Reflections on Learning Theories and Instruction Course

As I consider what I learned in the Learning Theories and Instruction course, a few things stand out. I was able to confirm a few existing beliefs about how people learn. I learned that a social aspect to online learning is necessary to keep adult learners properly engaged. I understand more about the way that I learn. And I believe that I have a good foundation for my further studies in Instructional Design.

Some beliefs that were confirmed by this class include the need for real world examples, the poor match between memorization and complex problems, and the need to have motivated learners. Real world examples help students store instructions in their long term memory by providing multiple connections to prior memories. Real world examples also facilitate recall and transfer when trying to apply instructions to new and similar tasks. My next confirmed belief is that rote memorization does not work for complex problems. Complex problems have many variables and nuances that cannot be practiced and rehearsed and memorized. Students need problem solving skills and conditional thinking methods that allow them to apply previously learned instructions to new problems. Finally, students learn better when motivated. They focus better, retain more, and study harder. The piece that is somewhat new to me is the role that the instructor can play. Previously I considered motivation to be mostly internal and now I realize that the instructor can employ methods to foster motivation.

The biggest surprise for me in all of our reading is the need for, and effectiveness of, a social aspect to learning, particularly online learning. I know of a company that has online training modules that employ PowerPoint slides with embedded videos and interactive Flash elements. They are aesthetically pleasing and contain excellent technical information, yet they receive low grades from students. I now believe this is because there is no interaction in these online training modules. The students do not interact with a facilitator or other students. While watching a module, the students do not have anyone to talk with nor any way to ask for further explanation of a difficult subject. The modules do not provide feedback when an exercise is completed.

While I now believe that social interaction is important in online learning, I see it as a large challenge within my organization. We have many users with over 1 million copies sold worldwide of our CAD software package. While it would be relatively easy to place learning modules online, it will be quite difficult to provide instructor support in multiple languages and multiple time zones. Maybe the courses will have to be structured so that the interaction between the students is the most important social aspect. I think this will be a challenging endeavor and I look forward to it.

As for my own learning process, I understand that the rote memorization tactics that I used in grade school to score well on tests do not reflect my learning style today. I employ a more cognitive approach to learning now. I do not just learn the meaning of a word, I try to understand its use within a sentence or document. To learn a new software application, I do not simply memorize the list of functions and locations of the toolbar buttons. I learn the application by using it to create something meaningful. I need to use the application in my daily work or often for a hobby so I can become proficient in its use.

As I look forward to furthering my instructional design career, I believe that this course will be a great foundation. I have to admit that I was skeptical early on. The first chapter in our course text briefly talked about the history of learning theories and frequently interrupted the text with many citations. The second chapter talked about how the various parts of the brain store and retrieve memories. I found both chapters difficult to read and I questioned how this was all going to relate to instructional design.

As the course progressed, however, I began to see the relevance for my understanding of instructional design. Some key points include:

  • It is necessary to vary the learning theory based on the learning task. Behaviorist learning works well for simple associations and cognitive learning works well for more complex problems.
  • It is not critical to vary the learning style to meet the student’s needs. A student’s learning style changes depending on the material being presented and research continues to be done to understand the relevance of individual learning styles.
  • As stated previously, it is important to include real world examples and a social aspect to learning.

I look forward to the next course, Instructional Design, to start putting all this theory into practice planning better courses.

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