Sunday, August 24, 2014

Reflections on Course Learnings

Introduction
As a life-long learner and student of Learning Theory, I found the Walden course on Learning Theories to be, not only a good refresher, but instrumental in shaping my perspective on two particular learning Theories. Specifically, I have formulated amended opinions regarding the nature of Constructivism and Connectivism. In the case of Constructivism, my opinion of its efficacy remains unchanged; yet, I have become keenly aware of the potential negative consequences of haphazard subscription to freewheeling knowledge construction. My former suspicions regarding the bona fides of Connectivism as a learning theory have been strengthened to the point of absolute rejection.

Striking Revelations
I have always maintained a strong interest in Learning Theories and Political Ideologies. With the passage of time, my personal political leanings have skewed to the right. Of course, this directional shift is hardly novel, as most political Conservatives (myself included) entered the field as young political Progressives. A particularly illuminating quote from Ormrod, Schunk, & Gredler (n.d.) stimulated a train of thought resulting in the solidifying a Philosophy regarding the nature of Constructivism and Connectivism. Consider the following passage from Ormrod et al. (n. d.) in quoting (Phillips 1995): “A drawback of many forms of Constructivism is the emphasis on relativism". In my opinion, many campuses across the nation are inflicted with an “anything goes” Philosophy of moral relativism. By way of example I once sat through a Diversity Course where the female professor had occasion to defend child molesters. When my friend and I protested, we were told to sit down and shut up. So then, if we analyze the tenants of Constructivism with a critical eye, we find an enormous potential for deceit and skullduggery. For example, (hopefully this will hit home for some) readers may be familiar with the slogan; 97% of Climate Science papers support an Anthropogenic cause for Global Warming. Many will be surprised to learn that the so-called “consensus” on Global warming is a product of graduate students (many of them Psychology students) rating specialized scientific papers using a biased rating scale. For example, papers that assigned any degree of warming (as little as 5%) to anthropogenic sources were lumped into the 97% consensus. In their headlong rush for sensational headlines, media sources (think Connectivism) repeated the 97% mantra ad nauseam. If readers are aware, (and perhaps bought into) the 97% consensus meme, I submit that we need no further proof that “knowledge construction” is subject to “groupthink” mentality; and is therefore, a servant of populist paradigms.

Understanding Personal Learning Processes
This course has assisted me in advancing a more coherent Philosophy on the nature of defined realities. Meaning, each of us may frame “truth” through different lenses; which borrow extensively on Cognitive, Constructivist and Social Learning Theories. Consider the implications of this passage from Knowles, Holton & Swanson (1998) quoting the work of Pittenger & Gooding (1971): “Given a healthy organism, positive environmental influences, and a nonrestrictive set of precepts of self, there appears to be no foreseeable end to the perceptions possible for the individual”. In my mind, this (seemingly simple) statement unifies the three aforementioned Learning Theories, as it evokes the activation of prior schema in concert with environmental factors as the basis of knowledge. As a pragmatist, this same statement also informs us how individuals may hold radically different views with a corresponding potential for both magnanimity and malfeasance. This in turn, leads me to believe that the education of impressionable minds (children) must not be left to the vagaries of happenstance and freewheeling moral relevance.  

 Making Sense of Connections between Learning Theory and Technology
First and foremost, I reject Connectivism as a bona fide Learning Theory, simply because most of the precepts of Connectivism amount to an epistemology of learning vis-à-vis how people learn. That is to say Connectivism, by and large, is primarily concerned with differentiating between those with access to information nodes and those without access to computer technology. Consider this quote from Prenske: (2009)  “But in an unimaginably complex future, the digitally unenhanced person, however wise, will not be 
able to access the tools of wisdom that will be available to even the least wise digitally enhanced human.”  In my opinion, Prenske’s mistake lies in a failure to differentiate between information (oft times the servant of prevailing ideologies and theater of the masses) and wisdom. That is to say; although a wise person may be constrained by information deficits relative to the “least wise” of digitally enhanced persons; the wit (capable of using his wits) may frequently arrive at sounder decisions than the half-wit capable of using a keyboard. The only caveat to outright rejection of Connectivism resides in the enormous potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Currently, true AI does not exist, but Computer Scientists continue to push the boundaries of technology to the point which where a breakthrough in AI technology cannot be discounted.
With regard to Behaviorism; it has and will continue to withstand the test of time, and as such is an indispensable tool in the Instructional Designer’s toolbox. Likewise for Cognitive and Constructivist learning theories. I leave this course convinced that effective instructional design utilizes the practical applications of each learning theory where and when appropriate. 

Practical Application of Course Learnings
As previously mentioned, effective instruction should borrow from each learning theory as appropriate to facilitate efficient mastery of learning objectives. Unfortunately, I believe the course resources did a poor job in explaining practical application of Behaviorism in the Instructional Design process. However Ormrod et al. (n. d.) Remind us of the efficacy of Mastery Learning and that Behaviorist classroom management techniques in difficult learning environments. Perhaps the most important thing I have learned from this Learning Theories Course relates to the importance of Elaboration in the facilitation of learning at “deeper levels”. Ormrod et al. (n. d.). In the future, any course I design will include requirements for student elaboration. Since, most of my previous course design work relates to addressing specific knowledge gaps; I will endeavor to discover and synthesize methods of elaboration that are compatible with traditional computerized grading systems. For example, the ISD can impose a thought provoking question followed by a choice of four different elaborative answers.          
Closing Thoughts
I have enjoyed this course on Learning Theories Immensely, as it has helped evoke prior knowledge and synthesize new information. Specifically, my original suspicions regarding the “non-learning theory” status of Connectivism have been affirmed, while I have developed a deeper appreciation of how Knowledge Construction and Social Learning serve to shape individual and collective outlooks in the affective domain. Accordingly, it is imperative that efforts to shape and improve disposition and attitude through training embrace transformational instructional methods. It has been a pleasure exchanging information and viewpoints with Dr. Weaver and my talented and hardworking classmates.  
                        
                References:
Knowles, M., Holton, E., & Swanson, R. (1998). A Theory of Adult Learning: Andragogy. The Adult Learner. Houston: Gulf. (Original work published 1973)

Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (n.d.). Application of Instrumental Conditioning. In Learning Theories and Instruction. Pearson.
Prensky, M. (2009, February 1). H. Sapiens Digital: From Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom. . Retrieved August 3, 2014, from http://www.wisdompage.com/Prensky01.html

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