The past couple of weeks has given me the opportunity to read and think about a variety of learning theories. The experience has been good but a lot to absorb. And frankly, I’m still making sense of all details and differences – who contributed what, where the ideas overlap, and which school of thought the theories originated from. However, reading Ertmer and Duffy’s comparative study on three learning theories sparked two important enlightening moments. The intro stated, “Learning theories provide instructional designers with verified instructional strategies and techniques for facilitating learning as well as a foundation for intelligent strategy selection.” This was a very powerful statement that helped to realize the importance of understanding and utilizing learning theories in the planning and designing of effective instructions. It reduced the perception that a proficiency in multimedia tools (even with continuous growth of mobile devices and software) is the key to learning. Rather the theories are the foundation that explains how people learn, and the key is to leverage technology to cultivate those learning principles. It reminded me of a video that I had seen several months ago on Dr. Merrill talking about instructional design. I reviewed the video again, and it was satisfying to realize that his beliefs are similar to those of Ertmer and Duffy’s.
The comparative study also helped to understand that different theories are used to structure different types of learning. The behaviorist theory is appropriate for basic levels of learning, cognitivism for higher levels of information processing and understanding, and constructivism to further shape cognitive processing and meaning as result of experience and the environment.
All three approaches are important in the learning process. I find the behaviorist approach is an effective way to teach information that requires simple mental processing such as drills, identification, memorization, and basic remediation. From personal experience, I’ve used this approach often to teach vocabulary and grammar. Because I tutor synchronously online I prefer to use online based tools. These tools allow me to show and demonstrate, but it also gives students the opportunity to access and demonstrate from their end. I use a tool called Quizlet to teach vocabulary. It emphasizes a rote style of learning but presents the vocabulary in five different activities. As a way to help with understanding on reading, I have students use a mind mapping tool to highlight, outline, or connect ideas.
Ertmer, P.A., & Newby, T.J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance improvement quarterly, 6(4), 50-72. DOI: 10.1002/piq.21143.
Mdavidmerrill [Screen name]. (2008, August 11). Merrill on Instructional Design [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_TKaO2-jXA