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.

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