“Technology is not just a tool. It can give learners a voice that
they may not have have had before.”
Learning Theories, Perspectives, and Transformations
Reading this week’s blog prompt, sent me through a flashback of writing my thesis (what feels like 100 years ago) and trying to define what an adult learner meant. Similarly, there are a lot of altering definitions of educational technology, however, like the term adult learner, there isn’t one universal definition that is accepted by all as a guiding definition of what it means. Therefore, there are many ways that educational technology has been defined, and is highly dependent upon one’s familiarity, place, time, and many other factors.
To me, educational technology is more than the computer cart in the school or even specific technology that is housed in the physical school building. I think educational technology can encompass a wide range of tools, devices, and other advancements that may have made teaching in the classroom more engaging, efficient, interesting, and overall enhanced the content being learned and/or presented. That being said, for the purpose of this blog post, I would define educational technology as tools used to enhance teaching, learning, and engagement.
Let’s be honest, not all new technology is easy to use, timely, or even a recipe for success. It takes a lot of learning and working outside of one’s comfort zone to learn new things and to try to implement them in teaching and learning. There is also a great chance that not all educational technology will work the way it is intended to (or the way you had anticipated it to for that matter), and sometimes, it can be frustrating or a total fail. Also, if educators are using educational technology in their practices as a way of checking off a box, rather than actually using these tools to engage their students and to potentially enhance or elevate the learning, then it’s no different than using an older technology that also still works. For example, in Bates’ (2019) Chapter 6 of Teaching in a Digital Age, he explains “new technology rarely completely replaces older technology. Usually the old technology remains, operating within a more specialized ‘niche’, such as radio…” (p. 328). Therefore, if educators are using Google Docs to replace a writing notebook, I would argue that it is a lateral replacement of one thing for another. However, if that educator uses some of the functions such as commenting, shared editing, Google Read/Write, spellcheck, etc. then to me that’s elevating the use of that tool. In no way am I saying that one is better than another and that all those features cannot be done using a notebook, however for some, once practiced, those tools could be a lot more efficient. (But let’s remember, in our class on Monday Katia also mentioned when the chalkboard was an innovative tool, much like pen and paper. The advancements in educational technology are ongoing, and sometimes that is innovative today, maybe less desired tomorrow).
Similarly, as mentioned in Bates’ (2019) Chapter 6 a lot of advancements in educational technology may not have intentionally been made specifically for educational technology, however, have been adopted and utilized, as well as manipulated and fine-tuned to meet the needs of educators and students. One example of this, was after World War II when the United States Army started to use overhead projectors (p. 322), which had been adopted by educators and were commonly used in schools and still are (although they have been commonly replaced by projectors, and SMARTboards, but don’t even think for a second that these bad boys aren’t being used anymore).
It’s a funny thing how technology changes over time. I remember in elementary schools when projectors were cool, and by the time I was heading to high school, it felt like old news. However, in high school, they were back in action, with more features like rolling transparencies mounted on either side (I still thought they were out of date, but again, something I had never seen before).
Philosophy of Teaching: Knowledge & Learning Theories
While reading the required course materials for the week, there are a lot of points that I have to agree with between behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism such as:
- Behaviorism: the learner is reactive to their environments, learning and making meaning through situations and how they respond to them. However, I do not necessarily agree with the fact that they are never taking a leading role in their environments and trying to discover things about their surroundings before an event occurs.
- Cognitivism: focuses on how the learner processes information, more specifically, how the mind receives, organizes, stores, and recalls information (Ertmer & Newby, 2013). This learning theory also believes that environmental factors, as well as how instructional techniques cannot explain one’s learning alone, but how all of their learning combined leads up to a learning response.
- Constructivism: although cognitivism sees many elements of behaviorism, and constructivism sees elements of cognitivism and behaviorism, constructivism focuses primarily on how learners make meaning from their own experiences. Constructivists believe that the “mind filters input from the world to produce its own unique reality” (Eartmer & Newby, 2013, p. 55).
- Social Constructivism: similar to constructivism, social constructivism focuses on professional learning, development and sharing, and Communities of Practice (COPs).
Eartmer & Newby’s (2013) article discusses three learning theories (behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism), however, all of them evolved in a time where technology was not as available, or not as rapidly changing as we see in today’s world. Even though I believe in certain parts of behaviorism and cognitivism learning theories that have been previously discussed, I found myself most drawn to the constructivism and connectivism learning theories. Unique to connectivism, as Siemens (2005) points out, none of the three theories (behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism) take into account learning that happens outside of people themselves, like learning that happens through technology for example. Siemens (2005) explains:
Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity, and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.
Like I said previously, I think there are points of behaviorism and cognitivism that I use in my classroom daily, and that are all valid in their own ways. I am drawn towards constructivism and connectivism the most, as I feel like learning through collaborating as well as through our social networks is important too. However, I also agree with the required readings, that one theory alone is not the best and the go-to for everything, and in fact learning to use multiple learning theories is important to engage learners in different ways. Therefore, it is suggested to use different learning theories in different learning environments and situations, to get whatever the desired result may be. That being said, some learners may learn better using one learning theory over another, but I would argue learners should be introduced to many altering opportunities to balance their learning and understanding.
Teaching Career Transformations
Like anything, I feel as if I have experienced many transformational moments throughout my teaching career, in terms of having a shift in my perspectives and ways of knowing. Although I would say that my transformational learnings have occurred primarily by learning through interactions with people and my environments, however, I have also learned from technology about better teaching practices, and even efficiency, etc. from using LMS, productivity tools and suites, as well as other educational technologies that have enhanced my understanding and delivery of teaching practices.
I cannot pinpoint an exact time that I can share with you about how my world felt like it suddenly was changed in terms of my teaching, however, there are many times when I have had a shift in the way I understand or do things in my classroom, that upon reflection I realize that it had been a slow change in the making for some time. I’m not discrediting anyone that has felt like they have had a sudden transformational learning experience, however, what I am saying is that I haven’t experienced one yet.
There have been countless ways that my perspectives have shifted over time in terms of my teaching, however, some of the ways that my beliefs have shifted or changed over the course of my teaching thus far, are as follows:
- Participation looks different for everyone, and that there is no universal definition for what participation should look like. Also, if people are asking students to participate, it should be modeled or explained to them, and clear expectations should be given. For example, some students may fully be participating but may not share any of their ideas in front of a large group but may have contributed in other ways. Therefore, discrediting them for their lack of ‘participation’ in the whole group is not acceptable.
- Multiple Intelligences/Learning Theories are key to setting students up for success. Incorporating many ways of learning, or through different perspectives is important for students to know that how they learn matters, and this hopefully provides students with more opportunities to engage in their learning.
- Do not take everything personally, although it is super tricky at times. Sometimes I plan and put a lot of effort into creating (what I think is) a super engaging lesson plan that incorporates a lot of different learning theories and learning opportunities, and students may not react the way I had anticipated. Does that mean that it was a total waste of time? Probably not but getting caught up in those feelings sometimes happens.
- Collaboration is a learned experience, and not an expected one. There are many opportunities within teaching and learning to collaborate, however, sometimes what I seem to forget is that collaboration isn’t an inherited trait that everyone knows how to do. In my experience, in the world of education, many people feel threatened by the idea of having to collaborate. Whether that is because they feel taking advantage of, easier to work by themselves, feels like extra work, etc., people seem to either enjoy true collaboration or they don’t. By true collaboration, I mean collaborating where all parties are contributing (again, contributing looks different for each person).
- Incorporating technology needs to be meaningful. There are many times when people use technology just to say that they are using it (which is fine, no judgment here). However, I have learned that technology needs to be used properly to engage and enhance learning, rather than something we throw at the kids to say that we are using it. On the other hand, I also don’t find it beneficial to incorporate as many different educational technologies as I can into one lesson, as then it starts to be less meaningful. Balancing technology is important (just like anything).
Amongst many things, I think my biggest shift in perspective is that pedagogy is more important than trying to be or look the best, and trying to be the teacher you admire down the hallway doesn’t work. Being authentic, willing to admit when you’re wrong, continually learn new things, and be open to change, are all very important concepts to review often in one’s teaching practices. Even though I am going into my 12th year of teaching, there are still things that I know I can improve in, and that I would like to alter to connect and engage with my students more.
What About You?
Thanks for popping in, I’d love to hear more about what you think! Feel free to answer any of the following questions or let me know if you have any questions or connections about the post.
- What learning theories (or theory) speak most to you?
- Are there any learning theories that you fundamentally disagree with?
- How do you incorporate learning theories in your teaching philosophies? Or do you maybe not intentionally think about them when planning for your students (no judgment here)?
- How have your perspectives change over the course of your teaching/learning career?