Contributing to Cloud Dust
Thoughts about learning and teaching
Thoughts about learning and teaching
“Twitter officially expands its character count to 280 starting today” Techcrunch
“Twitter is rolling out 280-character tweets around the world” The Verge
“Twitter’s 280-character limit comes to the masses” Engadget
“Twitter introduces 280 characters to all users” The Independent
Although not one of those who “howled” in protest, I was saddened that Twitter executives expanded the service to allow 280 character tweets.
As a long-time tweeter (or “twit-r” as a friend suggested), I tested Twitter in 2009 because it was part of my role as a Distributed Learning educator – how could I help teachers teach with and through technologies, if I didn’t test out the possibilities of an increasingly popular social media tool?
I figuratively “held my nose” and posted my 1st tweet with tongue-in-cheek and behind-the-screen eye-rolling. My savvy edtech friends laughed when I made the mistake of selecting “Northerntweeter” as a handle; I hadn’t realized that that would use up their character limits if they tried to direct tweet me.
I learned to think of Twitter as a place to “skim the waves” and to choose moments to step into the flood and just wait and watch what tumbled past me in the flood. I quickly discovered that my tweets were retweeted more often when I took some time to craft my message (not just meet the 140 limit).
Restrictions can push innovation; artists and architects know how to take the time to explore what can be done within the limits of certain spaces or tools to create unique perspectives or enrichments. Twitter’s 140 character limit has resulted in some amazingly powerful tweets, memes, haiku-like social commentary, and some hilarious misunderstandings.
I’m trying hard to keep an open mind but my sadness was not assuaged by articles that suggest that allowing people to play emojii games is a new value-added result.
As we’re about to launch another Facilitating Learning Online-Design workshop, I’ve been spending time preparing the course site and reflecting on online learning design. I read an interesting article the other day that got me thinking again about the importance of leaving room for learners to “make meaning”. Leaving openings or “white space” presents the viewer/learner/user with an opportunity to interpret, understand, and expand what you share.
The article by Judith Dutill and Melissa Wehler, Pause, Play, Repeat: Using Pause Procedure in Online Microlectures was focused on how to introduce space for students to engage in the ideas presented in learning videos (you can explore more about microlecture videos at their site: The Online Lecture Toolkit) While I didn’t find the flowchart very useful, I appreciated the emphasis on interrupting the often-unending stream of information that is presented in online teaching videos. The interactive activities they suggest could be helpful in many contexts – not just for keeping viewers awake and engaged.
The information in the article that made me pause and reflect was the examples they shared:
Drawn from excellent book by Major et al (2015) , the “pause” activities are both individual and interactive and they provide suggestions for integrating them in further activities in an online course (e.g., in discussion forums). They made me think about what I’ve been reading about some of the neuroscience and research on how people learn.
I have also been reviewing my notes from a 2016 MOOC called Learning How to Learn, co-facilitated by Dr. Terence Sejnowski and Dr. Barbara Oakley. Some of the research they presented supports the need for “pausing” during learning – not just to reflect but also to, recall, practice, critically analyze and apply new ideas or concepts. Research on neural plasticity and the formation and erosion of synaptic connections in the brain indicate that synapses form and get stronger from repeated use. So, we know that practice helps us retain new knowledge. Practice takes time and space.
Scientists have also been publishing research about the way we use the spaces we have to practice or reflect on new or complex ideas. Studying by cramming information to “ace” an examine doesn’t lead to retention of learning; new understanding can be lost unless it is linked to existing knowledge that an individual has and recalled and applied in different situations over varying intervals. Students are now encouraged to practice “spaced practice” or “spaced repetition” (Kang, 2016) for better learning.
During the upcoming workshop, we’ll be watching how our spaces are used by a new group of learners. And hopefully finding ways to improve the frequency, spacing and value of the learning spaces we provide.
Dutill, J. & M. Wehler (2017.10.23) Pause-Play-Repeat: Using Pause Procedure in Online Microlectures, Faculty Focus, Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/pause-play-repeat-using-pause-procedure-online-microlectures/
Kang, S.H.K. (2016) Spaced Repetition Promotes Efficient and Effective Learning: Policy Implications for Instruction, Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences 2016, Vol.3(1), 12-19, Retrieved from https://www.dartmouth.edu/~cogedlab/pubs/Kang(2016,PIBBS).pdf
Major, C., Harris, M. S., & Zakrajsek, T. (2015). Teaching for learning: 101 intentionally designed educational activities to put students on the path to success. Taylor and Francis, Inc.
I’ve been a proponent of universal design principles since I worked for a national disability research centre many years ago. As I’ve taught and written about the design of learning, I’ve tried to keep a ‘UDL lens’ in place – not always successfully. I ruefully admit that my intentions were often overwhelmed by circumstances, resulting in fewer options for learners to engage or share their learning than I would have liked to offer. I keep trying – while exploring new technologies to aid me and reading and discussing different approaches with other educators whenever I can!
Over the last few years I’ve noticed periodic resurgences of interest and discussion around the three principles of UDL and the growing emphasis on “personalization” of education and learning. (Note: to learn more about the history and development of the concept of personalization, see UNESCO’s 2012 Personalized Learning Policy Brief).
CAST director David Gordon was one of the first to explicitly link UDL and personalization with his May 2015 article “How UDL can get you to personalized learning“. A more recent article in ASCD’s 2017 Educational Leadership journal, “Personalization and UDL: A Perfect Match” by Kathleen McClaskey reiterates many of his original points but presents the application of UDL from both a teacher and learner perspective. McClaskey and her colleague Barbara Bray have been influential in the dissemination and application of the concepts underlying personalization in education.
The strong connections between the three principles of UDL and the underlying perspectives and applications of “personalization” are also found reflected in the various “quality” frameworks that are applied to online learning design. In the upcoming BCcampus workshop, Facilitating Learning Online (FLO) – Design, we’ll take a look at how UDL principles can be integrated within a quality framework.
Gordon, David (2015) How UDL can get you to personalized learning, e-School News, Retrieved from https://www.eschoolnews.com/2015/05/19/udl-personalized-939/3/?all
McClaskey, Kathleen (2017) Personalization and UDL: A Perfect Match, ASCD Educational Leadership, “Getting Personalization Right”, Volume 74, No. 6, Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar17/vol74/num06/Personalization-and-UDL@-A-Perfect-Match.aspx
National Center on Universal Design for Learning, The Three Principles of UDL, Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/whatisudl/3principles
Sharif, Afsaneh, (2016) Quality assurance designing quality online course, UBC wiki, retrieved from http://wiki.ubc.ca/Quality_assurance_designing_quality_online_course
UNESCO Policy Brief (2012) Personalized Learning: A New ICT-enabled Education Approach, retrieved from http://iite.unesco.org/pics/publications/en/files/3214716.pdf
Whether you’re an experienced instructional designer or instructor or a “newbie” to course development online, the quest to “build a better course” or to find more effective ways to engage online learners is a never-ending story. And part of the fun is that there are so many ways to try.
During the upcoming four week workshop that I’m co-facilitating with Emma Bourassa, we challenge our participants to try a new instructional (or learning) design approach. After a quick review of existing learning theories, we introduce (or review) a variety of instructional design approaches. We present three options (with endless permutations possible within each) and provide a safe, supportive learning environment with weekly Studio sessions to review, suggest and encourage you to develop your design project.
The three course design approaches we offer for you to explore:
Option 1 includes a range of ways you can refocus on your learners, integrate essential course components and align your assessment methods and teaching strategies to help your learners achieve the stated outcomes of your courses.
Option 2 presents the popular IDEO model of design thinking for education and offers two other interpretations of this innovative approach (i.e., from Stanford University or Google design thinking).
Option 3 allows you to explore different ways to test your comfort with open educational design – from a starting point of building with open-licensed resources, to modeling “open” thinking in your design and instructional techniques.
If you’re feeling like you need something new to spice up fall, join us in the Facilitating Learning Online -Design workshop – starting September 18 – https://proflearn.bccampus.ca/flo-design/
As a teacher, facilitator or instructional / learning designer, do you ever think about learning theories? What value do they have in your teaching or design practice?
Do you think back to what you learned about B.F. Skinner’s experiments as you “chain” events in a lesson to help your students learn a new procedure? Maybe you try to reward “good learning” with bonus marks or badges? Or do you recall David Ausubel’s theoretical perspective (cognitive) when you develop a new advance organizer to help students learn a complex concept or theory?
If you apply a traditional design approach (integrated, outcomes-based, structured weekly units with tests and assignments), do you reflect on the way you present information while you remember the cognitivist “information processing model”?
Lave and Wenger introduced us to ideas around group learning with their theories of situated learning and legitimate peripheral participation. Have those ideas influenced how you set up group learning projects?
When we piloted our new FLO-Design workshop in January 2017, we included an optional review of the three major groups of learning theories – behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism (and a fourth technology-focused perspective – connectivism – see below), to ground the participants’ work in selecting and applying different instructional / learning design approaches. But I’ve been reading and listening to discussions about some of the inadequacies of our current education system and our teaching approaches and wondering more and more how relevant or meaningful a “grounding” in somewhat outdated perspectives (and research) is for the increasing diversity of the learners we serve in online and blended learning?
Questions of relevance
Each learning theory or group of theories has its critics. A consistent criticism applied to learning theories is that they are too focused on one area or perception of the human experience of learning – from visible changes in behaviour (behaviourism) to how information that is collected by the senses is processed, organized and retained for future retrieval (cognitivism) to how to help learners “make meaning” from new material (constructivism) and finally to how people use virtual connections with others and with knowledge (through the Internet or other similar networks) to collect and use knowledge as they need it. Should we be seeking one unifying theory to show us how to understand the different aspects of learning or should we be continuing to develop separate theories that address how we learn different types and levels of knowledge in different stages of our lives?
But assessing the relevance of recognized learning theories goes beyond simply criticizing what is missing from each group of theories or the evidence that supports each proposed interpretation. We have recognized (remembered?) the powerful impact of emotion, beliefs and cultural understandings and the needs of diverse learners to feel empowered to take part in the teaching and learning interactions, environments and outcomes. Certainly in North America, educators are asked to consider “making space” for different voices and ideas to be heard; instead of following a particular theory or group of ideas of how people learn, perhaps we need to let the learners set the pace and identify ways they find helpful in making new learning meaningful?
A growing body of evidence is being shared by neuroscientists as they continue to refine technological tools like fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to map the ways the brain responds to different stimuli and conditions such as stress, rest, and exercise. So, should we throw out the established learning theories and just follow what neuroscientists tell us about how they’re interpreting what they “see”? Although many of us are drawn to the science of cognition as a way to help us teach and learn more effectively, scientists have been advising caution in how we interpret their results and a recent article in Psychology Today points out some serious issues with the software that is used for fMRIs.
It is difficult to reconcile the limited scope of early learning theories with the breadth of possibilities we’re seeing in how we can teach and the increasing diversity of learners and what they want and need to learn. A first step is to revisit our reliance on traditional educational theories and to find better ways to support educators and instructional / learning designers to design effective learning experiences and environments.
|How does learning occur?||stimulus -> response; observable behaviour main focus, chaining events||input -> process -> output (learning) structured, computational||meaning created by each learner (personal);focus on social learning||Distributed within a network, social, technologically enhanced, recognizing and interpreting patterns|
|What factors influence learning?||nature of stimulus (reward; punish), timing of events||existing schema, previous experiences||Engagement, participation, social, cultural||Diversity of network|
|What is the role of the memory||Repeated experiences are remembered – timing & type of reward / punishment are most influential||Encoding to long term memory, retrieval||Prior knowledge remixed to current context||Adaptive patterns, representative of current state, existing in networks|
|How does transfer occur?||Stimulus, response||Duplicating knowledge constructs of “knower”||Socialization||Connecting to (adding nodes)|
|What types of learning are best explained by this theory?||Task-based learning||Reasoning, clear objectives, problem solving||Social, vague (“ill defined”) problem solving||Complex learning, rapid changing core, diverse knowledge sources|
|Names of some theorists||I. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, J. Watson||D. Ausubel, J. Bruner, R. Gagne||J. Dewey, L. Vygotsky, E. von Glaserfeld||S. Downes & G. Siemens|
Note: If you want to explore even further, check out the comprehensive and interactive learning theories map, created by Richard Millwood for a European Union project: HoTEL (Holistic Approach to Technology Enhanced Learning).