Archive | February, 2012

Reflections on Learning Theories

24 Feb

Everyone learns differently.  Even someone untrained in learning theories understands that no two people learn in the same manner.  Everyone is wired differently and processes information in a unique manner.  What also has to be taken into account is that teachers are the same way.  All teachers instruct differently and provide information in unique manners.  How then, do we all get on the same page so that teachers can teach in a manner that is best for the learner to learn?  This is where the study of learning theories and styles helps and provides us with an outline of different styles and techniques that can be used to both teach and learn effectively.

During my study, the most surprising concept was that even though there are many different theories that describe how people learn, no one person could be placed in a single bucket as there was so much overlap between all the different methods.  It took a full three weeks before realizing that the struggles that I had trying to differentiate ideas of behaviorism, cognitivism and constructionism were not actual struggles.  There are many similarities between all theories. Karl Kapp (2007) explains that teaching and learning are not a single thing but a multifaceted entity.  No one particular –ism explains how we teach or process information.

My own learning process is varied as well.  Placing me a particular camp is difficult.  Social learning and connectivism are methods that I utilize constantly while in the workplace.  However, it really is irrelevant to know how I learn best unless I had a true understanding of how my brain functions.  A simple concept like the levels of process allowed me grasp the idea of information transfer and its retention it in long-term memory.  The increasing complexity between physical, acoustic and semantic shows three different ways I look at information and allows my brain to make necessary connections to place it in long-term memory.  Encoding data for later retrieval is the fundamental key to learning.  If a person cannot recall the information, it is not really learned (McCrudden & Schraw, 2009).

Howard Gardner developed the eight types of intelligence as a way of identifying a wide range of skills that people possess and to group them into categories (Armstrong, 2000).  Using this theory, it is easy to see that, at a higher level, all other theories are connected in some way.  Everyone is good at something and everyone has the ability to learn.  Understanding the relationship between motivation and learning is just as important as understanding the various theories.  If a person is not motivated, the cognitive process will not be efficient, hindering the learning process (Ormrod, Shunk & Gredler, 2009).  The different theories are ever evolving and they change to the current environment (Kerr, 2007).

It is important for the instructor to understand how the brain works to create an environment that is optimal for the student (Ertmer & Newby, 1993).  All parties are responsible for a student’s education and must be held accountable for breakdowns and accomplishments.  “Academic underachievement cannot be attributed only to teachers or only to students” (Berninger & Richards, 2002).  Learning is a two-way street.  Instructional designers must recognize that there are special techniques that must be employed to maintain the focus and motivation of the students.  These techniques also change based on the environment in which the class takes place.  Teaching an online class is very different from teaching a room full of students.  According to Ertmer and Newby (1993), the most effective learning should take place as part of a realistic environment.  It is up to the instructional designer to create that environment by offering problems that the student can relate to as part of their everyday life.  An honest self evaluation will help a teacher to use their strengths and, more importantly, strengthen their weaknesses.  Since every student is strong in different areas of Gardner’s intelligences, it is important to use a wide variety of methods to teach.

The question is why we assume that there is a single acceptable answer or correct method to accomplish or teach something (Narayan, 2010).  Failure to consider that there may be more than one correct method of getting an answer is a failure to properly teach.  Teaching and learning are not binary and there are no black and whites.  There is plenty of grey, middle ground.  The need to take a little concept from each learning method and transform it into a varied system will create a robust experience for the learner and allow the information to reach more students at once (Kapp, 2007).   A teacher must remain balanced in their approach.  They must recognize that the style must fit both themselves and the learner and develop methods to keep their students’ attention, allowing them to remain motivated.


Armstrong, T. (2000). Multiple intelligences in the classroom (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Berninger, V. & Richards, T. (2009). Brain and learning.  [Blog Post].  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.

Kapp, K. (2007, January 2). Out and about: Discussion on educational schools of thought. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Kerr, W. (2007, January 1). _isms as filter, not blinker. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

McCrudden, M. & Schraw, G. (2009). Information processing theory. [Blog Message]. Retrieved from

Narayan, A. (2010, June 3).  The grays in learning. [Blog Post].  Retrieved from

Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2009). Learning theories and instruction (Laureate custom edition). New York: Pearson.


Fitting the Pieces Together

18 Feb

When reviewing the various learning theories and styles, it is very difficult to determine where one ends and the next begins.  There is a significant amount of overlap between all methods that no one person can be pigeonholed into a single area.  Karl Kapp (2007) explains learning as a multifaceted entity as opposed to a single thing.  Complete learning can only occur when the student is engaged in the topic and wants to learn (Lim, 2004).  No particular –ism can appropriately describe how a person can process information and retain it as knowledge but knowledge of all can make you a better instructor or learner.  Each theory has a bit of information that you, as a learner or teacher, can take away and add to your personal bag of tricks.  There is something there that can make you a better educator or student in any circumstance.

Archana Narayan (2010) poses the question of why do we always assume that there is a single correct method of teaching a topic or learning.  The simple truth is that there is not right way.  Fortunately, there really is not a wrong way either.  There are certainly more effective methods that can be implemented given a particular environment or audience.  There are also preferred methods of teaching and learning, depending on who is involved.  Luckily, Howard Gardner created a theory that connects everything together at a high level.  Gardner developed the theory of multiple intelligences as a way of classifying a large array of skills that people possess and to group them into categories (Armstrong, 2000).  His theory is that we all posses some form of each intelligence and have the capability to increase each one.

Increasing our intelligences has become increasingly easier if we utilize the newest forms of technology.  Cloud computing makes it easier to share documents and information as connectivism promotes.  The iPhone’s Siri technology is a perfect example of how semantic-aware applications can make obtaining information by the user simpler, a central topic of cognitivism.  Mobile devices like the BlackBerry and the iPad allow us to interface with others on the go, a key component to the constructionist theory.

At the center of all this technology is the internet.  It has spawned online learning, negating geography as a limitation.  The various web sites that exist provide a plethora of data that a person can get with the click of a button.  Communication barriers have been all but eliminated through email, texts and blogs.  Search engines have made the collection of information simple for a person to obtain on their own in the cognitivist view.  Blogs provide a feedback area that behaviorist crave.  Constructionists like the ability to discuss topics easier and connectivists can keep their finger on the pulse of virtually everything.

There is a little of something out there for everyone.


Armstrong, T. (2000). Multiple intelligences in the classroom (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Kapp, K. (2007, January 2). Out and about:discussion on educational schools of thought. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Lim, C. P. (2004). Engaging learners in online learning environments. TechTrends: Linking Research and Practice to Improve Learning, 48(4), 16–23.

Narayan, A. (2011, March 4). What is the ‘learning’ world coming to? [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Connectivism and the Digital Age

4 Feb

There are a few definitions of where the line is drawn between a digital immigrant and a digital native.  Some consider the transition as 1970, that line where the digital age began (Prensky, 2001).  Mostly, however, I consider the technology that could be considered the transition point to digital native would be around 2000.  This is when personal computers were commonplace is households and cell phones were gaining favor with the masses.  Everything began being connected.  By the latter definition, I am a digital immigrant, and a native by the former.

Looking at my undergraduate work during early 1990’s and my graduate work in the early 2010’s, there are dramatic differences with the technology that is both available and the ease of its use.  The two largest factors that affect my education now and then are email and the internet.  While working as an undergraduate at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, email was present on campus but it was cumbersome to use and rather complex to follow.  Few people used it as most students did not have their own personal computer, instead using those in the common labs on campus.  Though the internet was around, few, if any people had connections and searching for information was still easiest at the library.  Remember, this lack of technology is at a well-known and well-respected college with its core classes in engineering and science.

Currently, without email or the internet, I could not function in either my job or my schoolwork.  Email, and to a lesser part texting, is a vital form of communication.  Now, most everyone has a personal computer at home and at work that allows for near constant communication.  Cell phones, and especially smart phones, have taken that to a whole different level.  Most information gathering now takes place online, surfing the internet for various forms of information. Just look at the three main segments of the local news on television: news, sports and weather.  It used to be that a person would watch the news in the morning and evening to find out what is going on in the world.  Now, a simple click of the mouse and you are connected to websites that provide all that information updated constantly.  Not only can you find out what the weather is like at your current location, but anywhere around the world.  This makes it easier for travel and planning.

Questions used to be asked in person of a peer, coworker, teacher or classmate.  Now, with the internet, the use of a search engine can quickly deliver many sites of information, which connect to other sites which connect to still more.  There is virtually endless knowledge in the virtual world.  With just a simple word or phrase, it is possible to find definitions, dissertations and descriptions of anything.  The internet is a vital component in the workplace as well as user’s manuals, repair guides and spare parts are just a link away from being ordered or downloaded.

The central tenet of connectivism is that there are many sources for information and learning is being able to connect all those sources together, maintaining and promoting them (Davis, Edmunds & Kelly-Bateman, 2008).  Looking at my personal learning network, it is clear that the digital age has fully advanced my use of connectivism and imbedded it as the primary learning style I use.  Both the interactive technology and non-interactive technology segments of the mind map are filled with resources that are used on a daily basis.


Connectivism. (2011, December 14). Sensemaking artifacts. [Blog Entry].  Retrieved from

Davis, C., Edmunds, E., & Kelly-Bateman, V. (2008). Connectivism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon,9(5). Retrieved from,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

VanSlyke, T. (2003, May/June). Digital natives, digital immigrants: Some thoughts from the generation gap. The Technology Source Archives at the University of North Carolina.  Retrieved from

Connectivism – A Mind Map

4 Feb

A mind map showing technological dependencies