Constructivism continues to dominate my thinking as I ponder more theories of learning, my experiences with online learning, and the application to teaching and creating courses in the online learning environment. Noting that John Dewey’s writings, a foundational educational philosopher, “refer to interaction as the defining component of the educational process that occurs when students transform the inert information passed to the them from another and constructs it into knowledge with personal application and value” (Anderson, 55, 2008), I am reminded again of the social nature of writing and the importance that should be placed on it as we contemplate learning designs for our students. Anderson emphasizes “the capacity for students to create their own learning paths through content that is formatted with hypertexts links is congruent with constructivist instructional design theory, which stresses individual discovery and construction of knowledge” (54). My experience thus far tells me that the social aspect of this learning experience is paramount – my connections with my colleagues at work matter where I have the opportunity to discuss new ideas, technologies, and challenges, my time reading others blogs – thinking about their perspectives, gaining new understandings, learning that my ideas matter, all help me integrate new information and think critically about my developing practice. Fundamentally, without the people contact (whether online, in person, or on the phone) my learning experience would be critically less effective. Anderson states again: “Modern constructivist and connectivist theorists stress the value of peer-to-peer interaction in investigating and developing multiple perspectives… collaborative learning illustrates potential gains in cognitive learning tasks, as well as increasing completion rates and acquisition of critical social skills in education (57). Moving forward as I try to sort out what matters in developing online learning opportunities for my students I must keep the social nature of learning forefront in my mind.
The challenge, as Scott has written about several times through the course, and as Delano touched on with regards to motivation, is how to engage student-learners, who do not necessarily come to the table per se with the same skills, desire and background knowledge necessary to be successful in an online learning context. I think that our learning designs must incorporate what interests these students (the intention to know the learner like Scott talked about) and use tools from the Web 2.0 to “grab” our students interest and “hook” them into engaging with us – again building the social community, with the teacher as an important part of the process. Sontag’s (2009) SCCS – social and cognitive connectedness schemata theory really appeals to me because though I noted Scott’s comment that he hasn’t “come across this phenomena as of yet” with his student learners, I think that if I look at my own online learning experience, I am participating in the “link, lurk, and lunge” piece, and that there is potential there for the motivated student to also do the same. I also witness my son, who is in grade seven, doing the same within his educational context in the home environment where he explores, tests and trials new things all the time.
As the Cavanaugh (2009) articles points out, however, more research into how we can support our more reluctant learners and bring them into the game is needed. The idea of including “gaming” as the Sontag (2009) theory presents is a good one. Play is a phenomenal way to learn. On that note, what remediation is needed? How can I include more play in my design? Could it be more time is needed initially in developing the social connectedness nature of the course, particularly for adolescent learners? As a resource teacher in the DL context, Sasha questioned whether I actually see myself as an online teacher and how I might actually mitigate the challenges faced by our students with special needs if I did not have the amount of face to face contact that I currently have. My context is a blended one, however ideally my students should be able to be successful online, and within the structures of the program, like their peers who are not accessing student support services. How I can conceive a program to overcome all the various challenges is indeed the challenge of being a teacher – regardless of context and is perhaps the quest of all teachers, weaving the art and science together, using experience, theory, need, knowledge, strategy to create the best possible learning opportunities we can. Anderson clearly states: “The challenge for teachers and course developers working in an online learning context, therefore, is to construct a learning environment that is simultaneously learner-centered, content-centered, community-centered, and assessment-centered” (67). Pondering these thoughts continues to overwhelm me though as I consider all the different ways this can be done, and struggle to find the time to learn how to do this in DL context. Baby steps for me, I remind myself constantly, because though I know what good instructional design looks like (as evidenced from my two online courses, and another I am doing through my district through Stanford University with a math focus) creating and implementing such a feat seems like a monumental goal. So, I’m back where I started with constructivism and plan to take it one day at a time.
Anderson, T. (2008). Toward a Theory of Online Learning. In Theory and Practice of Online Learning (Chap. 2). Retrieved from:http://cde.athabascau.ca/online_book/second_edition.html
Cavanaugh, C., Barbour, M. & Clark, T. (2009). Research and Practice in K-12 Online Learning: A review of Open Access Literature. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning [Online] 10:1. Retrieved from:http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/607/1182
Sontag, M. (2009). A Learning Theory for 21st Century Students. Innovate 5 (4). Retrieved from:http://dawnjarbeau.wikispaces.com/file/view/A+Learning+Theory+for+21st-Century+Students.pdf