Tuesday, May 29, 2007

How Learning Theories Help Us to Understand the Value in Using Web 2.0 Tools

Formal education has traditionally relied on the objectivist view of knowledge. This view assumes that knowledge can be imparted from teacher to learner through transmissive deliveries. Teaching and research driven by this philosophy discourage different views and understandings, disregard different contexts and experiences of individuals, and regard individuals as passive recipients of knowledge. Although lectures may be affective for some individual learning styles, their continued use as a dominant pedagogy has allowed limited recognition of diverse preferences of learning.

Limited learner participation and interaction in the objectivist view has also disallowed pedagogues to realise the need for learner control during the process of learning. Learning in this context rather places emphasis on teacher-control and learner compliance. Gulati (2004). The idea of selecting tools to support the teacher’s style, as asserted by Brown, in Cillay (2003) reflects this objectivist environment in his statement ‘Before selecting the tools that will make up a course, educators should identify where their own strengths lie and what type of experience they want for their students’.

By contrast, the constructivist approach places learners central to the experience, actively constructing their own knowledge. Vygotsky (1962) in Gulati (2004) highlights the importance of social interaction and dialogue in learning which leads to our understanding of social constructivism. Connectivism, has emerged as another learning theory that accommodates the complexity and rapidly altering foundations on which modern learning is based. (Siemens, 2005). Key features of connectivism, as summarized by Siemens (2005) include: the critical aspects of learning capacity; diversity of opinions; linking information nodes; nurturing connections, connecting concepts; decision–making as learning and commitment to currency.

Web 2.0 provides many social constructivist and connectivist affordances to support and enhance our contemporary learning environments. Tools such as wikis, blogs, instant messaging and webcasting support these approaches. Maor and Zariski, (2003) contend that the tools cannot be separated from the learning experience and that the technology and pedagogy are mutually supportive and reinforcing. Teachers become adept at staging learning episodes and selecting the modes of delivery. The emergence of web 2.0 tools, however, challenges this approach because of the vast array of technologies and because the learners are now empowered to reach beyond the walls of the classroom (Thonpson, 2007).

Connectivism addresses concepts of chaos, networking, and self organization and provides for a new age of personal media. Web 2.0 tools promote the creation of new knowledge through connections and interactions. Students need new skills in synthesizing and recognizing patterns and evaluating information. Siemens (2004) describes connectivism as providing ‘insight into learning skills and tasks needed for learners to flourish in a digital era’.

Web 2.0 tools support the concepts of Siemens’ theory of connectivism. Examples include tagging and folksonomies as processes supporting links to specialized information sources and evaluative decision-making; wikis and blogs support diversity of opinions; podcasts and vodcasts use tools that are facilitated by other tools; while all, including social software such Facebook, champion up-to-date information.

The educator is in the unenviable position of selecting appropriate tools to deliver course content and high quality learning that is underpinned by sound pedagogy. Further to this students in first world countries have come to expect learning on demand. Students are unafraid of technology, multi-taskers, less tolerant of passive activities, and use technology to stay connected. The educator is therefore forced to adopt new technology and new pedagogy ( Deubal, 2006)

Three educators, Jennifer Bergh, Cathy Hynes and Trudi Shine, representing a diversity of formal learning contexts explore personal educational dilemmas with reference to Web 2.0 technologies and pedagogical approaches with a clear focus on learner needs. ( See next post)

What do you think?

Are all students unafraid of technology and expect on-demand teaching? Are there not some students who prefer the traditional frame of teaching? To what extent will educators have to adopt new technologies?

Post your comments - we'd love to hear from you.


Cathy Graham said...

Are all students unafraid of technology and expect on-demand teaching?

Certainly not. I know several people who work in highly technical areas who won't use email and don't own or use a mobile phone. They prefer face-to-face meetings, telephone communications, and hard-copy documentation.

Are there not some students who prefer the traditional frame of teaching?

The people to which I just referred are set in their ways, and I can't see that promises of more rewarding learning experiences through virtual worlds, or encounters with MySpace will change that.

We have to remember that just because we are interested in how these technologies can improve learning doesn't mean are students are chomping at the bit to use them. Some of these new (and not so new) technologies have "stigmas" attached to them. MySpace, for example, has had a lot of negative press of recent times. I can say with a fair degree of certainty that the learners who I worked with would tell me in a not so nice way what to do if I suggested we use MySpace as part of their learning. Instant Messaging similarly, still has the "teen thing" stigma. In my seminar paper I hope that I've managed to convince the sceptics to "give IM a chance". We all have our preferences, and our likes and dislikes. We as educators can't really change this, but we can do our best to accommodate and facilitate meaningful and beneficial experiences for our learners.

It comes back to what I've been saying all semester - it's not about the technology, it's about the pedagogically appropriate use of technology. Use it wisely.

The Theme 5 Team said...

I certainly identify with those who prefer face to face meetings. I like the walk across to meet a colleague and chat. The walk gives me time to breathe and relax before I have the meeting.

Your views about the stigma of new technologies are interesting. Sometimes I think resistance to a new idea comes from ignorance. I was like that with IM.... now I ama convert.

Thanks for your comments Cathy. As always you give food for thought.

joyce arnold said...

I imagine that there are many adult learners who are digital immigrants and are afraid of technology and prefer a slower pace to think in. Most of the teachers I talk with also prefer traditional teaching roles.

Sandra said...

Hi guys,

In library settings we come across a lot of different students inc. so-called "digital natives" who don't like the technologies. Sometimes they preface their questions with comments like "I know that I'm young so I should know ..." or "I know that journalism students are supposed to love this technology & know all about it but I don't, and I can't figure out how to ...". It's a shame that students feel the need to apologise that they haven't learnt about various technologies, that somehow the educational environment gives them the impression that they should be just absorbing this stuff.

As far as traditional modes go. I don't like them - I feel very isolated using them but I have very switched on friends who absolutely hate online learning & crave the tradtional methods. I think that we need to consider these people when we're exploring the various digital tools.

As for using MySpace etc, if teachers are going to go there, I reckon that they need to produce products that really fit in. I've seen some very sad products made by educators trying to use this space & they just look sad & boring. You've got to have "it" to communicate in these spaces & let's face it, a lot of us don't have "it" anymore. Sandra