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Reflection on Learning Theories and Educational Technology

June 27, 2012

I’ve been fortunate this week to have the opportunity to discuss various learning theories with my sister-in-law while on vacation; she homeschools her two older children and so has intense interest in the content. My brother’s family moves to different states with the US Army every two years and homeschooling ensures a consistent curriculum in the midst of frequent changes. I was interested to learn that the curriculum my sister-in-law chose for her children emphasizes behaviorist theory at the earliest level, and moves through cognitive to constructivist theory by high school ages. I found it helpful to discuss learning theories with her this week as I hammered out my own beliefs.

We discussed constructivist theory and my hesitation with its use in early stages of learning. I feel that cognitive (or even behaviorist) theory is better suited to foundational learning. I simply don’t feel that early learners have the foundational knowledge available yet to reach reliable conclusions if they are attempting to create knowledge from a shaky foundation. I feel that the emphasis on the constructivist theory, as shown in the Soloway (1999) video, leads students to inaccurate knowledge. Rather than emphasizing one learning theory at the expense of others, teachers (and librarians!) should critically assess each theory and choose and apply a theory to each learning situation.

Ertmer (1993) addresses this concern in her conclusion. She realizes that leaners’ ability to learn changes as they progress from novice to expert. Learners progress along a continuum from learning rules and facts, to applying rules to specific cases, to developing new forms of knowledge. As a learner progresses, the “points along this continuum mirror the points of the learning theory continuum” (p. 68).

As I reflect on the intersection of learning theory and educational technology, I realize that I already attempt to choose the best learning theory and technology for each unique class situation. With this stronger theoretical foundation from this course, I hope to improve this practice. I teach classes where students fall at different points along an information literate continuum. In essence, I use a cognitive approach in foundational classes, and a constructivist approach in advanced courses when students already have a foundation of knowledge and experience.

In First Year Seminars, I am more didactic in my approach. Most of the session is instruction to provide very basic information literacy concepts that students have never encountered before such as Boolean logic. I incorporate controlled exercises that help to frame the issues through analogy and limited prior knowledge. I use technology to get and keep their attention through the videos and interactive polls. Meanwhile in an advanced nursing course (students review the medical literature to determine best evidence for real-life problems with registered nurses from local hospitals), I briefly provide refresher material and then act as a facilitator while class time is spent in small groups. The group searches the literature and synthesizes and creates conclusions based on the literature. I am there to help guide them if they get stuck. The technology is much more of a direct tool to help them address real-life situations.

I feel comfortable that my use of learning theories and educational technology evolves to meet learners where they are.

Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4), 50–72. doi:10.1111/j.1937-8327.1993.tb00605.x

Soloway, E. (1999). Schools don’t want technology, schools want education. UWTV. Retrieved June 14, 2012, from http://www.uwtv.org/video/player.aspx?mediaid=16209747

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