I’ll be honest that it’s probably been 18 years since my undergraduate Educational Psychology class and the knowledge I can recall from that class is sketchy. I definitely see the need to acquire a better understanding of how learning takes place and use that knowledge to guide me to the best teaching strategies to give all of my students the best opportunities to learn. Dr. Jeanne Ormrod pointed out in “An Introduction to Learning” video clip that we need to know “how they think, what’s going on in their heads as they’re studying, as they’re reading, as they’re responding to questions and so on” (Laureate Education, n.d.). Surprisingly, I actually touched on this topic in my reflection essay for my first Walden class EDUC 6010 that I completed this past weekend. I was relating that it’s become increasingly apparent to me that our students need to know how to study, how to work with a group, etc… I was helping my middle son study his spelling words and for some reason I decided to ask him what he thinks he should be doing when I say, “Hey, we need to study our spelling words a little more.” He stammered around and couldn’t really tell me what he thought that meant. Right then it was a light bulb moment for him and me, when I explained that meant he should be saying the letters to himself when he’s writing them 3x each or looking for them in a practice word search – the focus is repeating them to ourselves out loud, in our heads, writing it down so that we can know without guessing the right way to spell each word, every time we write it down – not just for spelling tests! It’s quite apparent to me my daily teaching strategies could be more effective if I took a method driven approach to teaching and I’m hoping this class can provide me with opportunities to reach that goal.
Before I can put these learning theories into my daily teaching practices, I need to examine my beliefs about learning thru self-inquiry. Mary Jade Haney shared her ideas in Why We Teach Now, in which she explored her own beliefs through a reflective personal journey before she could focus her efforts on reaching her students (Nieto, 2014, p.104). I need to take a similar reflective journey and explore how I learn. I feel I’m a visual learner. I like things neat and organized. My family knows that if I don’t write details down, chances are I will not remember! Directions, grocery lists, and dates of upcoming events – I’ve got to write them down. I’m the same way with learning new material – programming the Amazon Fire Stick, trying a new stitch with my sewing machine or studying for the Red Cross CPR test, I need to jot down key steps and details. I also like things color coded with colored highlighters or colored sticky note tabs, it helps me recall the details. I also feel that I learn and retain the most knowledge when I’ve taught others about a topic, whether it’s teaching American Red Cross Lifeguard training, teaching the books of the Bible to a Sunday School Class or teaching Chemical Reactions to my high school students – subjects that I have taught are the topics I understand the best and each time I teach them again I understand them even better. By contrast, my husband doesn’t have an organized bone in his body. He’s a computer networking software and hardware guy. He’s learned the complexities of the computer world mostly thru self-discovery. He has to get into a topic and figure it out for himself. He will access books, websites, YouTube videos, etc… to help guide him, but he learns best by doing.
Truthfully I’m still digging, highlighting, color coding and rereading about the different learning theories and philosophies and attempting to understand their main concepts. Ertmer and Newby acknowledged that there have been monumental changes affecting the learning processes but “people still learn through stimulus-response associations, and through practice and feedback opportunities as well as the process of collaboration and social negotiations” (Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p.69). I found this reassuring as I’m processing new ways to think about learning. Cognitivism is a learning theory emphasizing acquiring and storing information in a relevant and organized manner. Personally, I think I learn best through cognitive tasks. Being an active participant in my own learning within an environment that emphasizes my participation is a fundamental part of Cognitivism. Cognitive learning theories also emphasize organizing and structuring new information with your current knowledge to form meaningful connections between new and old knowledge (Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p.53-54).
I also think my social interactions have greatly influenced my learning. Vygotsky’s Cultural historical-theory emphasizes the importance of our social environment and that learning is a social and cultural occurrence. I do not think that our ability to learn is solely influenced by our social surroundings, but I do think to be effective teachers we need to understand how our student’s social and cultural beliefs and experiences impact their learning. Within my own learning experiences, I know that the attitude my parents had toward my learning and the importance they placed upon my education had a profound impact on the way I mentally viewed my ability to learn. Reading was actively encouraged, modeled and praised. From my personal experience, I know that because my family expected me to excel at learning that it was easier for me to achieve that goal than if my parents had not believed and emphasized the importance of learning. Many of our students, enter our classroom with experiences that we fail to adequately address in our teaching. Some have a supportive, positive social environment, but many come to us with negative environmental baggage – parents without employment and education opportunities, poverty, violence, family and neighbors who didn’t graduate from high school, and more. As I was thinking about Vygotsky’s ideas, another group of individuals came to mind. Often educators don’t think about the group of kids whose parents place excessive social expectations on their children in the other direction – preK classes at age 3, private schools pushing their students to learn more, faster and at an earlier age, enrollment is multiple music, art, sports and tutoring classes fill any available free time. The societal pressures that students endure because of our society’s expectations are often unrealistic and hinder actual learning. As our school accountability programs mandate more rigorous testing and teaching to the tests, we often place pressures on our students that prevent them from reaching for their potential. I think it’s important that our education system makes a shift toward acknowledging and addressing these cultural attitudes and how they are negatively impacting actual learning. I fear our current education reforms are producing a generation of learners who have developed test anxiety and stressful learning habits with less actual knowledge retention then previous generations. Personally I know that my attitude toward learning and my ability to learn has been positively influenced by my own social environment, we should attempt to include more positive occurrences for our students too.
As I’m pondering and finding useful ways to organize these learning theories and ideas I’m being exposed to during this course, I know it’s important to use these ideas to help me provide the best learning experiences for my students. Our course textbook emphasized the importance of learning and the study of learning to our society as a whole and each individual. “Learning is also the basis for future progress in society” (Ormrod, Schunk, & Gredler, 2009, p. 1-2). The benefits of looking inward thru self-inquiry and understanding the ways I learn best will allow me to make better teaching choices for my students, leading to better learning by my students and benefits for our society as a whole. Designing effective instruction methods requires using the best practices at our disposal. Shifting the focus from teacher directed learning to the details of how students learn, should be the driving force directing our curriculum design and development. As I develop my skills as an instructional designer, I will be the most effective if I can learn about the ways that people learn and use those theories as a scaffold to direct me to choose the best methods and strategies within my design process. I think that all of the philosophies and theories I’ve briefly been introduced to so far, all have some ideas that can be useful, the key is identifying the best methods to choose to reach the learning goals we want our students to reach every day.
Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (2013). Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features from an Instructional Design Perspective, Performance Improvement Quarterly, 26, 43-71.
Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). An introduction to learning [Video file]. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2009). Learning theories and instruction (Laureate custom edition). New York, NY: Pearson. Chapter 1, “Overview” (pp. 1–16)
Sonia Nieto (Ed), 2014, New York, NY: Why We Teach Now: Creating Spaces that Breathe Hope, Teachers College Press. p.103-111.
From a classmate: Your emphasis on self-inquiry and reflection are extremely relevant to what it means to be a good teacher and/or instructional designer. Unfortunately, I’m not sure these are practices that many are familiar with or use regularly. What’s your experience been? Do the professionals around you employ self-inquiry and reflection (that you know of, anyway)?
Your question is an important one because I think it speaks to part of what’s wrong with our current education system. In general I think many teachers don’t exercise self-inquiry and reflection enough. During our learning to be a teacher classes, reflecting on the observations we made, lessons we wrote and actual teaching experiences we had was a constant requirement. And I think that’s a good thing. But once we finished earning our certificate and entered the lions den of teaching, I think many of us fail to continue the practice. I know it’s not something that I do enough of personally. I’ve developed a pretty good habit of jotting down specific challenges or things I should change about a lab or activity and including that reminder in my unit binders, so next year when I start that unit again and I can remember changes I need to make. I view this as surface reflection. Teachers probably do this type of reflection the most. I think we need to move into a broader reflection of our teaching strategies to truly adapt our teaching to our students needs. I can honestly say that as I continued into my 3rd and 4th years teaching I began to reflect on my whole teaching attitudes much less. Why? I think I got bogged down by the day to day stresses and requirements of teaching. It’s easy to get distracted by the “gotta cover this material and get these kids ready for state testing” mentality that drives so much of our day to day teaching. What strikes me as slightly comical but actually really frustrating is the dichotomy of expectations we place on teachers. On one hand we have school administrators and government curriculum requirements pushing standardized test scores and on the other hand we have student-led learning through inquiry, analysis and application. How can we possibly take the time to provide our students with a student-led experience if we are constantly rushed to cover an ever increasing list of concepts in time for standardized assessments? Most high school classes are 55-60 minutes in length. To get back to your reflection question, I find myself doing alot more self reflection as I prepare to reenter teaching after being blessed to stay home with my children these last few years. I think my role as a teacher is even more important because I’m viewing my role as an educator through my momma eyes. I’ve matured as a teacher past just thinking of the content I teach but focusing on the student I’m trying to teach – maybe this is part of why it’s challenging for teachers to embrace instructional design changes. I find myself able to spend the reflection time and ponder what I really want to achieve in my classroom and what changes I need to make to reach those goals. I acknowledge this is a unique position that I have because I can build on my first couple years of teaching before I was a parent. I can use the experiences I now have as a mother of 3 children each with unique strengths and weaknesses and put the two together to develop a better teaching experience than I had before. In the main, my fellow teachers are so distracted by all of the requirements pushed our way and so little time to meet them all that true self reflection is hard for most to achieve. If we could figure out the best strategies to allow teachers more time to reflect and make changes to their own teaching methods we would probably solve most of our education systems problems!
Click here to choose to read my reflections at the end of my course addressing Learning Theories.