On learning and instructional design

On the Online Toys and Tools discussion forum,  Sirin Soyoz from Istambul states

As far as I experience, it is instructional design that facilitates learning and learners must take on new roles in the learning process.

This is very much the discussion now taking place in Week 6 of the FOC08 course, which I am also following  and participating in so I have decided to bring them together. Connecting thoughts, weaving threads and ideas.

Like Stephen, I am skeptic of words like “must” and a universal solution. I question the whole industry of e-moderation, e-facilitation that has come in the wake of the e-hype and forces people into fragmented views and compartments.

While instructional design may seem an efficient way of accomplishing tasks,  I do not see it necessarily conducing to learning. Instructional design is just another name for teaching –  acting upon or transmitting (through various methods, techniques and psychological & motivational maneuvers) the content or behaviour deemed to be correct or required for a certain end. So its motives reside outside the learners even if they are requested to take part and may influence the design.

Learning, on the other hand,  is a continuous personal quest towards sense making, expressing it and making it work so as to accomplish not only our individual but also collective needs. Beautiful design, instruction, role taking may facilitate learning but are not a pre-condition for it to occur. Children learn different strategies and have insights while playing without any conscious design or control on the part of their parents.

As Stephen illustrates well, in for some people in some groups or the software community, learning occurs in spite of

commonality of purpose (some people are professionals, others merely interested), far from universal motivation to learn (others signed on for any of a variety of motives) and certainly no professional e-moderation.

He asks:

Given the absence of the elements claimed to be necessary to support learning – the absence of instructional design, the absence of professional e-moderation, the absence of commonality of purpose – then we have to ask, what is it, really, that is fostering the learning in such a situation.

As I see it, from my own experience as a learner/teacher/mother/daughter/wife/citizen and many other perspectives I have acquired during my life, learning happens continuously consciously and unconsciously, by being immersed in life and not separated from it. We observe, relate to others, read, compare and contrast, expose ourselves, dip into the pool of collective knowledge trying to find answers to our questions, try, fail and endlessly repeat what seems to us the correct pattern with slight variations trying to perfect whatever we find incomplete or lacking.

Very often we learn incidentally through exposure, immersion and observing what does not work or went wrong, which is not necessarily very “efficient” if measured against “time and ROI” which seem to drive everyone’s actions nowadays.

I must say I have been very fortunate to have had many people who walked with me along the way – they shared with me some of their own insight,  sometimes held my hand,  sometimes instructed me, sometimes nudged or challenged me to overcome self-built obstacles – they helped me stretch a bit further each time. There are many roads that lead to knowledge and we cannot take them all as this experiment/course well illustrates. Each one of us will follow our own path according to background, assumptions, choices and needs.

However, do we all have the choice, the time, the people and the resources to learn, expand and share our knowledge with others ? Does the economy/society we live in today allow for and recognize this kind of learning ? How can theories map a dynamic process? (remembering that the map is not the territory). Is it possible to measure and evaluate it? What for and how? Don’t we prescribe and obfuscate emergence by enforcing a model, a theory?

5 thoughts on “On learning and instructional design”

  1. hi sirin,

    I agree when you say that “happens continuously consciously and unconsciously, by being immersed in life and not separated from it”

    but I think that we are focusing too much on the larger concept of building “personal knowledge” rather than the task of building “professional knowledge”. Personal knowledge can be completely controlled by each individual—to access whichever resources they want—an open-ended learning experience. Professional growth and learning is a close-ended, goal-oriented task and the purpose of the CCK08 course is to understand better how we can use social networks to enhance and assist professional learning.

    For instance, social networks help:
    -Reduce the burden of memory storage
    -Allow the creation of PLE’s (increasing learner comfort)
    -Increase technical skills (online tools are now freely available)
    -Convenient and informal Blended Learning modules

  2. Dear Shalini,
    I beg to disagree with a number of your statements
    a) “Personal knowledge can be completely controlled by each individual”
    b) “Professional growth and learning is a close-ended, goal-oriented task”
    c) “the purpose of the CCK08 course is to understand better how we can use social networks to enhance and assist professional learning. Social networks help….”

    a) If you agree that learning happens continuously “consciously and unconsciously” then it cannot be controlled. Much of our learning occurs incidentally

    b) Professional growth is continuous – an open ended life-long learning process and happens through daily practical experience complemented by reflection on theory/research and action. “Profession’ describes at once a knowing and a doing; it describes a practice rather than a technical application.” (Beyer, Feinberg, Pagano, and Whitson, 1989, p.14). The close-ended, goal-oriented task is basically an efficient instructional strategy used to teach you a skill (like using Word, sending an email, how to form the past tense of regular verbs in English). Although testing it may reveal that you have mastered the form (how to), it does not guarantee that you know when/where/who/why use it effectively in any given situation (the function, the purpose and the consequences of its use + facing serendipitous and emerging new challenges).

    c) This may be how you interpreted the purpose according to your needs, but I cannot read it that clearly on the wiki
    Social networks (a disembodied cloud) or social tools do not help, allow or increase. People experimenting with them, learning during the process of using them, talking and interacting through them do. It’s the conversations allied to practice, and the explicit reflection on your part that make you (and others) learn.

  3. Hello Bee and Shalini

    Thank you both for your comments and discussions, which are helping me get my head around CCK08. I am very much at the beginning stage of understanding learning theory and what this course is about. But I have to admit that I agree with you, Bee, that professional learning is open and founded on reflective practice. If you don’t have a reflective and questioning approach, you do not grow in your ‘job’.

  4. Whatever "grow" may mean for each one of us…what I am learning now is that by sitting all day, just staring at the screen, reading and writing, I grow (to my despair) horizontally, while my bank account dwindles and dries up 🙁

    Connections are fine – but action is primordial.

  5. I agree with you Bee and Sarah. There is, and should be made available in a Online Collaborative Learning Environment (OCLE) (I use that term instead of OLE, since I get the feeling that many OLEs have limited networking and connecting and social capital and as such are a much more restrictive and limited medium for learning) the flexibility or freedom for participants to choose, or more often than not, ‘find their way to’ as influenced by individual needs, individual strengths, motivations, interests, influence by people they respect, etc. their own content/topic of learning. Enterprise PLCs may like to refine this a bit, and maybe it might decrease overall learning, but then again it might focus learning on a particualr company need. I think that flexibility in a OCLE is good for teachers (my context and experience), in this way also the members will feel greater ownership.

    However, in many cases it might be desirable for skills and competencies and particular content to be developed, e.g. the concept of reversing operations which is fundamental to many areas of mathematics.

    Not sure about yours and Stephen’s comments on a commonality of purpose. I see a shared identity, or ‘commonality of purpose’ as being valuable in many circumstances. At a purely social level, it is largely what holds families together (this is a layman’s observation of course since I am not a social scientist), and likewise I do perceive from literature and observations that a shared identity can build up social capital such as the strength of inter-member relationships, willingness to commit, level of trust, ability to collaborate, and promotes feelings such as “we are part of something special and different in this community”. It is certainly something I have experienced in PLCs.

    I agree that reflective analysis (as in the action research model of professional development) is essential for effectiveness. And I think blogs are a good medium for that and that is largely where they have an advantage over forums.

    Oh and Bee I have fixed the ability of others to comment on my blog. Thank you for highlighting this for me.



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