Why we learn

We don’t really know, do we? That is what struck me as I was progressing through this course. We have no firm idea why people learn or what would make them better learners. There are a variety of theories attempting to explain how something presented is eventually able to affect the behaviors of a student, but the process through which that change occurs remains a mystery.

The question is why. Why is it so difficult to understand how a student learns? How can we, as instructional designers create content that will be easily recognized, absorbed, and maintained over many years. This is an important concept to understand because if we know how a student learns, then we can construct the educational material in such a way that learning is efficiently enabled.

It seems to me the answer to our instructional design problem is rooted in the wide variety of students we are required to educate. Many theories have been created that attempt to categorize learning styles. Some believe there is a direct effect between the student’s environment and their ability to assimilate information while other theories focus on the internal processes of how a student takes in information. Others, such as the multiple intelligence theory first put forth by Howard Gardner, attempts to “…recognize and nurture all of the varied human intelligences, and all of the combinations of intelligences” (Armstrong, p. 5). These attempts to categorize learning styles through testing have become very popular among educators and instructors alike. I cannot help but wonder if the results of a “learning style” test tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies for students.

The important aspect of all this discussion and theorizing is the fact that we are talking about it. That we recognize that many different methods may be needed to impart information on a student. These approaches to learning may change from topic to topic, student to student, and may even vary within the same student. We as instructional designers must recognize the need for variety in our content. The use of technology has made online learning a realistic prospect instead of an extension of the classic book based correspondence course. Video, audio, images, interactive exercises, and even games can be used to engage the student and help them to understand the subject when an instructor is not immediately available.

Of course, we live in a highly connected society. The communication weaknesses of the past are generally a distant memory. Students and instructors can communicate wherever their physical location may be through text messaging, email, video conferencing, and online discussions. There is no reason for a student to feel “left out” unless the instructor is not doing their part to be available. The dark side of this modern age of text based communication is the lack of nuance that can be detected in a verbal discussion. We miss the non-verbal cues that are present in a face to face or video conversation. As a result, both instructors and students alike must exercise caution ensuring the appropriate message is delivered.

Personally, this course provided some insight into why I struggle with certain topics. I still have not decided which theory I will lay the blame with, but I better understand my limitations. When I recognize the challenge of learning a topic I can adjust how information is delivered and hopefully adjust my methods of acquiring and assimilating the content.

Instead of using these theories as a means to define my student’s learning styles, I will recognize the variety of teaching and learning styles that must be adopted in order to educate my classes. I will work to motivate my students, regardless of their reason for being in the course, and apply a strong educational foundation for them to build a career. If a student struggles, I can find a way to help them learn by turning to the theories and practices of those researchers who have laid a path for me.

Armstrong, T. (2000). Multiple intelligences in the classroom (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Retrieved 10/7/2012 from http://site.ebrary.com/id/10326283

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