When it comes to learning, individuals have their unique personal way to grasp and absorb things around them. Most people fall into four main categories of learners (although there are seven in all) or a combination of two or more, depending on their style and orientation. These four categories are V-A-R-K;
As their names suggest, Visual learners learn best by seeing/witnessing, Aural learn best through their listening sense; Read/Write learners learn best by reading text and exercising writing; and Kinesthetics learners learn best when they can touch and feel or do things that are taught. These four categories of learners have certain characteristics specific to them.
Learning Styles: Infographic
Learners can also learn through a combination of two, three or four learning styles. There have also been a significant number of studies determining the percentage of students in each category.
Everyone is Unique. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to people. Everyone is different and these differences form the foundation of learning.
Interest Varies. If someone is inherently interested in layout and designs of houses, they may excel in architecture and designing and may master the subject better than someone who has a different interest.
Disabilities. People who suffer from mental disabilities may have a different style of learning. This is very commonly seen in the cases of dyslexic children. Other teaching methodologies may be best suited for children who are unable to cope up with conventional teaching methods.
Various Backgrounds and Experiences. People come from different backgrounds and have different past experiences. These two factors affect learning style to a great extent or shall we say, also have a major impact on the interests that a person develops.
Never does anything good come out of wars. It would be ironic yet not far from truth to say otherwise about World War II. Amidst all the killing and bombings of WWII, the only good thing that came about was the shaping of the concept now commonly known as Instructional System Design or ISD as we know it today.
The inordinate loss of life and property and the relentless need for personnel at war during World War II led many civilians to war fronts as a desperate measure by countries like US. These civilians needed elementary training to help them perform technical tasks. These included basic infantry, carbine field stripping, navigation, etc. which depended on the division and role. Since behaviourism influences the learner to a great extent, most of these training programs were based on operant conditioning which postulates that behaviour can be modified by its consequence, which could be positive or negative hence altering behaviour.
Also known as Instrumental conditioning, this learning methodology was first studied by neurophysiologist Jerzy Konorski (1903-1973) but was later propagated by behaviourist B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) to whom we will dedicate more than a few articles (he is well deserving of that).
Coming back to military training, promotion to a higher rank (positive reinforcer) for strategically managing the division is operant conditioning through positive outcome and increase in the hours of guard duty (negative reinforcer) for disregard for rules is operant conditioning by negative outcome. Who could exemplify it better than the military?
Why this is so important an event in the evolution of ISD is because it was the first time chunking and the use of learning objects to acquire a particular behavioural competency was implemented. This concept of measurable learning objectives formed the basis of many learning theories and models that would be propounded in the near future.
This team led by Dr. Benjamin Bloom in 1956 defined the three learning domains (Cognitive, Psychomotor, and Affective) and representing their levels through a vocabulary of measurable and quantifiable verbs. The Cognitive domain was later revised in the 1990’s.
Thereafter, Robert Mager asserted on the importance of objectives and defined the constituents of a quality objective, opining that objectives should be clear and attainable for the learner. Robert Gagne propounded the nine events of learning which actually touched on all the stages in a teaching process.
And later can David Merrill with his Component Display Theory in which he explained that the instructional strategies highly depend on the nature of the content being taught. It was a two dimensional model of content and performance and defined primary and secondary presentations forms and the higher the number of primary and secondary presentations forms used, the more effective the instruction. Simply put, though it addressed the cognitive domain which in itself is a complicated domain involving different types of memory responding to different instructional strategy, it lays more emphasis on presentation and that’s why is deemed as the Bible of ID by many instructional designers.
And that brings us to the web based instruction which we know as elearning today. The coming up of authoring tools and the limitless options that come with it, sky is the limit.
Constructivism is an age old concept of pedagogy but constructivist learning has recently been defined, studied and implemented in the field of learning. No two learners are exactly the same. Each learner is different, with different orientations and different way of interpreting his/her environment. This difference plays a major role in their learning process. Two people may observe a situation, may have very different perspectives, interpret it in different ways and imbibe completely different learning. This exactly what constructivism is. People build knowledge on their past experiences and these experiences can be varied. Therefore, it is learner centric and we wouldn’t be wrong if we say that it’s very much a concept of andragogy.
Learning process is constant and constructivism is a learning theory that helps the learner develop practical skills. One of the most common area where the constructivist learning theory is implemented is management science. All concepts in management are:
taught holistically and not in smaller chunks
taught in relation to other concepts
case based study material helping learners develop the problem solving ability
have multiple solutions to a problem so through the process learners encounter new knowledge and new solutions
have team based learning activities; so learners are a part of a bigger group
All these characteristics also define the theory of constructivism. Management students are also expected to go research or write a dissertation on any chosen topic. This task integrates all the past learning and hence is a good assessment of their skills.
Constructivism and ID
All the characteristics of the constructivist learning approach make it the most effective teaching learning theory. However, it has limited applicability in the present e-learning instructional design scenario. Modern day instruction is designed keeping the learner at the core. Mostly courseware is self-paced and interactive but they lack instructor inputs as is one of the characteristics in constructivism. Secondly, since we are talking about construction of knowledge and problem solving practical skills, it is very difficult to assess through close ended questionnaires. Thirdly, customizing content for each learner according to their learning styles also poses a problem in implementing this learning theory in e-learning.
The best way to apply the constructivist learning theory in e-learning courses is through blended learning. The assessment of knowledge gained from the training course can be assessment by a combination of self paced assessments and instructor led/team discussions. This will also serve the purpose of reinforcing learning objects and will help the learners create new knowledge by sharing in the experiences of fellow learners or the instructor and will retain this created knowledge for a longer duration.
Since constructivism heavily relies on reflection of experiences for creating knowledge, it can be helpful to provide learners with open ended job aid handouts for further reading and reflection. Lastly, a case based approach where learners are given a feel of a real world situation and asked to come up with solutions would be an ideal assessment.
Assessment of learners on an LMS when using these methods is next to impossible reason being difficulty in customization of content. Such assessments will always lack objectivity hence the involvement of a facilitator is mandatory.
Though, constructivism is only a few decades old, it is already the subject of great research potential in educational psychology. It has already been applied in schools and colleges that have discarded the old lecture (one-way) method and adopted a more interactive (two-way) approach towards teaching. Therefore it is only a matter of time when this learning theory will be applicable in elearning with extraordinary results.
Every field or science, when conceptualized, builds on the models and theories dedicated to that particular field. General extrapolations are merely documented for the first time by the means of theories (or models). Theories (and models) can be referred to as general guidelines that aid in solving problems occurring in a particular field. They try to provide a holistic view of a situation so that a convoluted problem can be broken down and each aspect can be analyzed in isolation to reach to a summative logical conclusion with cause and effect relationships taken into consideration.
However, one-size-fits-all is never the case with areas where human intervention is inevitable and so is also the case with instructional design. The discussed theories are merely general predictors and are susceptible to modification any time. All theories that will be discussed have the same underlying perception though, that pedagogy is all in one; the art, craft and science of teaching. Its success heavily depends on how well content is presented, to ensure maximum comprehension and retention.
We will discuss the relevant theories that led to the shaping up of instructional design in this article and some significant and most commonly applied models in the next.
It all began with Pavlov’s experiment of classical conditioning. This Russian psychologist performed an experiment on a dog by conditioning it to an external stimulus, the bell, which was always followed by the dog’s food which inturn caused the dog to salivate. This happened a few times and the conditioning was deemed complete when the dog salivated at the sound of the bell alone.
Other researchers like Thorndike (1874-1949) and Watson (1878-1958) also began conditioning experiments studying animal behavior and Watson then took it to the next level by experimenting with conditioning of human behavior.
It was BF Skinner (1904-1990) who devised a theory that dealt with the changes in observable behavior. He stressed on voluntary behavior than mere conditioned reflexes and he called it operant conditioning. For example, a reward for exceptional performance at work will reinforce hard work for the same outcome by the employee; the fear of punishment will refrain an employee from committing an ethical or illegal task in his company.
Cognitivist learning theories were a development on the behaviourism school of thought. It ruled out the very basic postulate of behavioural theories that humans can be conditioned in any desired way, not taking into account the processes that go on in the human mind. It opined that humans are rational and have a considerable part to play in when learning takes place. It stressed on mental processes like the problem solving ability, emotions and natural reflexes should also be taken into consideration. The best way to differentiate between the two schools is that behaviourism considers external behaviour and cognitivism considers internal processes.
Cognitivism took over behaviourism gradually from the 1950s to 1970s. The influence of cognitivism on instructional design is quite evident because of due importance given to clearly chunking content for better comprehension, and extensive use of graphics and mnemonics.
Some noteworthy theories of cognitivism are:
David Merrill (1983): the Component Display Theory
Reigeluth (1983): Elaboration Theory
Gagne, Briggs and Wagner (1988): Events of instruction
Each learner is unique and that’s exactly what constructivists say. Learners construct new knowledge on the facts already known to them. Therefore, where behaviourism and cognitivism are objective and can predict the outcome (behaviourally or cognitively) of instruction to a certain extent, the same may not be true for constructivism. How the outcome will be depends on the learner themselves, their past experiences and past knowledge. It is rather open-ended and each outcome is unique in nature. It is often argued that constructivism is a learning theory and not a theory of instruction.
Constructivists stress that a set predictor of instruction (like the previous thought schools) and how learning should take place will bind the learner to specific notions and will restrict him/her to think out-of-the-box to create new knowledge.