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.