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EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 1 Emerging Learning Theories and Discussion Boards Erin Markus & Nancy O’Sullivan Boise State University
EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 2 Abstract As students and higher education places more emphasis on technology in distance learning,there is a need for analyzing learning theories to best accommodate this expansion. This paper isintended to examine the use of emerging learning theories in building a community of learnersthrough the use of discussion boards in adult online classes. Learning theories such as socialconstructivism, connectivism, transactional distance and andragogy will be explored as aframework in developing a best practice list for instructors in developing their online discussionboards.
EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 3 Introduction Although education is constantly changing and new theories are emerging, nothing hasaffected these changes as much as the integration of technology in the educational setting. Notonly are schools integrating computers and multimedia into their classrooms, but workplacetraining and professional development has greatly benefited from the advent of technology. Students of today have access to a variety of technologies, both within their educationalsetting and in their personal lives. Computer technology is woven into our lives through variousmeans. Computers are located in everything from cellular phones to cars. Our world is guidedby computer technology over and beyond CPU’s and keyboards. In order for students to grow intheir educational field and become successful, having fundamental knowledge of how computersaffect our lives is crucial. Having the fundamental ability to maneuver through basic computingand technical equipment will benefit the student by teaching them how to utilize tools that cangreatly enhance their ability to perform well in any situation, both educational and professional. Community of Learners There is a need to understand the meaning of community so we may promote the concept inour learning environments. According to Snyder (2009) learning communities are places whereparticipants share common interests and sharing of knowledge. “The goal of a learningcommunity is to advance collective knowledge by supporting the growth of individualknowledge” (p. 49). McMillan goes on to suggest that a community has four dimensions: a. Spirit- there is a sense of belonging, membership and acceptance b. Trust- establishing group norms, order and that other members can be trusted
EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 4 c. Trade- there is a benefit for each member and shared values d. Art- there is an emotional connection in time and space (McMillan, 1996)Gabelnick, MacGregor, Matthews and Smith (1990) suggest that a common definition oflearning communities is: “Any one of a variety of curricular structures that link together several existing courses--- or actually restructure the material entirely---so that students have opportunities for deeper understanding and integration of the material they are learning, and more interaction with one another and their teachers as fellow participants in the learning enterprise” (p.19).Benefit of Building a Community A community of learners is a group of people who support each other in their collective andindividual learning. They are cooperative and can work productively together. Individually, theyare motivated and strive to do quality work. Since they know they are going to be encouraged totake risks and be supported if they do not succeed the first time they try something new, theychallenge themselves, and they view mistakes as learning experiences which will make their laterattempts successful. A community of learners can include all levels of learners, becauseeveryone is learning, not competing. And, best of all, a true classroom community of learnersallows the teacher to learn as well as the students (Benson, 2008). There are two approaches to building a learning community: the top-down structure in whichthe hierarchical structure of teacher (boss, leader) and student (employee, follower) stays intactand the bottom-up structure in which the hierarchical structure is dissolved and all participantscan take on the role of teacher or learner at any given time (Benson, 2008). Benson explains that,
EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 5“a bottoms-up approach provides workers and students more control over their environment withthe potential of leading to improved results and more efficient decision making practices” (p.23). Emerging Theories A theory is a hypothesis that describes, speculates, or defines a relationship between a set offacts by utilizing principles, policies, beliefs, or assumptions. The world in which we live isincreasingly sophisticated, multifaceted and nuanced. People need high-level learning skills torespond, learn and adjust to ever-changing circumstances. As the world grows increasinglycomplex success and prosperity will be linked to people’s ability to think, act, adapt andcommunicate creatively (Stratham & Torell, 1996). With the changes in technology, students’ preferences and our mode of learning (distanceeducation) we need to look at new instructional designs and/or learning theories to guide us(Snyder, 2009). Theories act as models or frameworks from which we can effectively design andimplement teaching pedagogies to enhance student learning. In particular, distance educationneeds a new framework. As Kearsley (1998) stated, “Educators fail to understand that distanceeducation is really about creating a different kind of structure for learning and teaching” (p. 49).We look to new learning theories, such as connectivism, transactional distance and andragogy tohelp guide us through this educational shift. There are many reasons why a new theory iscreated; perhaps an older theory doesn’t quite answer questions about learners or maybe the oldtheory leaves out an explanation for cognition within the brain (Fouts, 2000).Constructivism Constructivism is a philosophy of learning founded on the premise that, by reflecting on ourexperiences, we construct our own understanding of the world we live in. Each of us generates
EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 6our own “rules” and “mental models,” which we use to make sense of our experiences. Learning,therefore, is simply the process of adjusting our mental models to accommodate newexperiences. Constructivism calls for the elimination of a standardized curriculum. Instead, itpromotes using curricula customized to the students’ prior knowledge. Also, it emphasizeshands-on problem solving. Under the theory of constructivism, educators focus on making connections between factsand fostering new understandings in students. Instructors tailor their teaching strategies tostudent responses and encourage students to analyze, interpret, and predict information. Teachersalso rely heavily on open-ended questions and promote extensive dialogue among students.Constructivism calls for the elimination of grades and standardized testing. Instead, assessmentbecomes part of the learning process so that students play a larger role in judging their ownprogress.Connectivism In 2005, George Siemens founded the theory of connectivism. Siemens (2005) states,“Learning occurs through the diversity of opinions and that the “capacity to know is more criticalthan what is already known” (p. 1). An important skill that will aid in learning is the ability toconnect different ideas and concepts between varieties of fields (Siemens, 2005). Kop and Hill(2008) suggest that being in a variety of learning communities will help students makeconnections between different sources and increase their knowledge base. “The learning process is cyclical, in that learners will connect to a network to share and find new information, will modify their beliefs on the basis of new learning, and will then connect to a network to share these realizations and find new information once more. Learning is considered a . . . knowledge creation process . . . not only knowledge
EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 7 consumption. One’s personal learning network is formed on the basis of how one’s connection to learning communities are organized by a learner” (p. 2). Another skill critical to connectivism is the ability to filter out information and makedecisions on what is credible and important to know (Siemens, 2005). New information isgrowing exponentially and the life of knowledge is now measured in months and years(Gonzales, 2004). What is known as fact today will not necessarily be fact tomorrow, therefore itwill be important for students to stay up- to- date with quality information and have the ability toorganize this information. Connectivism is an emerging theory that helps integrates our new world of fast changingpace of information, technology and our knowledge of learning. Students will learn by creatingenvironments where copious information can be discussed, reviewed and “experienced” throughconnections in a group environment. A good example of applying the theory of connectivisminto our own course objectives is our weekly discussion postings. In this course, we have used aweekly discussion board to focus on a topic and learn from each other. The discussion boardsgive us, as students, a chance to view others’ opinions about the topic, and to share ourcomments and ideas for our classmates. When using discussion boards, we learn about newideas, best practices, and personal experiences of classmates. All of this information helps usgrow in our own education and profession.Transactional Distance Transactional distance was defined by Moore (1993) as “the universe of teacher-learnerrelationships that exist when learners are separated by timespace and/or time” (p. 22).Transactional distance theory is a pedagogical concept that helps explain patterns of learner andteacher behaviors when distance and space are presented. Moore (1993) states “With separation
EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 8there is a psychological and communications space to be crossed, a space of potentialmisunderstanding between the inputs of instructor and those of the learner. It is thispsychological and communications space that is the transactional distance.” (p. 22). It is possible for transactional distance to happen in the classroom, but it is usually thoughtof as a way to research and understand variables in distance education. The importance oflearning about transactional distance theory (TDT) is to enable instructors and students to beeffective at distance learning. There are three key variables in TDT, which include: dialog, structure and learner autonomy.Dialog is described as the positive interactions between the teacher and the student. The secondvariable is course structure. There are many elements that are taken into consideration whendesigning the structure of the course such as, philosophy and personality of the instructor,characteristics of the learners, environment and media will all have an effect on the design of thecourse. As Moore (1993) states “Structure expresses the rigidity or flexibility of the programmeseducational objectives, teaching strategies, and evaluation methods. It describes the extent towhich an education programme can accommodate or be responsive to each learners individualneeds” (p. 23). The third component of the TDT is learner autonomy. How independent is thelearner and to what extent are they willing to determined their own goals. It is up to instructors tomove students from being dependant on the teacher to being more self-sufficient as the classprogresses. Though, Grosky and Caspi (2005) do not believe TDT is a theory, they do suggest thatunderstanding transactional distance is important to understanding learning in distanceeducation. It is important to understand the variables that contribute to transactional distance so
EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 9that we are able as instructors and instructional designers to bridge the gap of space and time inorder for students to feel connected and able to learn and explore during online classes.Andragogy Malcolm Knowles introduced the student centered andragogy model for adult learning in1973. It is important to understand this theory in terms of distance education (DE) since themajority of DE students are between the ages of 25 and 50. These students tend to be highlymotivated and task-oriented Many have careers, family and other obligations. They bring to theclass unique life experiences that can be a valuable resource in the class community. It isreasonable to assume that a different framework for designing and teaching should beincorporated (Cercone, 2008). There are five assumptions at the center of the andragogy model. They include (1) it isimportant to let learners know by the should learn the material, (2) showing learners how todirect themselves through information, and (3) learners should relate the information to theirpersonal experience, (4) people will only learn when they are ready and motivated to learn, and(5) learners need help in overcoming inhibitions, and beliefs about learning (Cercone 2008).Since adult learners tend to be more autonomous, instructors should act as facilitators andprovide an organized framework to guide the students through the instruction (Cercone, 2008). Another characteristic of adult learners is the biological change in memory. As ageincreases, there is a decline in short-term memory, which is the memory that creates linksbetween new and old information (Merriam & Caffarella, 1999). It is important for instructors to“chunk” information into small sizes and create reflective opportunities to link new and oldinformation.
EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 10 This model suggests that instructors provide learning activities that are grounded in realworld, case base situations that are meaningful to adult learners (Huang, 2002). Adult learnershave more responsibilities requiring the use of their time, so instructional materials need to bepertinent and structured to increases success among students (Huang, 2002). Huang (2002)describes six instructional principles for adult learners: Interactive Learning- it is important to interact with the instructor and peers and avoid isolated learning Collaborative Learning- constructing collective knowledge and social negotiation Facilitative learning- providing a safe positive environment for sharing ideas and concepts Authentic Learning- create real-life learning experiences for students Student Centered Learning- student constructs their knowledge High Quality Learning- emphasizes critical thinking skills and guided reflectionAndragogy learning theory is a way to better understand how adults learn. As Snyder (2009)suggests, “These theories seek to explain how the process of learning as an adult differs fromlearning as a child. They focus on describing how various social, psychological, emotional andphysiological factors affect adult learning” (p. 49). Discussion Boards A discussion board is an asynchronous environmental tool that provides an opportunity foreach individual to post a statement as well as to respond to the postings of other students; thus,creating a discussion (Cox & Cox, 2008). Discussion boards are used in almost every onlineeducational platform as a place for student-student and student-teacher interaction and idea
EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 11sharing. The interactive discussion boards used by online courses create a sort of “socialnetwork” that is contained within the class members. This tool is relatively simple for students to master and offers a means for electronicdialogue. The instructor generally posts an open-ended, thought-provoking question that supportsthe particular course material under consideration. Students then post a response to the initialquery. Postings in a discussion board are threaded. This means that within a discussion there canbe several topics being debated simultaneously and when students make their initial post, otherstudents can reply to a post by having the discussion appear indented under the main post thusmaking it possible to reference original responses.Discussion boards can help students in collaboration projects. As with face-to –face interactions,discussion boards give students an additional social context to discern information about eachother (Baker & Lund, 2007; Slagter van Tryon & Bishop, 2009). Discussion boards are widely used in online education. The level of interaction depends onwhat the instructor deems necessary to achieve the common goal of the lesson. Below is a chartof Discussion Board Best Practices to consider when designing a lesson around a discussionboard activity.Discussion Board Best Practices ChartBest Practice Recommended Ideas ReferenceDefine and Communicate Convey the purpose of the discussion Snyder, 2009Discussion Board Purpose board (DB) in your syllabus, email, Brown, 2001 podcast/vodcast and add announcement. Huang, 2002Instructor Interaction There needs to be instructor interaction on Paloff & Pratt, the DB, but too much interaction can have 2007 a negative effect on length and student-
EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 12 student interaction. Convey your intended interaction to the students.Etiquette Guidelines Provide students with a set of guidelines Slagter van that describe your expectations and Tryon & Bishop, etiquette for DB. 2009Time Guidelines for Posts It is helpful to post guidelines when and Ruey, 2010 how many initial posts will be due and reply posts. This will promote a more active DB.Students Input Ask students to post their expectations of Snyder, 2009 the DB. This encourages them to clarify its purpose.Build Rapport 1st discussion board should be about Brown, 2001 building rapport and discovering commonalities between students and instructor.Public Sharing/ Build Trust Early on, have students share a piece of Snyder, 2009 information that will contribute to the Huang, 2002 community’s goal. Have other students Slagter van comment on the positives of the info. Tryon & Bishop, 2009 Instructors need to be careful of harsh grading as this may lead to distrust and Gulati, 2008 isolated learning..Encourage Students to ask Create a separate DB board for questions Huang, 2002Questions to the instructors so all can learn from other students questions. Also, create a “student lounge” where students can ask other students for help or clarification.Student Ownership Have students take turns in creating the Gulati, 2008 DB questions (instructor approval) and Allen, 2005 have students summarize the discussions Ruey, 2010 at the end.Provide a Summary A summary of the DB is useful for Ruey, 2010 students and can be done by the instructor
EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 13 or students taking turns to provide the summaryTime for Reflection Set the last DB as a time for closure and Snyder, 2009 reflection. What did they learn and how do they plan to apply their new knowledge in the real world. Conclusion Technology integration, if done properly, can do many things to help in the process ofcreating more authentic learning environments and more. Many of the studies report, if thelearning environment is technologically rich, it can increase self-esteem and enthusiasm forlearning (Fouts, 2000). This can lead to more positive attitudes for learning, as well as lowerabsentee and dropout rates. In fact, one study proved that having a more technologically richlearning environment eventually lead to a higher rate in college attendance and scholarships(Stratham & Torell, 1996). Technology integration has also been shown to help create moreauthentic learning environments where the students are more motivated to attend, have a greaterchance of communication and collaboration and have more opportunities to use higher orderthinking and problem solving skills connected to real world applications (Fouts, 2000). Online learning is changing the way we educate ourselves. There are not many professionsor jobs that do not utilize some sort of online, or computer integrated training. Online learninghas streamlined the process of educating others. In this paper we discussed how emergingtheories have contributed to the success of online education, specifically the use of discussionboards being utilized in online courses. The success of online learning would not be possiblewithout a community of learners and
EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 14educators working together towards a common goal. According to Cercone (2008), “Online learning will continue to grow in importance for adult learners. The challenge for educators is to learn how to provide a positive “social” environment using an electronic medium. Technology will continue to change as new technologies are developed. Instructors will need to adapt, change, and continue to learn about how this “electronic” environment can be used to foster a social atmosphere, and they will need to recognize their role as change agents” (p. 152). Social constructivism, connectivism, transactional distance and andragogy are importantlearning theories to understand when incorporating a discussion board in higher education onlineclasses. Understanding these theories help instructors incorporate sound discussion boardguidelines that encourage building a community of learners. This connectedness will encouragestudents to complete class objectives. To build a community of learners, it is suggested thatinstructors follow researched practices regarding discussion boards such as: Defining the purposeof the discussion board, expected interactions & etiquette, encouraging students to takeownership, allowing time for building rapport and giving students time to reflect. Theseguidelines along with understanding emerging learning theories will help provide the bases forbuilding a cohesive online learning community.
EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 15 ReferencesAllen, K. (2005). Online learning: constructivism and conversation as an approach to learning. Innovations in Education & Teaching International, 42(3), 247-256. doi:10.1080/01587910500167985Brown, B. (2008). How to motivate students, meet standards, and still enjoy teaching (2nd ed. p. 23). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.Brown, R. E., Dr. (2001). The process of community-building in distance learning classes. JALN, 5(2), 18-34. Retrieved from http://sloanconsortium.org/publications/jaln_mainCercone, K. (2008). Characteristics of adult learners with implications for online learning Design. AACE Journal, 16(2), 137-159. Retrieved from http://www.aace.org/pubs/aacejFouts, J. T. (2000). Research on computers and education: Past, present and future. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Retrieved from Penn State University’s website: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.eduGabelnick, F., MacGregor, J., Mathews, R. S., & Smith, B. L. (1990). Learning communities: Creating connections among students, faculty, and disciplines. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, (41), 19-3. doi:10.1002/tl.37219904101
EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 16Gonzalez, C. (2004). The Role of blended learning in the world of technology. Retrieved from http://www.unt.edu/benchmarks/archives/2004/september04/eis.htmGorsky, P. & Caspi, A. (2005). A critical analysis of transactional distance theory. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 6(1), 1-11. Retrieved from http://www.infoagepub.com/Quarterly-Review-of-Distance-Education.htmlGulati, S. (2008). Compulsory participation in online discussions: Is this constructivism or normalisation of learning? Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 45(2), 183-192. Retrieved from http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/titles/14703297.aspHuang, H. (2002). Toward constructivism for adult learners in online learning environments. British Journal of Educational Technology, 33(1), 27. Retrieved from http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/bpl/bjet;jsessionid=7pbk96mrqhb2q.alexandraKearsley G (1998) Educational technology: a critique. Educational Technology 38 (2) 47–51. Retrieved from http://www.bookstoread.com/etp/Kop, R., & Hill, A. (2008). Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past? International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 9(3), 1-13. Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl
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