Sunday, February 28, 2010

Reflections

As I reflect on all that I have learned during the last eight weeks, I am surprised by my own lack of knowledge of this field and how much I enjoyed dipping into the waters of learning theory. I think I have always been somewhat suspicious of teacher training that might advocate delivering instruction through a mechanical “my way or the highway/teacher knows best” type approach with a “one size fits all—or at least it should” mentality. I considered it likely I would be encouraged to learn and apply formulas for various situations and that the view of students would be a constricted one. I do not have previous training as an educator and what tips and tricks I have picked up here and there were from informal reading and conversations--a hit-or-miss concoction applied with good intentions and little skill. I, like most of us, have been exposed to some teachers who were spectacular in either a bad or a good sense. I had some ideas as to how the good ones functioned, but imagined they were naturally gifted and possibly innoculated against a system that seemed to produce many uninvolved, unstimulating teachers. Those who were excellent appeared to look deeply into students as individuals and somehow made learning desirable, exciting, and doable; they were flexible and sometimes spontaneous. I wondered going into this course whether they were somehow using techniques that would be frowned on by a tightly controlled learning system. I have found the opposite to be the case.

I have come to understand that sensitivity and openness is recognized in learning theory as being critical and many approaches have been developed to permit this. The theories overlap and combinations of them are necessary depending on the situation, student, and what is being learned. There are formulas, to be sure, for such things as looking at motivation or predicting the probability of changes in behavior. These are simply tools and provide a means to an end, with their application not considered a requisite but one of many choices made by the instructor. Much more important for an instructor than any one theory or technique, though, is being prepared to engage learners by initially evaluating who they are and what they need to learn, why, and how their background and other predisposing factors contribute to their ability to do so, then providing an environment which can maximize the potential for success, with sufficient feedback of various types both to the instructor and to the student so that modifications can be made as needed. The methods of doing this are often enhanced by technology, which changes so rapidly that it is necessary to use strategies for rapidly acquiring and using new technology. The knowledge of how these things fit together will affect my future work in instructional design as I provide flexible support rather than something which is rigid and intractable.

I had been exposed to some learning strategies over the course of my life, but learned many more in this course and came to a greater appreciation for their value in optimizing learning. I have also been able to assess what some of my own strengths and weaknesses are in terms of motivation and predisposition. Probably one of the things I have been most impressed by is the value of collaboration and social learning, which I have been able to explore more in depth in this course and which has led me to reappraise several things which I have always held to be “truths.” I believe I am now more prepared to guard against favoring what might appeal to me without giving due regard to its place in the whole. I will probably always like certain approaches more than others, but now have a better understanding of why and how to use that awareness both for my own learning and for offering options for learning to others.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Deeper Understanding: Fitting the Pieces Together

As the course which introduced me to learning theories draws to a close, I would like to expand on an analogy I made early in the class by adding comments on how my view on learning has changed, further explanation of my own learning preferences, and the role technology plays in learning.

Seven weeks ago I looked at my own learning as a constructivist stew--let it slowly simmer, add ingredients as needed through behaviorist and cognitivist techniques, and serve when desired. I commented then on the time needed to make this work as the rational and intuitive underwent a melding. Now there are more ingredients than before and I look at the issue of time differently.

Connectivism, bonded with technology and the networks comprising it, describes a swarm of expanding information that requires mitigation to contain; in a way it reminds me of the description of a cancer. I thought of the Budwig protocol (a simple mixture of cottage cheese with flax seed oil), a food combination used with nearly miraculous results, which was developed by a German physician who was an expert in the field of oils; it is used to combat cancer and some other chronic diseases such as diabetes. I might never have found out about the protocol except for searches available to me through the technology of the Internet and being able to access her store of knowledge. Once I knew about it, I used technology to locate a supplier of ingredients (tapping into a network), and technology in the form of an electric blender to create an emulsion. I located other networks to find information on how to make the mixture more appealing to my taste.

In studying adult learning theories, I became more aware of issues such as the accrued experience that can be drawn on and the time it may take to respond. I liken adult learning to chia seeds--an energy food that is portable and compact and doesn't require much in the way of preparation to be used; an ancient grain food that does need to be activated with liquid, however, before it is most useful as fiber and protein. The mixture of theories of adult learning with other learning theories is necessary, as there is not one all-encompassing approach that works for everyone.

That brings me to another conclusion about learners--differences in aptitude, inclination, and preparation are not an equation with a certain outcome. For myself or anyone else, predictions regarding the probability of something working are much more realistic than assuming a given technique will always produce certain results. Providing many options in terms of learning strategies and opportunities to engage in preferred learning styles, then monitoring the success of their use through feedback, is more likely to result in successful learning than not. In terms of my food analogy, we aren't always going to be at home (with our preferred learning environment) with what we need to make a certain stew (a preferred approach), nor will we always have an appetite for something that we have enjoyed in the past (needs change). There are different options--fine dining and fast-food restaurants, supermarket salad bars and buffet take-outs, meals at the homes of friends, or cardboard pizza boxes that smell like the real thing but fill us without giving real sustenance (appealing dead ends that we might try), to name a few. We have many choices and these continue to grow as knowledge of how we learn and ways to encourage learning are developed.

In sum, the stew may be the entree, but it is not the only dish served at any meal; at some meals it may not be served at all, and even when it is there is still a place for dessert--but that is another story.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Connectivism: Reflections on Mind Map

My network of information sources resides primarily in the systems of school, work, and worship. Beyond these main areas which support programmed activities and where I interact with strangers, family, friends, and others, is a fourth, less differentiated area, of the same individuals, with similar means of contact, which includes community groups and various informal alliances. Whether it is people or databases providing information and learning activity, access is through channels of established relationship such as membership in an organization, followed by secondary types of inclusion, such as subscription to a database or membership in a social network, and this in turn is supported by an array of techniques and devices, such as using an online search to locate and evaluate a product that has been recommended by a friend through e-mail.

Each day I work on a computer using the Internet to download and upload information from servers in different states. Software provides a text summary and an audio component. I contact my employers who are in another state by phone and email if there are questions. I use software that sets up templates and provides encrypted data to protect privacy, and word processing programs with specialized dictionaries. I worship in a physical building but am notified of events and other news through e-mail, Facebook, and Meetup most of the time, with occasional phone calls, which may be a cell phone or another type, and at one time my phone was a USB device. Attending school is done entirely online. Most of my contact with the school is by e-mail, rarely by phone, and all assignments are made and completed online. Most of the resources used are online
, with the only physical resource being textbooks which were mailed to me after an online registration that followed learning about the school through online searches.

The description above reflects a massive change in the way that I learn, because most of the technology I have just described was not in existence for the majority of my life. I think that e-mail and searching online have been the digital tools which best facilitate my learning, and these are used on a daily basis, several times a day, whenever I have questions. My learning networks support the central tenets of Connectivism by use of technology, abundance of information, and learning through forming networks of connections where knowledge resides, and interacting with these.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Connectivism