Constructivism and Online Learning

My notes from: Huang, H. (2002). Toward constructivism for adult learners in online learning environments. British Journal of Educational Technology. Vol 33. No 1. 27-37.

Online learning requires a new pedagogy that is built on establishing a relationship between the instructor or facilitator and the learners. One of the most salient features of online learning is that it allows learning to be place and time independent. Learners can arrange their learning around their everyday lives.

Andragogy – Knowles –six principles:

  • Learner’s need to know: how learning will be conducted, what learning will occur, and why learning is important.
  • Self-directed learning is the ability of taking control of the techniques and of the purposes of learning.
  • Then, prior experience of the learner impacts learning in creating individual differences, providing rich resources, creating biases and providing adults’ self-identity.
  • Readiness to learn
  • Orientation to learning – adults prefer problem-based learning
  • Motivation to learn – adults have a high motivation to learn when they can gain new knowledge to help them solve important problems in their lives.

Jerome Bruner – technology is a powerful tool for instruction. Technologies are cognitive tools that help learners elaborate on what they are thinking and to engage in meaningful learning.

Jonassen (2000) summarized that learners use technologies as intellectual partners in order to:

  • Articulate what they know;
  • Reflect on what they have learned;
  • Support the internal negotiation of meaning making;
  • Construct personal representations of meaning; and
  • Support intentional, mindful thinking.

The Web provides immense resources for adult learners. Through the Web, learners can search actively and discover rich resources to solve problems or construct his or her own knowledge. In this way, the Web becomes an effective tool for constructivist learning.

Seven Issues of constructivism for online educators:

  • The issue of humanity and the learner’s isolation, since individual learning at a distance is a basic design for online learning. Because online learning constrains us by allowing communication through computer technology, not a real person, it loses some humanity or it forms social isolation.
  • Distance learners should determine the quality and authenticity of their learning. Adult learners usually are self-directed learners so they actively participate.
  • The real role of instructors is that of facilitator, that is, the learners move from passive receivers to control of their learning.
  • Pre-authentication – the attempt to make learning materials and environments correspond to the real world prior to the learner’s interaction with them.
  • Evaluation of learners’ achievement is time consuming. It is not easy to evaluate learners’ learning outcomes.
  • Constructivists emphasize that teaching and learning should be learner-centered. On the other hand, adult learning focuses on learners as individuals since they have a different prior knowledge and life experiences.
  • Collaborative learning is in conflict with individual differences. When teamwork in collaborative learning is required, the instructor might experience difficulty in taking into account individual learning objectives, preferences and capabilities.

Constructivist Design Principles for Online Learning

  • Interactive learning – people naturally learn and work collaboratively in their lives. Interactivity provides a way to motivate and stimulate learners. It offers a way through activities and online discussions for instructors to cause learners to consider and reflect on the content and process of learning. Interactions between instructors, other learners, and content are crucial functions in online learning.
  • Facilitating learning – create a safe environment for learners to express themselves freely in appropriate ways, to share ideas, and to ask questions. Instructors in constructivist learning environments have a responsibility to monitor and warrant the quality of learning and peer discussions. It is necessary for the instructor to build sufficient support, directions and guidelines for online learners.
  • Authentic learning – Constructivist learning stresses that learning should be authentic and meet real life experiences. The learning environment should provide real-world, case-based environments for meaningful and authentic knowledge.
  • Learner-centered learning – Constructivism and Andragogy similarly stress ownership of the learning process by learners, experiential learning, and a problem-solving approach to learning. Self-directed learners are highly motivated, know what they want to learn, set their objectives, find resources, and evaluate their learning progress to meet their goals.
  • High quality learning – online learning should involve higher-order thinking skills to determine the authenticity and quality of information by assessing the authority of the source and validating it from other sources. Learners must learn how to manage, analyze, critique, cross-reference, and transform information into valuable knowledge.
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