Saturday, December 26, 2009

Looking Back…

This has been my very first class at Walden. I am not in the Masters program. I have opted instead to go for a Certificate in ID for three reasons:

1.) It is shorter, and I could get a piece of paper by September which I could add to my resume.

2.) I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into and what this was all about. Again, I just had my eye on a piece of paper, a credential that would add to my resume by September and hopefully get me more jobs.

3.) Most importantly, I didn’t know at the time if I would enjoy distance learning in an online classroom. It seemed daunting to spend two years without every physically meeting my classmates or hearing their voices. September seemed bearable.

At the end, I am pleasantly surprised at how much I’ve learned and at how much I’ve enjoyed it. It was actually great!

The entire subject matter itself was surprising. In the past, I had never thought about learning theories at all. I had no idea about how people learned, and I never asked. I never thought about my own personal process of learning, and I never thought about what occurs in different areas of my brain. I just had some vague street observations. For example, I had some observations about a system of reward and punishment which seemed quite effective. After this course, I can now give it a name: Behaviorism. In another example, I found that facilitating problem solving exercise was quite useful for teaching someone how to use a piece of software, and now I can call this: Cognitivism. I thought that was all there was, but then a whole new world opened up for me. I learned about new theories such as Constructivism, Social Constructivism, Connectivism and Adult Learning. And I can choose from them for developing all sorts of learning experiences.

Learning theories gave me an understanding of the various learning processes out there. Learning occurs in different ways, and depending on the subject matter, one learning theory might be more appropriate than the other. Moreover, different factors influence learning, and it is important to have the right structure in place when applying a particular theory. For example, Connectivism might be inappropriate for someone who does not know how to use a computer or someone who is distrustful or reclusive. There are all sorts of people out there, and there are different types of subject matter. Thus, knowledge of each of the various aspects of learning theories will help me create richer learning experiences.

In addition to learning theories, I also studied learning styles, educational technology, and motivation. All of these are factors that contribute to the learning process. Week 6 is my favorite, because just when we thought we knew it all, Dr. Gardner said maybe we don’t. He introduced a whole new concept about intelligences, which challenged the efficacy of learning styles. Then, in Week 7, Dr. Willingham made a confrontational statement when he claimed outright that there are no such things as learning styles. As the old adage goes, the more we know, the more we don’t know. These learning theories and styles are not universal truths. They are just theories and descriptions. These are useful tools, but we shouldn’t get too attached to them.

In my career as an instructional designer, I will focus on teaching adults. I hope to start a business where I help software companies develop learning material and curriculum for their customers or employees. In addition, I will focus on online or distance education and the use of technology. This course has helped me in a number of ways.

First of all, I have a good understanding of the needs of adult learners. Adults bring prior experience and knowledge, certain beliefs and motivational factors into their learning. Moreover, learning occurs thru mutual planning and personal responsibility. Adults have a need to direct their own learning, and my role as a teacher will be more of a facilitator rather than an instructor. I never realized that before. I used to have a tendency to be bossy, and sometimes I even yell at students (classic behaviorist techniques). Now I know that I can trust the students to direct their own learning.

Secondly, I have an understanding of how technology and the learning experience come together. In addition to reading about new technologies coming into play in the Horizon Report, we have done some hands-on exercises. For example, we created blogs and mindmaps. We learned how to use an RSS aggregator. Most importantly, we got comfortable enough with the technology to actively participate in the Discussion Boards. We got used to it, and at the end, I didn’t miss the physical classroom at all.

Last but not least, motivation is a very important factor in the learning process, especially for adults. With respect to my own personal learning, the section in the textbook about achievement hit me hard. I have been an achiever in my life. I did well in school, went to a decent university, and did well in my career. However, none of it ever felt like success. Then, I read on page 242 of the textbook, “The strive for achievement is a function of two related needs: the motive for success, or Ms (the desire to do well and accomplish goals) and the motive to avoid failure, or MAF (anxiety about failing to accomplish goals and reluctance to engage in activities that may lead to failure).” It suddenly dawned on me that I fall in the second category. My life has been all about avoiding failure, and it’s been quite limiting. It has affected my choices and my openness for learning. There is a lot more in the chapter about motivation for all kinds of people (like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), and I’d like to study that area even more. Motivation is the one factor that can affect the success of any kind of instruction, especially adult learning.

All in all, this course has been very helpful, and I can’t wait for the next one!

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