Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Week 2: Reflections Part I

In Foundations of Educational Theory for Online Learning, Mohamed Ally argues that no one school of thought on learning is used exclusively in online design, and that an online developer must know the different approaches to learning in order to select the appropriate instructional strategies (p. 6).

Personally I agree with Ally's assertions, not only for Online teaching and learning, but also for face to face. I've been a student for quite a long time. In the past couple of years I have been paying attention to not only to my learning preferences (and learning style) but also what worked for my classmates.

At grad student meetings where students would discuss which classes they wanted to take and other students gave them my two cents, I often asked students questions to determine their learning preferences and then suggest a professor whose teaching was more in line with their learning style.

Both in INSDSG 601 and 602 we saw (quite a few times) that our classmates were all over the learning styles map, so even for a face to face class, an instructor could not rely on one school of thought in order to develop a training module or a whole class. While it is difficult (and sometimes impossible) to accommodate everyone, a perspective teacher cannot just preach to the choir or students who happen, by chance, to be on the same wavelength.


Mohamed Ally talks about the implications of different learning theories--behaviorist, cognitivist, and constructivist--on online learning. How and where are the implications of these theories different for online learning than they are for face-to-face instruction? Does technology make a difference?

The way one answers this question really depends on how they view technology. I view technology as an enabler, a tool to be used for teaching and learning. The tool in and of itself is not the end, but rather a mean to reach the end. Different tools have different capabilities, and depending on the learning styles of the students, some tools are more powerful than others.

I think that the learning theories and how those are utilized do definitely have an impact on online learning, but they also have an impact in face to face learning. The implications are different only because the toolsets differ. An instructor will use one toolset for face to face teaching and a slightly different toolset for online teaching.

The analogy I would use is this: If there are two teachers, a teacher with only has his voice and gestures to teach (i.e. no assistive implements like blackboards, easels, overhead projectors, powerpoint, etc), and another that has more tools in his toolset (a blackboard and an easel for example), do these learning theories have different implications based on the 'technology' that they are using? The answer is no. The theories allow you to know your prospective learners, and understand (and analyze) what tools are good for what purpose. The technology in the classroom has the status of 'helper', nothing more, nothing less.
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