How do I engage my students in learning activities so that they are motivated to use their creative thinking skills – taking new ideas and concepts and developing these; moving from thought to reality in a practical way that grows their skills and mindset? It is an inspiring time in my career because I’m in the middle of a process just like that of my students and I’ve been given the opportunity to think deeply about my practice and my own engagement in my learning wondering what inspires me to learn, what motivates me to share with others, and what challenges me when facing new concepts, learning new skills, and attempting to meet the criteria set out by my teachers? The opportunity to look again at learning theories has allowed me to be more conscious about why I do the things I do, to think about why my professors might be doing what they are doing, and to contemplate on a deeper level the importance of knowing where I come from as I strive to create learning environments where my students can thrive in a blended learning environment..
It was nostalgic to revisit many of the theories I touched on in my undergrad years, and to consider how I have embodied some of them into my ever evolving practice. I was drawn to the psychological education theories starting with the cognitive school of learning, where I could see the foundations of my practice emanating when it comes to memory, audio versus visual presentation, metacognition, motivation and attention. Vygotsky’s concept of the zone of proximal development is primary when I develop activities for my students and my belief that students must start with concrete experiences, and move to more symbolic ones actively originate from Bruner’s Constructivism. Wanting to have my students working collaboratively and physically together (or more abstractly through online community development), stems from Bandura’s Social Learning Theory. My practice has certainly been founded on engagement – if student’s will buy into what I present, then they will be more likely to follow through and learn with me. Using student interest has always been the gateway to engagement and now with a move toward more inquiry based, student-centered learning plans, the opportunity to shape student’s learning, using their interests has never been easier. Experiencial Learning theory (Carl Rogers) focuses on student choice and control where learning is guided by student interest with a focus on the practical, social, personal or problem-solving based topics to guide active learning activities. Learning is assessed by the student. Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences is critical because I believe every student (and teacher) has strengths that should be built upon and reinforced as learning takes place. Everyone is different and our instructional activities should appeal to the different forms of learning style. Assessment should also be done in a variety of ways to compliment where a student shines. As I reflect on what parts of the various learning theories I ascribe to, the melting pot truth of my practice is revealed. Given different students, environments, and content I pull the pieces that are most relevant to the forefront to guide my learning design.
The addition of a new theory of learning, the Connectivist theory of learning where technology and networked learning are considered, has now been added to my repetoire. The more I delve into the use of technological strategies to support learning, the more I realize that technology is simply another medium to challenge thinking and learn new skills. As Ally states: “ learning is influenced more by the content and instructional strategy in the learning materials than by the type of technology used to deliver instruction” (1). Technology is the gateway – the learning design and foundations upon which it is built is critical. “The use of learning objects to promote flexibility, and reuse of online materials to meet the needs of individual learners, will become more common in the future”(Ally, 39). As I experience more in a DL context my understanding and application of the Connectivist Theory will grow. It is an exciting time to be delving into this field as the potential grows with the rate of technological advances and our ever evolving practice of teaching. What will the world of education look like in 5, 10, 20 years and how will I continue to adapt to these changes? Keeping my foundations firm in my mind, I look forward to the transformations!
Ally, M. (2008). Foundations of Educational Theory for Online Learning. In, Anderson, T., (ed) The Theory and Practice of Online Learning (2nd ed.)