This week’s in-depth reading in LTOT detailing Behaviorist, Cognitivist, and Constructivist Learning Theories was review, but it was “new again” when read through the lens of online learning. I have taken classes before where I had to claim one: that’s tough, because there are bits of each theory that speak to me. They make sense, and I can immediately relate: Ah, yes...that is exactly how I plan lessons (Constructivist). Uh-huh...that theory applied when helping students to study for quizzes and tests (Cognitivist). Oh, yes...that has proven itself true in how best to “train” students to correctly format their writing assignments (Behaviorist).
Constructivism, however, most accurately fits my teaching and learning style; in addition, Constructivist Theory makes the most sense as it relates to what I am learning about best practices in online courses. I believe so strongly that everything we encounter, interact with, and do in a classroom setting impacts us as learners. Each conversation, each text, each writing task, each project: each and every activity and assignment, and the ways in which students engage with them, will affect what they learn, how much they learn, and how it affects them as learners and as people. From a Constructivist point of view, a variety of experiences are essential in a course – regardless of in students are sitting together with a teacher inside the same four walls, or if they are participating in an online learning environment separated from classmates and their instructor by space and time.
When it comes to online learning, the concept of scaffolding (p. 68) is absolutely critical. Scaffolding in a traditional “within four walls” classroom is important, but when students are working in the absence of a teacher and classmates at just a raised hand away, a teacher’s role in ensuring that appropriate supports are in place are more important than ever. The beauty and curse of the explosion in available online supports for teachers and students is that finding the truly “good” ones can be a daunting task. One list that I have visited frequently over the last year or so is DailyTekk’s “EdTech: 100 Tech Tools for Teachers and Students.” I appreciate the way the list is organized by target group and task, and it includes a number of tools that I have either played with or use regularly; it is definitely a list I have revisited this week while considering ways to scaffold learning for students taking an online class.
The strongest connection between last week’s reading and this week’s consideration of learning theory, for me, is related to DIALOGUE and the ways in which learners construct knowledge by interacting with others. The more students have the opportunity to engage in synchronous or asynchronous student-student dialogue, student-teacher dialogue, or personal reflection, the more meaningful, significant, and lasting the learning will be.
It was more than two decades ago that I first encountered Vygotsky’s research and his socio-historical perspective that suggests that “tools emerge and change, as do cultures. Tools are part of our cultural and cognitive development” (p. 66). This section of the text made me consider the changes over the last several years related to “books,” what constitutes a “book,” and individual preferences related to books. When Kindles and e-readers first appeared, many-a-reader resisted: I like the feel of a book in my hands; I like to turn the pages, touch the paper, caress the cover. I was one of these readers. However, as e-readers have become more and more commonplace, as the convenience of downloading a book in the middle of the night to my Kindle and traveling without an extra 50 pounds of book-baggage have become welcome habits for an avid reader, I have come to prefer my Kindle and e-reader apps on my iPad to most books. The tool emerged and changed, and, in turn, changed the culture of reading and the habits of readers. Pretty cool.
Every teacher in America is intimately familiar with Behaviorist Learning Theory and Bloom’s Taxonomy. During Alaska’s review of the Common Core Standards and committee work to develop Alaska’s new standards, I was exposed to Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) and a number of useful tools related to the thoughtful and purposeful creation of learning activities that address the various levels of DOK. New York City’s Department of Education shares some excellent resources on their website, including excellent video illustrating differences between Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s DOK, as well as supporting documents that help educators make sense of difference. I am reminded of how important it is to value and reference Behaviorist Theory in designing balanced online coursework.
While our reading for this week did not include the theory of Connectivism, I discovered an interesting explanation of this theory online, and the ways in which it relates to “the digital age.” Ryan Tracey (2011) writes:
While cognitivism focuses on knowledge inside the mind, connectivism focuses on
knowledge outside the mind. George Siemens describes connectivism as “a learning
theory for the digital age.” He maintains that in today’s world, there’s simply too much
knowledge to take in – and it changes too quickly anyway. So forget about trying to
know everything; instead, exploit technology to extend your knowledge beyond your
own brain. Build a network of knowledge sources which you can access as the need
arises. Recognising meaningful patterns among distributed sets of information, rather
than storing it all in your head, re-defines what it means to “learn.”
Hmm. Considering all that I have read in the last two weeks, Mr. Tracey’s points certainly do make a lot of sense.
Dr. Graham wrote in her introduction to this week’s assignment, “It is good to be well-versed in theory so that we understand the “roots” of our belief system and engage in intentional practice.” Harrasim (2012) quotes Edward Thorndike (1920) in her introduction to Chapter 3: “Schoolroom life itself is a vast laboratory in which are made thousands of experiments...” (p. 30). Yes, there is absolutely an art to teaching...but there is a great deal of science to it, as well. Understanding that inputs will affect outputs, attention to the best practices that have been informed by theory and research, and being actively cognizant and reflective about why a teacher does what she does is important as we strive to become more effective as educators. When stepping into a new instructional environment like the one presented through online learning, it is even more important that the educator (myself, in this case) carefully considers how to shape and craft experiences for students that will result in the most meaningful learning possible.
“EdTech: 100 Tech Tools for Teachers and Students.” (April 9, 2012). Retrieved from
New York City Department of Education. (2014). Depth of Knowledge. Retrieved from
Tracey, Ryan. (2011). E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 1. Retrieved from