A Dynamic Interplay of Learners, Content, Learning Environments & Technology
Sponge Bob`s paying almost the same amount of attention and importance to each of tens of krabby patties or sandwiches that he cooks… This is seriousness to me which is very much likely to be observed in kids who play…This playful seriousness of youngsters is still kind of shocking to me given their young ages. However, discovering the purposefulness behind such seriousness, be it having fun or something delicious, or wining something, got me to question the way I look at designing teaching and learning experiences. This did further lead to the current version of my teaching philosophy which is basically eclectic having insights from behaviorist, cognitivist and constructivist theories of learning when needed. Such a need speaks directly to promoting learning from all perspectives.
My teaching philosophy, by and large, originates from a learning to learn idea which covers both my teaching and students` learning. This is also why I see myself more like a learner with more insights into how to learn more effectively and efficiently as well as my content area—instructional design. Therefore, it is a part of my role to model for my students these learning strategies in addition to the 21st century skills ranging from creativity to collaboration. Originally, it was shocking to me see that research shows that teaching is actually a very effective way of learning. It was further intriguing to see that this really holds true to a larger extent during my teaching assistantship experience through small-scale autoethnographies. Consequently, you see the word “learner” in the title of this teaching philosophy that refers to all the learners including the instructor. In that respect, this document could better be named as a co-learning philosophy.
The instructor is the learner who starts interacting with almost all the elements of a learning experience even before the experience starts. In other words, as soon as s/he starts thinking about the design of the learning experience, that interaction starts. This is what we instructional designers call the “design” phase of the instructional design. From this perspective, I am an instructional designer too. The instructional design starts with thinking about the results or learning objectives, which is called “backward design”. Determining the learning objectives at the beginning makes it easier to see how well the learning content, learning environment (with its particular affordances), evaluation of the whole learning experience, and assessment (a part of the evaluation process to me) of achieving the objectives would interact. The reason is learning objectives specify (a) a specific learning performance that is observable or measurable, (b) conditions under which a particular learning performance will occur, (c) criteria used to gauge successful completion. All these do not necessarily imply that design is always over before the learning experience starts. Through especially formative evaluation, design is an iterative process aimed at fostering learning further, which is design-based research to me. The last point further suggests that learners can also participate in the design process, which is called participatory design.
I think that technology further serves the full alignment of learning content, learning environment and evaluation of the whole learning experience, which includes assessment of learning outcomes as well. It is important to note here that, to me, technology means using scientific and/or professional knowledge to solve existing problems and potential problems that may harm learning. Technological tools ranging from computer to online tools, I think, are just a part of such a bigger conceptualization of technology. Needless to say, such tools are another “genre” of dealing with performance problems including learning issues. Therefore, integration of technology into a learning environment depends highly on the (a) affordances of that learning environment, (b) learning content or what kind of information/knowledge is targeted at, (c) prior knowledge level of the all learners (including the teacher) regarding both the learning content and particular technologies. All these refer to a high level of interaction between and among all these factors that would dramatically impact learning outcomes.
In my opinion, technology, as a solution to learning problems, involves another essential element of playful learning: effective learning strategies or techniques. These would further interact with the learning elements above both at an individual and collaborative level. For instance, if you would like to shoot for factual recall, it would be better to employ spacing effect which encourages distributed learning practice, and testing effect which involves formative testing of learning outcomes to encourage retrieval of information. On the other hand, if you aim at encouraging transfer of a skill, it would be better to start with worked examples with novice learners, and gradually switch to complete problem solving as the expertise of the learners increase. These decisions also depend on the types of information to learn ranging from declarative to psychomotor.
Furthermore, assuming that learning is not only cognitive but also social and affective, I think it is important to employ an eclectic co-learning approach that would employ specific learning strategies when needed. At this point, I think behaviorist, cognitivist and constructivist insights can go hand in hand approaching learning from different but complementary perspectives. For instance, cognitive strategies can be strengthened through collaboration: In collaboration, people may build a common cognition and use it thereby enhancing co-learning. Learned information should be processed by our limited working memory before it is stored in long term memory. So, combining the capacities of more than one working memory can circumvent the limitations of one working memory. Peer feedback or learning from peers contributes to these further. These suggest that even though it is easier to write or talk about being eclectic, it is always more challenging to operationalize it and integrate it into co-learning, which is worth thoughtful reflection.
Different pedagogies and learning frameworks can also help enhance learning. For instance, dramatic pedagogy is a new topic under investigation. Researchers working on dramatic pedagogy focus on how actresses and actors learn their roles to a word-by-word extent due to the high levels of physical, cognitive and emotional involvement. These would imply the use of scenarios to enhance learning. Similarly, artful thinking is another way of promoting learning through art integration. In this respect, it is really beautiful to connect especially design of a poem, story or novel with instructional design in a way that would aim at delivering the intended message effectively. These would also serve as potential assignments or projects depending on the learning content. Therefore, I think it is my responsibility to keep myself familiar with emerging effective pedagogical techniques, which is also an essential part of the scholarship of teaching or co-learning in my words. Such a scholarship would reach a peak through publications and presentations, which serves not only enriching one`s but also others` experiences or adaptive expertise.
As for assessment of co-learning on the part of students, it is basically shaped by both the learning content and objectives. Moreover, to me, assessment can be turned into an essential part of learning itself. In addition to encouragement of the retrieval of information, assessment can be an effective learning activity when combined with immediate corrective and reflective feedback without having to provide answers directly. Depending on the situation, it may provide direct answers as well in the form of direct instruction. It is also important to think about what type of assessment to employ in order to enhance learning more. Research suggests that open-book, take-home, and student-made assessment are better at encouraging learning respectively. These would work better as summative assessment items and can be supported through formative assessment that would employ different formats ranging from job aids to infographics. All these assessment types are essential ingredients of the overall evaluation aimed at measuring the effectiveness of the whole instructional design process.
Another desirable part of my co-learning philosophy is promoting self-regulated learning on the part of my students. This depends on the prior knowledge level of the learners, which ties closely to the expertise reversal effect. The learner expertise would inform the complexity of a learning experience. However, independent of the level of learner expertise, instruction can go from a structured layout at the very beginning to an independent one towards the end. This is different from radical constructivism claiming total learner construction of knowledge, which can be implemented with expert learners. An important element of self-regulation is watching your performance. An example is how I write: I write not only on scheduled time slots on certain days in a week but also I keep records of whether I achieve my writing objectives on a certain day, how many hours I write, and the like. This is an awesome source of intrinsic motivation since writing makes it more objective to judge my performance. Likewise, student self-assessment can also be encouraged in addition to or as a part of practice testing that are effective ways of promoting retention of information (testing effect). These would be further strengthened through (a) learning from one`s mistakes, and (b) learning from each other`s mistakes, feedback, and work. Recent research suggest that as long as learners are encouraged to learn from their own and peers` mistakes, transfer of learning is encouraged even when the challenge of problem solving starts at the very beginning of a learning experience.
All in all, to me, the ultimate purpose is to design and implement a co-learning experience that fully triggers learners` and instructors` critical/divergent thinking, creativity, and self-regulation skills. This would imply employing a flipped classroom approach that would encourage immediate feedback, learning from mistakes, and collaboration. Alternatively, this can be a blended learning environment that may produce better learning outcomes compared to a face-to-face or online only context. Learners should be given more increasing independence regarding both learning and assessment based on clear guidelines provided by the instructor. This also asks for giving learners more options of projects and assignments so that they can choose among them, which would make the learning experience more personally meaningful. Further, in order to promote intrinsic motivation, all these efforts should align with basic human needs as specified by self-determination theory: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Finally, evaluation, as a broader concept than assessment, would gauge effectiveness and efficiency of all these in both formative and summative manners. Cognitive and affective entry behaviors of learners, and giving them a continuous chance to voice their ideas, suggestions, and criticisms regarding the whole learning experience should also be a big part of this evaluation thereby increasing their “belongingness” to it.
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