Monday, September 15, 2008

Learning Modality vs Learning Theory

I have used learning theory, Constructivism, to create course materials and assignments. I have used the theory to produce particular results. As quoted in Mergal's paper:

What is a theory?
* A theory provides a general explanation for observations made over time.
* A theory explains and predicts behavior.
* A theory can never be established beyond all doubt.
* A theory may be modified.
* Theories seldom have to be thrown out completely if thoroughly tested but sometimes a theory may be widely accepted for a long time and later disproved.
(Dorin, Demmin & Gabel, 1990)

I have seen all of this at work in one way or another with Constructivism and I haven't yet with Connectivism. This class is one experiment and what Char Gore and I are doing in HIM101 is another. It is to new of a theory to say it has been adequately tested - one can't reject an untested theory, one has to test it!

This is not a defense of Constructivism or a Constructivism vs. Connectivism aaproach. I just think it is important to talk about what people do as teachers and instructional designers and put Connectivism into that framework. In a simple form, Constructivist teaching is teaching that provides students the opportunity to put the information being taught in their own words and apply it to their lives. How is that not "connecting"?

I think the same thing is happening in a way with Connectivism, but it does not help that the vocabulary around it all has not really been nailed down. What do George and Stephen mean by "knowledge"? Berkeley? Hume? Kant? Buddha? Never mind how knowledge can exist in inanimate objects; how can you have knowledge without a knower? How can inanimate objects contain "learning"? There are some phenomenal changes happening in technology and culture and those changes are changing how I teach in some dramatic ways, but it is not clear yet if we are looking at technology, a new learning modality, or a theory. If students have visual resources available to them in an unprecedented way (movies, overhead projectors, photography) do we need a new learning theory to account for that learning modality (visual learning vs, traditional read/write) or do we adapt theories for the new media?

Any "scientific" picture of the mind has wound up not being how the mind actually works but being a model or metaphor that accounts for our current understanding of how we think it works. Connectivism will have to be able to account for the changes in that metaphor if it is going to keep the claim that it is a learning theory that reflects how the mind actually works.

A book doesn't even contain learning. Learning is what someone can do with information. Someone can read a book and not learn anything. There are no people in my telephone either, I have to actually call them.

Mergel, Brenda.(1998) Instructional Design & Learning Theory. University of Saskatchewan.

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