Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Reflecting on the Integration of Learning Theories

Pursuant to the completion of course requirements for a “Learning Theories” course at Walden University, I am posting my thoughts on learning theories, learning preferences and the interface between people and technology in the struggle to learn. My analysis is informed by B.S. Ed and M.S. Ed degrees from Southern Illinois University and current (intensive) coursework at Walden University. As such, much of the information covered during the Walden course, was “old Hat” and previously formulated into an Educational Philosophy of sorts. Having said that, some of the Walden material (most especially as it relates to technology) has increased my awareness of the ever-increasing role of technology in both traditional and non-traditional classrooms.

On Behaviorism
Behaviorists believe that learners are passive and respond to stimuli. Behaviorism has a teacher-centric focus, with requirements to create an environment conducive to learning Behaviorism (n. d.). Since it is now 10:30 pm and I’m still working on this assignment to meet course requirements, there is no doubt that the application Behaviorist principles is conducive to learning. According to Mager (1988) all instructional objectives must contain a Behavior, Condition and Standard. These objectives should be prominently displayed and underscored directly after course introductions.

On Cognitive Learning Theory
The focus skews more towards learners as effective knowledge transfer is predicated on understanding how the brain processes information. Arousal, short-term memory, long-term memory encoding, channel capacity, activation of prior schema and elaboration are key tenants Ormrod, Schunk, & Gredler  (n.d.). Essentially, Behaviorism is entirely compatible with Cognitive Learning Theory; less the obvious differences in emphasis on brain function. For example, posting instructional objectives in a course provides the schema necessary for efficient encoding of information into long-term memory.

On Constructivist Learning Theory
Constructivist Theorist’s believe that people construct knowledge through interaction with other people and the environment.  According to Ormrod (n. d.) In its most radical forms, Constructivist Theory leads to moral relativism and as such, it is, in my opinion incompatible with physical reality. For example, it takes a bit of moxie to infer that the physical laws governing the Universe are part and parcel to human consensus. Nonetheless, less-radical forms of Constructivism remind us the importance of engaging students in Active Learning endeavors. Constructivist and Cognitive learning theory find common ground in the way information is filtered through prior schema for integration or rejection.  

On Social Learning Theory
In my opinion, Social Learning Theory should be considered a sub-set of Constructivist Learning theory as they share many of the same principles; with the key difference relating to the exclusive “social interaction” requirement of Social learning theory. For example, a person can both, construct knowledge through social interaction and from reading a book. According to Bandura (1971) Social learning occurs through the following means: Acquisition, Inhibition, Disinhibition, Facilitation and Creativity. In my opinion, Social Learning (not unlike knowledge construction) carries a massive risks skullduggery and abuse. For example Hitler and Gobbles were able to construct an alternate reality based on a cult of personality. In the context of contemporary social media, reality is frequently defined through the outrageous acts of over-paid celebrities. Nonetheless, despite these misgivings, we can see that Social Learning effectively transmits the boundaries of acceptable behavior.    

On Connectivism
According to Siemens, (n.d.) learning is a product of cognition and emotions. To Siemens (n.d.) what is known is less important than knowing how to retrieve and access information. These two statements alone beg a number of questions. Is there a requisite base-line of “knowns” before knowledge can be acquired through the use of technology? Does immersion in the “Three R’s” foster critical thinking skills?  And finally, owing to the intuitive nature of search engines, how much time do we really need to devote to learning how to access information? In my view, all information is merely data that must be filtered through prior beliefs. Would we be far off the mark in assuming that a child brought up on a steady diet of Wikipedia is likely to have a stunted view of reality? In my opinion Connectivism is shortsighted in failing to consider the training and preparation required for effective assimilation of knowledge, and as such presents many of the same dangers associated with Social Learning Theory and Constructivism.   

On Andragogy
The key tenant of Andragogy is a belief that adults learn differently that children because adults have a larger storehouse of existing knowledge. According to Knowles, Holton, & Swanson (1998) adults learn best under the following conditions:  Self-Direction, Self-Efficacy, Prior Experience and Readiness to Learn. These principles are entirely compatible with Constructivism and Connectivism and advancements in technology provide the perfect outlet for adult learning experiences. Active learning and the free exchange of ideas through facilitation are effective approaches.

Closing Thoughts
Perhaps the life-long learning endeavor is best managed through a continuum of Behaviorism at the far left and Andragogy at the far right. Each theory has merit, but in my opinion Behaviorism, Cognitive Learning Theory and Social Learning Theory have, and will continue to stand the test of time. As we advance through the Information Age, I can’t help but wonder what’s in store for humankind. Will machines replace us as the preeminent thinkers and creators? If so, what will induce us to learn? Perhaps Siemen’s is correct and emotion has clouded my judgment, but some (not all) aspects of Connectivism seem more inclined towards dystopia than utopia. Today millions of Americans will log on to the Internet to learn the latest celebrity gossip, while the entirety of human knowledge rests at their fingertips.  

Knowles, M., Holton, E., & Swanson, R. (1998). New Perspectives on Andragogy. In The Adult Learner (Revised/Expanded ed.). Houston: Gulf.

Mager, R. (1997). Making Instruction Work (Revised/Expanded ed.). Atlanta: The Center for effective Performance.

Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (n.d.). Application of Instrumental Conditioning. In Learning Theories and Instruction. Pearson.

Siemens, G. (n.d.). Description of Connectivism. Retrieved August 17, 2014, from http://www.connectivism.ca/about.html

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