolutionIt shifts an instructivist pedagogy towards a more constructivist and connectivist one.

It transforms a formal learning environment into a more informal one.

It returns the power (and responsibility) of learning back to the learner.

That’s why I’m so pleased to claim this award. It’s not just a pretty trophy to sit on my desk; it’s the validation of my instructional design by my peers in the industry.

Theory-informed instructional design tips

9 February 2010

In my previous article, I proposed a Taxonomy of Learning Theories to organise a few of the myriad of theories into some semblance of order, and to assist instructional designers in using theory to inform their work.

In this article, I go one step further by listing specific, practical instructional design tips that are informed by those theories.

But beware… You will find empirical evidence reported in the academic literature that supports these tips, and no doubt you can find just as much evidence that refutes them. I don’t purport them to be Gospel, and I certainly consider them highly dependent on context.

Having said that, however, I do vouch for my tips in terms of my own experience in the workplace, where I’ve applied them in various combinations to real-world cases.

I hope you find my list useful too – not so much as a checklist to incorporate every theory into your work – but rather to ensure that you have at least considered what they have to offer.

If you have your own theory-informed design tips, I’d love you to share them with me!

Behaviourist design

Sad dog, courtesy of lampelina, stock.xchng.Behaviourist learning theories inform us that stimuli elicit responses, and that one stimulus can be associated with another.

This perspective adopts a “black box” approach to instructional design:

  • Link paired concepts. For example, rolling the mouse over Italy on a map can display “Rome”, while rolling the mouse over Spain can display “Madrid”. Strengthen the association with a short burst of Italian and Spanish music respectively.

  • Incorporate matching pairs into an interactive game that facilitates repetition.

  • Use consistent navigation, symbols and visual design.

  • Provide plenty of questions for practice.

  • Reward correct responses to questions with a visual/verbal reward (eg a big green tick and the message “Well done!”) and perhaps a brief sound (eg a pleasant bing).

  • Flag incorrect responses to questions with a visual/verbal message (eg a small red x and the modest message “Oops, that’s not right”) and perhaps a brief sound (eg a buzz).

  • Avoid exposing the correct answer upon an incorrect response. Instead, allow the learner to re-try (unless of course the assessment is summative).

  • Remember that rote learning is no substitute for deep understanding.

Cognitivist design

Network neurons 1, courtesy of gerard79, stock.xchng.Cognitivist learning theories inform us that hierarchically (or otherwise logically) arranged content aligns with the existing network of knowledge in the learner’s mind.

This perspective demands a structured approach to instructional design:

  • Structure your content logically.

  • Start with the learning outcome and work backwards to connect it to prior knowledge. Fill in the gap. If the gap is extensive, consider multiple smaller courses rather than one big one.

  • Use advance organizers to put the upcoming content into context and to pre-organise it. In other words, assist the learner to link the new knowledge to the relevant point in their existing cognitive structure, and to construct high-level cognitive branches within which to fill the detail.

  • Organise your content in increasing order of complexity. Provide an epitome of the domain initially, then elaborate.

  • Apply a minimalist design to reduce extraneous cognitive load.

  • Use plenty of white space.

  • Bold key terms.

  • Modularise some of the text (enclose it in a box) to make it easier to digest.

  • Wrap multiple paragraphs into a single interactive show/hide object.

  • Migrate extensive text into a downloadable document or onto a wiki.

  • Use an infographic to arrange key concepts in a framework.

  • Place the text in the infographic as close as possible to the corresponding point in the picture. Consider an audio overlay.

  • Avoid bright decorations and looped animations that compete with the substantive content for the learner’s attention.

  • Allow the learner to control multimedia and to press “Play” when they’re good and ready, to avoid inducing mild panic.

  • Use consistent navigation, symbols and visual design (as per behaviourism, but according to a different rationale).

  • Include activities that require sequencing and categorisation.

  • Employ real-world examples and scenarios.

  • Summarise the key concepts.

  • Include a formative assessment to enable the learner to test their knowledge, and to modify it or fill in gaps if necessary.

  • Ask higher order questions to confirm deep understanding.

  • Provide rich feedback.

  • Allow time for reflection.

  • Employ a mostly instructivist approach for novices. Reserve problem-based learning (PBL) for experts.

Constructivist design

Digger, courtesy of mzacha, stock.xchng.Constructivist learning theories inform us that the prior knowledge of each learner is different, and thus they have unique needs, goals and contexts.

This perspective demands a learner-centred approach to instructional design:

  • Explain up-front why the learner should bother. What specific problem will it solve?

  • Allow the learner to co-create the learning objectives.

  • Cut to the chase. Content should be relevant, meaningful and practical. Supportive (but unnecessary) content should be made available elsewhere.

  • Avoid forced navigation: instead, allow the learner to explore the content at their discretion. A default linear navigation, however, will assist novices.

  • Ensure the navigation menu is always accessible from anywhere in the course.

  • Would a wiki be a more effective (self-directed) mode of delivery?

  • Avoid using an end-point in the bulk of the course to mark completion: instead, use a summative assessment.

  • If your assessment is robust enough, those who understand the content will pass, while those who don’t will fail.

  • Ask a colleague to bluff their way through your assessment. If they pass, it’s obviously too weak.

  • Ensure the assessment is authentic.

  • Where possible, enable the learner to undertake the learning at their place of practice.

  • Use real photos rather than cartoons or illustrations.

  • Encourage discovery learning.

  • Provide your learners with a forum to ask questions and to learn from one another. The forum may be synchronous or asynchronous, or both.

  • Encourage continual communication among the learners and their colleagues in the wider workplace. Consider a regular “community of practice” meeting if the conversation does not naturally emerge.

Connectivist design

Connectivism, based on white character 1 by svilen001, stock.xchng.Connectivist learning theory informs us that the learner can’t possibly take in all knowledge, and it changes too quickly anyway.

This perspective demands a realistic approach to instructional design that doesn’t rely on memory:

  • Supplement your content with further learning resources, not only to assist the learner to broaden and deepen their knowledge, but also to keep it up to date.

  • Avoid merely listing hyperlinks: instead, provide explanations to help the learner recognise meaningful patterns among them.

  • Create a social bookmarking account.

  • Encourage social networking (both online and face-to-face).

  • Develop an ILE to centralise all the resources.

  • Encourage the learner to integrate the ILE into a broader PLE.

Do you have any instructional design tips to share?

Taxonomy of Learning Theories

12 January 2010

Academia is teeming with learning theories.

Some of them are old, some of them are new. Some are flash-in-the-pan, others stand the test of time and remain applicable to this very day. Some of them are controversial, while others have assumed the aura of conventional wisdom. Some of them are simple, while others are incomprehensible to mere mortals.

It can be quite a challenge for the modern learning professional to identify an appropriate learning theory, draw practical ideas from it, and apply it to their daily work.

Post it!

Where do you start?

Which theory do you choose?

What is its central premise?

How does it relate to other theories?

Taxonomy

To clear some of the obfuscation that surrounds learning theory, I have developed the following Taxonomy of Learning Theories.

Tracey's Taxonomy of Learning Theories

This taxonomy identifies key theories that apply to workplace learning, categorises them according to common properties, and illustrates the relationships among them.

I hope that this taxonomy, along with the corresponding notes below, will assist you in using learning theory to inform your instructional design decisions.

Close up of The ThinkerOverarching themes

Almost all learning theory is derived from one or more of the following psychological schools of thought:

• Behaviourism
• Cognitivism
• Constructivism
• Connectivism

These four psychologies form the overarching themes of my taxonomy.

Behaviourism 

Behaviourism is essentially the study of overt behaviour. Behaviourist learning theories focus on external responses elicited by stimuli. 

For example, classical conditioning maintains that a neutral stimulus can be associated with another stimulus that elicits a particular response. This concept was demonstrated in the early 1900s by Ivan Pavlov, who reported that after a period of conditioning, a dog will associate the sound of a beating metronome (neutral stimulus) with food, and respond to it in the same manner (salivate). 

Stivers 2-10-03 Pavlov's dogs

Operant conditioning maintains that behaviour is controlled by its consequences: behaviours that are rewarded are likely to be repeated, while behaviours that are punished are unlikely to be repeated. This concept was demonstrated by Edward Thorndike, who placed a cat in a “puzzle box”. The cat discovered that by pulling a ring, a side door fell open which allowed it to escape. So when Thorndike put the cat back in the box, it pulled the ring again. 

Social Learning Theory is another theory that has its roots in behaviourism. I somewhat amateurishly consider it operant conditioning by proxy, whereby the learner (especially a child) observes the rewarded actions of someone else, and thus behaves similarly. It’s important to note that Social Learning Theory now extends beyond the behaviourist domain to encompass cognition, particularly through the work of Julian Rotter and Albert Bandura. 

Cognitivism 

Since behaviourism focuses on external behaviour, it considers the mind a black box. In contrast, cognitivism peers inside the box to explain the inner structures and processes of learning.

Brain 001

Models of memory 

Numerous cognitivist learning theories derive from the Modal Model of Memory developed by Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin since 1968. They proposed that human memory comprises three components: (1) Sensory memory, which perceives the information that is collected by our senses, such as visual information (eg a drawing) and auditory information (eg a bell toll); (2) Short-term memory, which processes the information that has been supplied by the sensory memory; and (3) Long-term memory, our more-or-less permanent knowledge storage area.

The original Atkinson-Shiffrin memory model

Atkinson & Shiffrin’s concept of short-term memory was superseded in 1974 by Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch’s concept of working memory, which comprises the central executive and three slave systems: (1) The phonological loop, which processes verbal information; (2) The visuospatial sketchpad, which processes visual imagery and spatial information; and (3) an integrative component called the episodic buffer.

Schematic of Baddeley's Model

In 1956, George Miller reported that the “span of immediate memory” is limited to the magical number 7±2 items. From this, he deduced that the amount of information that could be processed at any one time could be increased by “chunking” it.

In the 1970s, John Anderson started to develop ACT-R, which maintains that long-term memory comprises declarative memory which is explicitly stored and retrieved (eg crashing your bike into a tree on your birthday when you were a child) and procedural memory which is unconsciously stored and retrieved (eg the motor skills required for riding a bike generally).

Schema theories 

Models of memory provide the foundation for subsequent cognitivist theories that (arguably) have more direct implications for instructional design. 

In 1977, Richard Anderson extended the work of earlier theorists such as Frederic Bartlett and Jean Piaget. His Schema Theory of Learning maintains that within long-term memory (or more specifically, declarative memory), knowledge is arranged in a hierarchical network of constructs called “schemas”. 

Network neurons 2

Similarly, David Ausubel’s Subsumption Theory proposes that learning involves the linking of new information to relevant points in the learner’s existing cognitive structure. During the learning process, new information is subsumed under more general information in the hierarchical arrangement of the learner’s prior knowledge. 

Charles Reigeluth’s Elaboration Theory complements Ausubel’s principle of ideational scaffolding. Reigeluth maintains that instruction should be organised in increasing order of complexity. In particular, the simplest (or epitomised) version of the domain should be provided initially, and elaborated upon subsequently. This approach develops a broad, meaningful context into which the learner can assimilate the narrow, detailed information. 

Cognitive load 

In 1988, John Sweller synthesised key principles of memory and schema under a new proposal called Cognitive Load Theory

Cognitive Load Theory maintains that the mental effort required for learning imposes a cognitive load on working memory. The total cognitive load consists of three components: (1) Intrinsic cognitive load, which is imposed by the intrinsic characteristics of the content that is to be learned; (2) Germane cognitive load, which refers to the mental effort required to organise the elements of the content into a schema, integrate it into long-term memory, and automate its processing; and (3) Extraneous cognitive load, which does not contribute to the learning process (eg the mental effort required to block out loud music). 

Studying for a Test 1

If the total cognitive load of the learning task exceeds the processing capacity of working memory, learning fails. This suggests that instruction should be designed with a view to reduce cognitive load and thereby avoid overload. 

Constructivism 

DiggerConstructivism has a rich history. Numerous theorists have contributed to its development over the last century (eg Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, Jerome Bruner, Ernst von Glaserfeld), and several brands are recognised in the domain (eg cognitive constructivism, social constructivism, radical constructivism). 

Regardless of the theorist or the brand, however, constructivism essentially maintains that people learn by constructing their own knowledge on the basis of their experiences. Constructivist learning theories recognise that everyone’s framework of prior knowledge is unique, thus they have their own needs, goals and contexts. 

Adaptation 

Baby with booksIn his study of child development, Jean Piaget posited that every learner has a mental representation of the world which he or she constructs through their experiences.

When a person experiences cognitive conflict (a discrepancy between their mental representation and what they are currently experiencing), they undergo a process of adaptation. If the new experience aligns with their mental representation, the learner assimilates it in the form of new knowledge into their existing schema. If, however, the new experience does not align with their mental representation, the learner must rearrange their existing schema to accommodate the new knowledge.

Clearly, adaptation is complementary to Schema Theory; however, the constructivist perspective emphasises the learner centredness of the activity. 

Situated Learning Theory 

A valuable means by which a learner can close the gaps in their existing schema, and broaden and deepen their knowledge, is to engage with other people, ask questions, debate ideas, and share experiences. 

BlacksmithSituated Learning Theory focuses on this social, practice-based approach to learning. The theory views learning in terms of participation in a community of practice, and considers knowledge to be highly dependent on its context. 

Andragogy

Andragogy focuses on adult learning, and it adopts a strong constructivist perspective.

Business manIt boils down to 5 assumptions about adult learners as articulated by Malcolm Knowles: (1) Adult learners are self directed; (2) Adults bring experience with them to the learning environment; (3) Adults are ready to learn to perform their role in society; (4) Adults are problem oriented, and they seek immediate application of their new knowledge; and (5) Adults are motivated to learn by internal factors.

I have stated previously that I believe Knowles’ 5 assumptions generally hold true – but not for all adults, and certainly not all of the time. An andragogical approach is appropriate for adults who are intellectually mature, self directed and intrinsically motivated, with time to learn and their heads in the right space.

Connectivism 

While cognitivism focuses on knowledge inside the mind, connectivism focuses on knowledge outside the mind. 

ConnectivismGeorge Siemens describes connectivism as “a learning theory for the digital age”. He maintains that in today’s world, there’s simply too much knowledge to take in – and it changes too quickly anyway.

So forget about trying to know everything; instead, exploit technology to extend your knowledge beyond your own brain. Build a network of knowledge sources which you can access as the need arises. 

Recognising meaningful patterns among distributed sets of information, rather than storing it all in your head, re-defines what it means to “learn”.


E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 1Referencing Note

If you would like to reference this article, you
may prefer to cite my book in which it appears:

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 1


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