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Markus osullivan final

  1. 1. EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 1 Emerging Learning Theories and Discussion Boards Erin Markus & Nancy O’Sullivan Boise State University
  2. 2. EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 2 Abstract As students and higher education place more emphasis on technology in distance learning, there is a need for analyzing learning theories to best accommodate this expansion. This paper is intended to examine the use of emerging learning theories in building a community of learners through the use of discussion boards in adult online classes. Learning theories such as social constructivism, connectivism, transactional distance and andragogy will be explored as a framework in developing a best practice list for instructors in developing their online discussion boards.
  3. 3. EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 3 Introduction Although education is constantly changing and new theories are emerging, nothing has affected these changes as much as the integration of technology in the educational setting. Not only are schools integrating computers and multimedia into their classrooms, but workplace training and professional development has greatly benefited from the advent of technology. Today we have access to a variety of technologies, both within our educational setting and in our personal lives. Computer technology is woven into our lives through various means. Computers are located in everything from cellular phones to cars. Our world is guided by computer technology over and beyond CPU’s and keyboards. In order for students to grow in their educational field and become successful, having fundamental knowledge of how computers affect our lives is crucial. Having the fundamental ability to maneuver through basic computing and technical equipment will benefit the student by teaching them how to utilize tools that can greatly 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 in our learning environments. According to Snyder (2009) learning communities are places where participants share common interests and sharing of knowledge. “The goal of a learning community is to advance collective knowledge by supporting the growth of individual knowledge” (p. 49). It has been suggested that a community has four dimensions: a. Spirit- there is a sense of belonging, membership and acceptance b. Trust- establishing group norms, order and trust.
  4. 4. 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 of learning 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 and individual learning. They are cooperative and can work productively together. Individually, they are motivated and strive to do quality work. Since they know they are going to be encouraged to take risks and be supported if they do not succeed the first time they try something new, they challenge themselves, and they view mistakes as learning experiences which will make their later attempts successful. A community of learners can include all levels of learners, because everyone is learning, not competing. And, best of all, a true classroom community of learners allows 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 which the hierarchical structure of teacher (boss, leader) and student (employee, follower) stays intact and the bottom-up structure in which the hierarchical structure is dissolved and all participants can take on the role of teacher or learner at any given time (Benson, 2008). Benson explains that,
  5. 5. EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 5 “a bottoms-up approach provides workers and students more control over their environment with the 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 of facts by utilizing principles, policies, beliefs, or assumptions. The world in which we live is increasingly sophisticated, multifaceted and nuanced. People need high-level learning skills to respond, learn and adjust to ever-changing circumstances. As the world grows increasingly complex success and prosperity will be linked to people’s ability to think, act, adapt and communicate creatively (Stratham & Torell, 1996). With the changes in technology, students’ preferences and our mode of learning (distance education) 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 and implement teaching pedagogies to enhance student learning. In particular, distance education needs a new framework. As Kearsley (1998) stated, “Educators fail to understand that distance education 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 to help guide us through this educational shift. There are many reasons why a new theory is created; perhaps an older theory doesn’t quite answer questions about learners or maybe the old theory 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 our experiences, we construct our own understanding of the world we live in. Each of us generates
  6. 6. EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 6 our 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 new experiences. Constructivism calls for the elimination of a standardized curriculum. Instead, it promotes using curricula customized to the students’ prior knowledge. Also, it emphasizes hands-on problem solving. Under the theory of constructivism, educators focus on making connections between facts and fostering new understandings in students. Instructors tailor their teaching strategies to student responses and encourage students to analyze, interpret, and predict information. Teachers also rely heavily on open-ended questions and promote extensive dialogue among students. Constructivism calls for the elimination of grades and standardized testing. Instead, assessment becomes part of the learning process so that students play a larger role in judging their own progress. 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 critical than what is already known” (p. 1). An important skill that will aid in learning is the ability to connect 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 make connections 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
  7. 7. 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 make decisions on what is credible and important to know (Siemens, 2005). New information is growing 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 it will be important for students to stay up- to- date with quality information and have the ability to organize this information. Connectivism is an emerging theory that helps integrate our new world of ongoing changes in information, technology, and our knowledge of learning. Students will learn by creating environments where copious information can be discussed, reviewed and “experienced” through connections in a group environment. A good example of applying the theory of connectivism into our own course objectives is our weekly discussion postings. In this course, we have used a weekly discussion board to focus on a topic and learn from each other. The discussion boards give us, as students, a chance to view others’ opinions about the topic, and to share our comments and ideas with our classmates. When using discussion boards, we learn about new ideas, best practices, and personal experiences of classmates. All of this information helps us grow in our own education and profession. Transactional Distance Transactional distance was defined by Moore (1993) as “the universe of teacher-learner relationships 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 and teacher behaviors when distance and space are presented. Moore (1993) states “With separation
  8. 8. EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 8 there is a psychological and communications space to be crossed, a space of potential misunderstanding between the inputs of instructor and those of the learner. It is this psychological 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 thought of as a way to research and understand variables in distance education. The importance of learning about transactional distance theory (TDT) is to enable instructors and students to be effective 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 second variable is course structure. There are many elements that are taken into consideration when designing 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 the course (Moore, 1993). As Moore (1993) states “Structure expresses the rigidity or flexibility of the programme's educational objectives, teaching strategies, and evaluation methods. It describes the extent to which an education programme can accommodate or be responsive to each learner's individual needs” (p. 23). The third component of the TDT is learner autonomy. How independent is the learner and to what extent are they willing to determine their own goals. It is up to instructors to move students from being dependant on the teacher to being more self- sufficient as the class progresses. Though, Grosky and Caspi (2005) do not believe TDT is a theory, they do suggest that understanding transactional distance is important to understanding learning in distance education. It is important to understand the variables that contribute to transactional distance so
  9. 9. EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 9 that we are able as instructors and instructional designers to bridge the gap of space and time in order 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 in 1973. It is important to understand this theory in terms of distance education (DE) since the majority of DE students are between the ages of 25 and 50. These students tend to be highly motivated and task-oriented. Many have careers, family and other obligations. They bring to the class unique life experiences that can be a valuable resource in the class community. It is reasonable to assume that a different framework for designing and teaching should be incorporated (Cercone, 2008). There are five assumptions at the center of the andragogy model. Learners should: (1) know why they should learn the material, (2) be shown how to direct themselves through information, (3) relate the information to their personal experience, (4) know that they only learn when they are ready and motivated to learn, and (5) ask for help in overcoming inhibitions, and beliefs about learning (Cercone 2008). Since adult learners tend to be more autonomous, instructors should act as facilitators and provide an organized framework to guide the students through the instruction (Cercone, 2008). Another characteristic of adult learners is the biological change in memory. As age increases, there is a decline in short-term memory, which is the memory that creates links between 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 old information.
  10. 10. EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 10 This model suggests that instructors provide learning activities that are grounded in real world, case-base situations that are meaningful to adult learners (Huang, 2002). Adult learners have more responsibilities requiring the use of their time, so instructional materials need to be pertinent and structured to increase 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 own knowledge High Quality Learning- emphasizes critical thinking skills and guided reflection Andragogy 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 from learning as a child. They focus on describing how various social, psychological, emotional and physiological factors affect adult learning” (p. 49). Discussion Boards A discussion board is an asynchronous environmental tool that provides an opportunity for each 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 online educational platform as a place for student-student and student-teacher interaction and idea
  11. 11. EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 11 sharing. The interactive discussion boards used by online courses create a sort of “social network” that is contained within the class. This tool is relatively simple for students to master and offers a means for electronic dialogue. The instructor generally posts an open-ended, thought-provoking question that supports the particular course material under consideration. Students then post a response to the initial query. Postings in a discussion board are threaded. This means that within a discussion there can be several topics being debated simultaneously and when students make their initial post, other students can reply to a post by having the discussion appear indented under the main post thus making 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 each other (Baker & Lund, 2007; Slagter van Tryon & Bishop, 2009). Discussion boards are widely used in online education. The level of interaction depends on what the instructor deems necessary to achieve the common goal of the lesson. Below is a chart of Discussion Board Best Practices to consider when designing a lesson around a discussion board activity. Discussion Board Best Practices Chart Best Practice Recommended Ideas Reference Define and Communicate Convey the purpose of the discussion Snyder, 2009 Discussion Board Purpose board (DB) in your syllabus, email, Brown, 2001 podcast/vodcast and add announcement. Huang, 2002 Instructor 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-
  12. 12. 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. 2009 Time Guidelines for Posts It is helpful to post guidelines for initial posts and Ruey, 2010 reply posts concerning when and how many are due. Students Input Ask students to post their expectations of Snyder, 2009 the DB. This encourages them to clarify its purpose. Build Rapport The first discussion on the board should Brown, 2001 be about 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 Tryon & Bishop, information. 2009 Instructors need to be careful of harsh Gulati, 2008 grading as this may lead to distrust and isolated learning. Encourage Students to ask Create a separate discussion board for Huang, 2002 Questions questions 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
  13. 13. EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 13 or students taking turns to provide the summary Time 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 of creating more authentic learning environments. Many of the studies report, if the learning environment is technologically rich, it can increase self-esteem and enthusiasm for learning (Fouts, 2000). This can lead to more positive attitudes for learning, as well as lower absentee and dropout rates. In fact, one study proved that having a more technologically rich learning environment eventually lead to a higher rate in college attendance and scholarships (Stratham & Torell, 1996). Technology integration has also been shown to help create more authentic learning environments where the students are more motivated to attend, have a greater chance of communication and collaboration and have more opportunities to use higher order thinking and problem solving skills connected to real world applications (Fouts, 2000). Online learning is changing the way we educate ourselves. There are not many professions or jobs that do not utilize some sort of online, or computer integrated training. Online learning has streamlined the process of educating others. In this paper we discussed how emerging theories have contributed to the success of online education, specifically the use of discussion boards being utilized in online courses. The success of online learning would not be possible
  14. 14. EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 14 without a community of learners and educators 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 important learning theories to understand when incorporating a discussion board in higher education online classes. Understanding these theories help instructors incorporate sound discussion board guidelines that encourage building a community of learners. This connectedness will encourage students to complete class objectives. To build a community of learners, it is suggested that instructors follow researched practices regarding discussion boards such as: Defining the purpose of the discussion board, expected interactions & etiquette, encouraging students to take ownership, allowing time for building rapport and giving students time to reflect. These guidelines along with understanding emerging learning theories will help provide the basis for building a cohesive online learning community.
  15. 15. EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 15 References Allen, K. (2005). Online learning: constructivism and conversation as an approach to learning. Innovations in Education & Teaching International, 42(3), 247-256. doi:10.1080/01587910500167985 Brown, 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 Cercone, K. (2008). Characteristics of adult learners with implications for online learning Design. AACE Journal, 16(2), 137-159. Retrieved from Cox, B. & Cox, B. (2008). Developing interpersonal and group dynamics through asynchronous threaded discussions: The use of discussion board in collaborative learning. Education, 128(4), 553-565. doi: 10.1108/10650740911004822 Fouts, J. T. (2000). Research on computers and education: Past, present and future. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Retrieved from Penn State University’s website: Gabelnick, 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
  16. 16. EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 16 Gonzalez, C. (2004). The Role of blended learning in the world of technology. Retrieved from Gorsky, P. & Caspi, A. (2005). A critical analysis of transactional distance theory. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 6(1), 1-11. Retrieved from Gulati, 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 Huang, H. (2002). Toward constructivism for adult learners in online learning environments. British Journal of Educational Technology, 33(1), 27. Retrieved from;jsessionid=7pbk96mrqhb2q.alexandra Kearsley G (1998) Educational technology: a critique. Educational Technology 38 (2) 47–51. Retrieved from 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 McMillan, D. W. (1996). Sense of community. Journal of Community Psychology, 24(4315-325. Retrieved from Merriam, S.B., & Caffarella, R.S. (1999). Learning in adulthood (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Moore, M. G. (1993). Theory of transactional distance. In D. Keegan (Ed.), Theoretical principles of distance education (p 22-38). Retrieved from
  17. 17. EMERGING LEARNING THEORIES AND DISCUSSION BOARDS 17 Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2007). Building online learning communities: Effective strategies for the virtual classroom. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley and Sons. Prensky, M. (2005). Engage me or enrage me: What today’s learners demand. Educause Review, 40 (5). Retrieved from Ruey, S. (2010). A case study of constructivist instructional strategies for adult online learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(5), 706-720. doi:10.1111/ j.1467-8535.2009.00965.x Snyder, M. (2009). Instructional-design theory to guide the creation of online learning communities for adults. TechTrends: Linking Research & Practice to Improve Learning, 53(1), 45-57. doi:10.1007/s11528-009-0237-2 Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1), 3-10. Retrieved from Slagter van Tryon, P. J., & Bishop, M. J. (2009). Theoretical foundations for enhancing social connectedness in online learning environments. Distance Education, 30(3), 291-315. doi:10.1080/01587910903236312 Stratham, D. S., & Torell, C. R. (1996). Computers in the classroom: The impact of technology on student learning. Boise, ID: Army Research Institute. Retrieved from