Learning theories.

I work for the Curriculum Design and Development unit at Central Queensland University. I come from a technology background so I’m endeavoring to learn more about the curriculum design process and how people actually learn. As part of this learning journey I’m going to broadly write about learning theories in order to get this stuff straight in my head as I find a lot of stuff written about learning theory ambiguous and over analyzed. I’d appreciate comments as I expect my perceptions of some or all of these things to be wrong.

  •  Behaviorism is based on a new behavior being repeated until learned. Positive behaviors are rewarded while negative behaviors are punished. Behaviorists are concerned with measuring the new behaviors.
  • Cognitivism is the thought process behind the behavior. Changes in behavior are indicative of changes in though processes. Brain-based learning.
  • Constructivism is where we construct our knowledge based on our experiences. A teacher in this context will seek to guide the learner to build their own knowledge within the confines of their person.
  • Social constructivism argues that the optimal learning environment is one where a dynamic interaction between instructors, learners and tasks provides an opportunity for learners to create their own truth due to the interaction with others. (Wikipedia)

Loosely based on these theories are:

  • Objectivism. Reality is external and objective. Knowledge is through experiences.
  • Pragmatism. Reality is interpreted. Knowledge is negotiated through experience and thinking.
  • Interpretivism. Reality is internal. Knowledge is constructed.

Real life learning is complex and non-linear and modern learning through technology adds another complexity into the mix. Incorporating technology into learning theory is connectivism. Based on chaos theory where its assumed that every thing is connected to everything else ( I like the butterfly analogy where a butterfly flaps it’s wings in the Amazon and causes a cyclone in Australia ), connectivism is saying the conduits to knowledge are more important than the actual knowledge which fits with my experience, at least my professional experience anyway. With technical tasks in a fast, ever-changing world I’ve found its more efficient to know where the information is than know the information. Connectivism states that new information is continually being acquired and the ability to distinguish important from unimportant information is vital.

According to George Siemens the principles of contructivism are:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  • learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.
  • nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill.
  • Currency (up to date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  • Decision making is itself a learning process. choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality.

Some things that I find fascinating about connectivism are the implications in other areas of life like the recognition that complete knowledge of a problem or system can’t reside in a single person therefor diverse teams of varying viewpoints are critical for more completely understanding ideas. Web2.0 is a connectivist concept. George Seimens says that the pipe or conduit to knowledge is more important than the content of the pipe. The ability to learn what we need to know tomorrow is more important than what we know today.

George Seimens ( A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. http://www.itdl.org/journal/jan_05/Jan_05.pdf#page=7)

Stephen Downes (http://www.downes.ca/)

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