Friday, December 21, 2012

Shocking Elements of Learning Theories and Instruction

Shock #1: Learning styles don't exist.

     I dare you to walk into a teacher in-service and say, “Learning styles don’t exist.” Heads will turn, jaws will drop, and arguments will ensue. Nevertheless, I feel like I could now walk into that in-service and convince educators that teaching to students’ learning styles isn’t as important as teaching the content in the appropriate way. As long as the content is approached in the proper manner, learners will be able to store the information and recall it when necessary and that's what educators want (Willingham, 2008). We are all able to learn in a variety of ways, so teachers do not need to adjust to learners' learning styles. Instead, teachers need to think about what they want their students to understand. For example, if want my students to know where Shakespeare was born and to be able to identify that on a map, I should present that information visually. Verbally explaining where Stratford-upon-Avon is located will likely not work as well as showing the students on a map. Therefore, even if a learner is considered to be an auditory learner, he/she will best learn to locate Stratford-upon-Avon by seeing it on a map. If you would like to know more about this, please see Daniel Willingham's YouTube video. He clearly explains his views and it will make teachers who have felt guilty about "catering" to specific learning styles feel much better about their practice.

Shock #2: Learning is easy.

     I’ve come to the shocking realization that I don’t really have to try to learn; it kind of just happens since I am connected to so many networks via my place of employment (Colegio Americano deTorreon or CAT), the internet, and my social networks. CAT has in-services and workshops on a semi-regular basis, so I am able to share ideas with colleagues to continue my growth as an educator. The internet is chock-full of resources, too, so without even trying, I follow respected education experts' blogs with Google Reader and I have connected with them on Twitter. It's so easy! And it's a connectivist concept--I'm using my networks of people, technology, social structures, systems, etc. to "share ideas with others, thereby 'cross-pollinating' the learning environment" (Davis, Edmunds, & Kelly-Bateman, 2008). Once you're connected, learning becomes so easy because so much of it just comes to you instead of you going to it.

Shock #3: Learning theories provide the base for good instruction.

     Well, perhaps that statement isn't shocking, except it is for me. Previously learning theories were something I had to learn, but I was more interested in learning styles and how I presented the content to accommodate those learning styles. However, I now understand "learning theories are a source of verified instructional strategies, tactics, and techniques" that "provide the foundation for intelligent and reasoned strategy selection" (Ertmer & Newby, 1993, p. 51). Knowing learning theories will guide one to use the appropriate learning style, whether it be visual, auditory, kinesthetic, naturalist, interpersonal, etc. Likewise, technology may support the learning style and technology (especially with younger learners) increases motivation because learners are using something they with which they are comfortable and something they like.

     Honestly, the most shocking element this course has revealed to me is that learning theories are relevant and they do matter. Before this course, I would have helped prove Ertmer and Newby's (1993) statement: "It appears that the real benefits of theoretical knowledge are, at present, not being realized" (p. 52). I believe I had one undergraduate course that focused on learning theories, so I assumed they were simply these abstract concepts that someone dreamed up that were important to someone somewhere. However, I am now that someone and hope I am able to be a better teacher and instructional designer now that I know how valuable theory can be. Learning theories shall be the guides that lead me intentionally and thoughtfully into the 21st century of education and they will be the light that continues to point me in the right direction.

Davis, C., Edmunds, E., & Kelly-Bateman, V. (2008). Connectivism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from
Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4),50-71.
Willingham, D. (2008, August 21). Learning Styles Don't Exist. In YouTube. Retrieved December 21, 2012, from

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Seeing the Whole Picture

     I used to think I was a pretty traditional learner. To learn anything, I had to take notes in which I would summarize the main points of the lecture or while reading and I had to highlight important parts of the text. When I did those things, I knew was learning. I thought I learned namely via methods of cognitivism; I was organizing, storing, and retrieving information through my methods of note-taking and summarization (Ertmer & Newby, 1993, p. 58). Yet now I understand my learning has a broader scope, especially when examined through the  lens of connectivism. Learning isn't a formal experience that can only happen in a classroom--learning happens during my interactions with people, social networks, professional development, and the internet and most of those are quite informal experiences!
     The theory of connectivism explains how all of those pieces of my life help me learn. Connectivism was conceived by theorist George Siemens and he defines it this way:
Connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired and the ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital. Also critical is the ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday. (Davis, Edmunds, & Kelly-Bateman, 2008)
Basically that's a fancy way of saying that learning happens through networking and connecting information to prior knowledge. Now I understand that my learning happens almost without me even realizing it. Via social networks like Twitter, I'm connected to respected education experts who share articles and links while Facebook connects me to my former classmates and colleagues so we can share ideas and advice, too. Pinterest lets me see what other educators are doing or thinking about and Diigo can help me bookmark resources for later. Yes, this means some of my "learning may reside in non-human appliances" (Davis, Edmunds, & Kelly-Bateman, 2008), but that's a connectivist principle and it is merely another way of organizing information. There is only so much one person can remember, so it's comforting to know some of that pressure is taken away because I know where to go to retrieve the information when I need it (and when I need it, I tend to remember it better, too). Likewise being able to find reliable information quickly is an important skill since education is an industry that lives with a constant ebb and flow. The "capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known" (Davis, Edmunds, & Kelly-Bateman, 2008), another connectivist principle, is important because I need to stay current with best educational practices if I am to be a successful educator.
     I wasn't wrong about my learning style during the first week of class; however, I wasn't seeing the whole picture. I now understand how difficult it can be to separate learning styles and theories and I can comprehend how some theories work together to complement each other and weave a tapestry of knowledge. As I continue to learn and grow, I now feel as though I have the proper tools and information to help me maximize my learning potential, especially thanks to connectivism, the theory that helps me make sense out of my life experiences and the connections I have to others and information in the world.

Davis, C., Edmunds, E., & Kelly-Bateman, V. (2008). Connectivism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from
Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4),50-71.