Friday, December 9, 2011

Learning Theories in Instructional Design

I remember the poems and the rhymes I learnt when I was a kid. What about the Physics, Literature and History lessons I learnt later? Well...I remember some of them. In fact I remember the 'If' loops and the 'While' loops of C++ language which I studied when I was 16 years old. But I do not remember the integration and differentiation concepts of Maths, which I studied in the same year (even though Maths was one of my favorite subjects).
Looking back, its quite interesting to analyze how our memory works. What do we retain and what do we discard? Its probably related to the 'way' we learn. I am not sure if 'learn' is the right word. Because I never 'learnt' my birthday. But I would never ever forget it. Phew...!!! Learning is quite a complex process.
And to become an effective instructional designer, I believe we should put an effort to think about how people learn, how do they memorize and most importantly how do they practice what they learn. And that's what learning theories are all about. In psychology, learning theories are attempts to describe how people learn. In this article we will look at the three basic theories of learning viz. Behaviorism, Cognitivism & Constructivism, and their application to Instructional Designing.

Behaviorism and Instructional Design
The whole concept of Behaviorism is based on 'observable changes in behavior'. Pavlov, Thorndike, Watson and Skinner are some of the key players in the development of behaviorist theory. The concept of behaviorism probably has the biggest impact when we define the objectives of an e-learning course. A behavioral objective states learning objectives in 'specified, quantifiable, terminal behaviors'.
E.g.: After going through this course, you will be able to assemble a CPU with 100% accuracy.
Here, the learning task have been broken down into specific measurable tasks.

Cognitivism and Instructional Design
Cognitive theory takes into account some additional concepts like prior knowledge, information structure, mnemonic effects, etc. The Cognitive Instructional Designer would analyze a learning task, break it down into small steps and use that information to develop instruction that moves from simple to complex, building on the prior knowledge of the learners.
E.g.: If you building a soft skill course for the engineers, quote examples related to engineering. This is like building the new information based on the prior knowledge of the learners. And feed the content in the order of simple to complex, making it easier for them to grasp.
Jean Piaget, Saettler, Miller and Bruner, Good and Brophy, Bandura & Walters are some of the key players in Cognitive theory development.

Constructivism and Instructional Design
According to Constructive theory, methods of learning may not be the same for each learner and the results of learning are not easily measured. It promotes a more open-ended learning experience. A person's knowledge depends upon his prior experiences, mental structures & beliefs. While the other learning theories which are objective in nature, has a  predetermined outcome; constructive theory says that instructions should foster and not control the learning process. Instructions based on Constructive theory will have a lot of hyperlinks to different sources of information.
Jonassen and Mc Alleese who are pioneers in the study of Constructive learning theory suggests that this type of instruction is not advised for novice learners because they might get lost in the vast amount of information.

In general, an ideal instructional design should be a mix of both objective (behaviorism & cognitivism) & constructive theories. This will help them have a clear set of learning objectives and at the same time be able to think constructively, collaborate with fellow learners and acquire complete knowledge on the subject.

Reference: The History of American Educational Technology (Paul Saettler, 1990)

No comments:

Post a Comment