The Big Blog aka the Many Things I Never Thought of… [ID Blog]

When I started out taking The Adult as Learner course, I thought “how hard can it be?” Teaching adults is the same as teaching kids, you just use bigger words, LOL  So many things showed me that I had not even scratched the surface of thinking about this. Just learning the difference between pedagogy and andragogy wasn’t enough. No, we pushed on into learning what is essential in andragogy:  respect for the adult’s life experiences, creating a space in which they don’t feel judged – a place where they feel safe to discuss their ideas and opinions. Even though they may be the same age as the instructor, the instructor must be able to facilitate without appearing condescending.

Wait! I forgot – before all of this we had to consider when does someone become an adult? Because you may work but not be an adult (same with being a parent). Are you an adult if, at age 24, you live with your parents, you don’t work and you pay for nothing?  On the other hand, what if you are 19 years old and living on your own, working, and putting yourself through college? While single parenting? Are you an adult yet?  I had taken for granted the mere meaning of the word adult when I signed up for this class.

We moved on to motivations – why are people taking the class? Because whether their motivations are internal (wanting to master a subject or skill), or external (they will get a better job or promotion) changes how they react to things and how they engage. Why do some people get past many barriers to continue education while others seemingly can’t get past one? It’s not a character flaw, just personal experience.  How does someone see themself as a student? Did they finish high school thinking that they were lucky to graduate and were they told that they were not smart? How will that person embrace taking a class to get ahead at work? Will they look forward to it or just try to get through it? Will they expect, or demand, much of themselves?

Where are you in life? Have you had children? Don’t want kids? Are you married or part of a couple? Are you single? Have you survived a trauma? Are you starting out in the working world or are you an upper-level manager trying to push through to the top tier at work? All of these things define you as a student.

As I think about beginning to create a course, the thought of designing a course for adults with just these thoughts to contend with- it is intimidating. But wait, there’s more! When were you born? Because your generation defines your attitude towards technology, education, and the workforce.

Then there are the learning theories. Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Social Cognitivism, Connectivism, Communities of Practice, etc.  You learn which parts of the brain are utilized and how each is affecting memory, processing new information, how is it being stored, and so on. So much to think of. When you design your class will it be asynchronous or synchronous? Will your students be tech savvy? How will you reach them? There are cones, and zones, and Pavlov and Piaget. So much to consider, at times from opposing viewpoints. How do you make sense of it all?

I told my classmate, Lou, that I think everything is a learning theory now-that if I look at my watch and see the time, that there is some theory out there to say that I’ve just learned because my mind has now placed me in the moment of 10:15 in the world, something I didn’t know minutes before.   I think that this course was great – it introduced us to so much. While it does seem overwhelming, as I continue on my journey of learning in Instructional Design, that these theories will come up again and again and make more sense the more I read, the more I learn – I’m happy to have such a broad base to build upon.  Our class was synchronous and in the asynchronous world of ID, I found synchronous to be helpful. I enjoyed hearing and reading comments from my classmates and professor, insights from sources that weren’t always in my reading. It was a pleasure to get to know my classmates, to work on a group project (even though my group’s big lesson was what happens when the technology fails you, but we persevered). Another bonus of the synchronous classes was learning to use Blackboard and it’s breakout rooms. It made it much easier for us to use when doing our group presentation. I will miss this class but hopefully I’ll find Professor Manning and my classmates elsewhere on the ID journey.

Connectivism [ID Blog]

Connectivism is one of those theories that again makes me think “This is learning?”  I don’t mean that in an insulting way. But there are things that we do, in our daily life, that seem normal,  just  “going about your business” type stuff, yet these things turn out to be learning theories.

In the weekly synch session, we were sent to break-out rooms to search for certain products online. The searching combined with asking each other questions and using online chat was all part of connectivism. The poster child for connectivism should be Kevin Bacon; the 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon has been around at least since the early 90’s, if not before.

It is amazing how connected we all are; we are all constantly learning from each other. Sometimes it is how not to act when behind the wheel of a car, sometimes it’s how to get that darn copy machine unjammed, and other times it is a secret that another parent shares with you that ends up being one of those priceless gems that make parenting so much easier.

Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the image of Kevin Bacon.

Experiential Learning [ID Blog]

For years I had wanted to return to school to pursue my master’s degree. I wasn’t sure for which subject exactly, but I knew it had to do with education. I thought of working with special needs children but that required another bachelor’s degree before moving on. My BA in Humanities wasn’t going to work for grad school special needs. So I pursued other ideas. As a working, single mom, I needed to be present as a parent. I didn’t want to be one of those people whose child comes home from school then eats dinner alone because mom has gone from work to night school. I’m not saying that is wrong, it was just not the right path for me. After losing my best friend and others at the World Trade Center I never take for granted that I will see someone the next day, or even later that day. This is something that has worked against me mentally at times, I must admit.

As time wore on it started to seem that returning to school was ridiculous and a waste of money, in my 40s, and even more so once I hit 50, . My friend, Karen, stopped her work as a CPA, got student loans, and went to law school for tax law. At the time I worried greatly for her, taking on debt so late in life. And then it happened.

In March 2015, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had the mastectomy, had the mediport put in my jugular, did the chemo (thankfully didn’t need radiation), and everything else that goes with it. Of course, I thought about death. I thought about life. I realized that where I was working at the time I was surrounded by women in their 70s who were still working. Not because they wanted to get out of the house but because they relied on the income. Social Security is not enough. I also realized that these women are 15-20 years older than myself. If I’m going to still be working at that point, I don’t want it to be for some low-paying job that has become routine to me. I want to do something I will enjoy and that will benefit others. I want to do something that will offer financial stability. I realized grad school was only 3 years and why wasn’t I going back? I spoke to a couple of people and as luck would have it, my cancer support group leader was an Instructional Designer. I had no idea what that was, but I questioned her and was excited about what she did. I think I may have been a little too excited, she had that “Single White Female” scared face for a few minutes. But once she realized I wasn’t out to take over her identity, only to settle on a program for grad school, all was well. I researched online grad schools for ID. I got a list and it had Boise as the number one choice and UMass Boston as number three. But for some reason the moment I saw UMass Boston I felt compelled to apply there. I did not apply anywhere else, this was my first choice. I was so excited to get in.  Here I am now, finishing up my first semester – stressing over my group and individual projects and papers but still here, still surviving. I even have an upcoming surgery on May 9th, my final surgery of this cancer escapade (I hope) yet my focus is on school. I’m still excited. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the reading but now I’m looking at people on TV, the people I see in stores, etc., differently. Because what I thought was just a decision to return to school turned out to be a type of learning – experiential learning. According to this learning theory, I encountered a trauma that made me think and re-assess my place in the world. Once that reassessment was done, and I had my new viewpoint, I proceeded to act upon it by applying to UMass Boston and enroll. It reminds me of the cliché that my grandmother used to say all the time “You learn something new everyday”  But I think the addendum to that should be “even when you don’t realize that it’s learning”. Sometimes the trauma you encounter is your cocoon and when you reassess and take action, you come out as a beautiful butterfly.

Communities of Practice [ID Blog]

Communities of Practice are great(CoP). They’re pretty much ubiquitous. According to Merriam and Bierema’s Adult Learning (2014), the family is listed as a CoP. For me, I’d say one of the most involved CoPs I’ve been involved with was dog obedience.

While living in Florida I had my own Alaskan Malamutes. I worked for the national breed rescue as well. Yes, there are Mals in Florida- but you need good A/C and baby pools to keep them happy in summer. They will never have a heavy winter coat like their relatives living up north so they appear smaller and/or thinner. But I digress.

There are two divisions in dog shows: Breed (aka the ring) and Obedience. The ring is what you see on TV  – handlers running their dogs around a ring on slip leads while a judge watches their movements. Judges then go over each dog with their hands to see how each dog conforms to that breed’s standard. Everyone is dressed up – no jeans and sneakers in this crowd.

Then you have the outside areas which not only includes the dogs competing in obedience (sit/stay/ walking off lead, going over jumps, taking direction from their owner/handler via hand signals and/or verbally) and in agility, the fun obstacle course with tunnels and seesaws.

I wanted to get into obedience but other than books at the library and some dog magazines including the AKC’s magazine that listed where obedience trials would be taking place, I had no idea how to get involved. I looked up (this was the early 90s) the phone numbers for dog clubs in the area. There was one in St. Petersburg, FL near me. Through meetings and interacting with people involved in the sport, I learned the lingo. Now I laughed at shirts that said Winner’s Bitch and kid’s shirts that said Bred by Exhibitor. I attended meetings with my dog, Sunday, and learned how to work him in an obedience ring. Through these folks I learned that individual breed clubs had their own competitions as well. When I discovered something that I had found out, I shared with everyone at the next meeting or if time was of the essence, I phoned a couple of members who in turn phoned a few more.

I went from someone with a dog and a dream, and ended up speaking the jargon, understanding the rules, helping others that joined after me, and continued to learn and grow until I moved out-of-state. The tips, tricks, etc. that I learned from these folks are still part of my knowledge-base today. As my daughter has grown up I’ve shared them with her. I will always be grateful to those folks and should I find myself in a place where once again I may have a dog, I shall seek out my closest dog training club because no matter where I am, that is how I connect with my tribe.

Who would ever have thought that learning through others this way was actually a learning theory? Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave’s theory of Situated Learning and Communities of Practice remind me of when you cut a tree in half. You see the rings that get smaller and denser towards the center. That is like a Community of Practice: you start on the outer edges, interested but (and this is the difference between a CoP and Sander’s Community of Interest ([CoI]) you are also practicing albeit at just a beginner’s level. Through interaction, learning and sharing from those more seasoned and skilled, your knowledge grows and you move closer to the center. Now you begin to share things and those on the outer rings are learning from you whilst you’re still learning from those in the center. Everyone is rewarded and everyone is participating and learning. Even the “masters” in the center can still learn new things from those farther out from them as well as from other sources.

I thank wikimedia commons for the images.

Watch Out, Your Internal Mental Process is Showing [ID BLOG]

I mentioned in a previous blog about using behaviorism in my dog training days as well as responding to it in my own life. There is also a funny episode of the Big Bang Theory where Sheldon subtly uses behaviorism to “train” Penny. While behaviorism has the learner responding to cues and stimuli in the environment, cognitivism focuses on the mental process of learning and building  upon previous knowledge. Piaget’s famous four stages of development is probably one of the best known representations of this theory. Knowledge is seen as schema which, according to, is an underlying pattern or structure. Everything is seen as patterns and as the individual’s brain is introduced to new things, stimulation of prior knowledge occurs and the person is able to interpret and add this new information to one of the existing schema thus changing it (until the next input of informational learning arrives). When I think of patterns and learning it brings to mind mnemonics, which of course brings up Keanu Reeves because he played Johnny Mnemonic. But I digress. I watched a wonderful video about memorizing Piaget’s four stages and it was based on mnemonics which can be watched here. Very creative help.

Albert Bandura’s Bobo doll experiments of 1961 and 1963 showed that modeling aggressive behavior resulted in aggressive actions by those witnessing it. With apologies to Piaget, I think Bandura’s experiments should get attention nowadays. I don’t wish to sound like Tipper Gore (who I’ll admit I thought was overreacting to violence in video games and music back in the 90s) kids today see violence in movies, video games, music videos, and TV. There has, and always will be violence, but as CGI and special effects have become more realistic via technology, the remakes of some movies out-gore the original. Even our news is basically a tally of shootings, terrorist attacks, and accidents with some weather and traffic thrown in. People are more aggressive for some reason these days. Take a man and woman who don’t know each other encountering each other in the line at Starbucks, they’ll be polite. Take the same two people, put them in cars on the highway, one of them running late, and they’ll be cutting the other person’s car off, possibly rude gesturing, etc. With 330 mass shootings in the US in 2015, which is almost one per day, what comes out is we all need to see kindness modeling. I am not trying to say there are not kind people. Throughout my cancer treatment I had total strangers coming up, some asking if they could pray for me, others asking if I needed help with anything, twice at Starbucks I had my drinks paid for by someone whom I did not know. There is good in this world and if using cognitivist Bobo doll modeling we could somehow get a good Bobo on the TV during halftime at Superbowl, imagine what could happen. On second thought the halftime show wouldn’t work, we need to repeat it, so maybe a kind Bobo doll commercial that keeps playing.

Learning Theories: They are Only as Good as the Latest Research [ID Blog]

Learning theories seem to come and go all the time. Sometimes they build on each other, other times they reject previous theories, and a few just come about on their own, not at all linked to any others. What surprises me is the research used to reinforce some of the theories. For example, I understand when researchers use all women in a study to see if the information from a previous study based on all men, has the same results. But why in the world would they use a homogeneous group in the first place? That, to me, makes no sense.

If researchers begin with two conflicting  positions on the origins of knowledge (empiricism and rationalism) of course there is already a tension between what some believe is the definition of learning. Empiricism begins with Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) and posits the idea that learning and knowledge come from what we continuously experience in sensory perception, until the individual is able to put it all together in meaningful, complex ideas. According to Schunk (1991), Empiricism is the view that experience is the primary source of knowledge.” On the other hand, rationalism originated with Plato (c. 427-347 B.C.) and his belief that what was already in our minds (i.e. experiences) is the source of learning and does not rely on our sensory input. Again, Schunk (1991), boils it down for us to “Rationalism is the view that knowledge derives from reason without the aid of the senses.” What we experience, we come to know and understand from what is already in our minds. We are able to recall memories in order to make sense of this new information and store it in our brains accordingly.

The first major learning theory, originally from Watson but turned into a theory by Skinner, is behaviorism. Behaviorism is soundly based on empiricism and it’s belief that sensory input is an integral part of learning. The famous Pavlovian experiment with the dog and the bell – ringing a bell every time the dog was given food which resulted in the dog salivating upon hearing the bell, is behaviorism. It is “a change in observable behavior that determines that learning has occurred” (Skinner, 1971). But such a wide open statement can envelop situations as learning situations when, in fact, they aren’t. True, behaviorists believe that the stimuli in the learner’s environment must be arranged in order to bring about a change in behavior, it can’t just be happenstance. Personally I think of clicker training with dogs when I think of this theory. You give the dog a command and each time the dog responds correctly you give them a treat while simultaneously clicking the training clicker in your hand. The dog begins to associate the clicker sound with praise and slowly you stop giving the food treats and just use the clicker to reward the dog. However, if I were the dog, I would think, OK, it’s been about 10 days since the last treat came with the clicker sound, what’s up? and perhaps I’d stop being so happy about the clicker. But I’m not a dog. However, it is this association in my mind that makes me think behaviorism, while it has some good points, is not the right basis for learning in humans. Of course, for less complex instruction, such as mastering a skill, this reward type of training works well.

Humanismthe next major learning theory, seems to fly to the opposite end of the spectrum from “all you have to show is an observable change in behavior” as a sign that learning has occurred, all the way to self-actualization or becoming a fully functioning person. Quite the leap there. Carl Rogers (1983) started the student-centered learning approach with the teacher no longer “banking” knowledge into empty student vessels but rather working more as a guide or facilitator-helping the students discover the learning themselves. His five principles of significant learning: (a) has a quality of personal involvement (b) is self-initiated (c) is pervasive (d) is evaluated by the learner and (e) its essence is meaning, are major thoughts behind instructional design models. Even though Gagné and his theory of instructional design came out of the cognitivist theory. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs posits that the learner needs to take care of the basic physiological needs, then safety issues, needs to feel love and belonging, and have good self-esteem before moving to the final place of self actualization. In Maslow’s view, the learning process takes the whole person, from the molecular level of basic scientific needs, through emotional and spiritual happiness, to the freeing of the mind to absorb the knowledge. At least that’s the impression that I got (in a much simplified version). But sometimes you can move back and forth between the levels of the triangle and you may need to repeat some levels as you face life’s challenges, so who is to say if it’s a linear move up the triangle?

Although based in humanism, Knowles theories of andragogy are much more, dare I say, logical. His belief that:

  1. People are more open to learning when they are respected
  2. It is important for participants to be placed in a sharing relationship at the outset
  3. People learn more from those they trust than from those they mistrust, so it is important to establish a climate of mutual trust.
  4. People learn better when they feel supported rather than judged or threatened.
  5. A climate of openness and authenticity is also essential. When people feel free to be open and natural, to say what they really think and feel, they are more likely to be willing to examine new ideas.

The rules above are one of those times where I think to myself “Well, that is so obvious, why did they have to write it out?”  Which reminds me of a story my pastor once told. While in seminary he would see different preachers of mega churches on TV. Mixed in with their scriptural teaching was an overabundance of telling audience members things such as “you are a good person”, “you have the ability to do this”, “you can, and will succeed”. He couldn’t understand why people would tune into these shows week after week unless they were vain. Then one day he realized, not everyone comes from a happy home; sometimes people’s childhood’s are filled with stress and disappointment, they don’t do well in school, they don’t have a support system at home. What these TV preachers do is fill that void, that emptiness in them that these folks need for their own self-esteem. He realized also that you can’t come to learn about scriptures or anything else if you don’t see yourself as someone who can succeed, as someone who can do anything, if you don’t believe in your worth.  To me, that incorporates Knowles 5 principles as well as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Mezirow’s Theory of Transformational Learning (1991) is based on development. Along humanist lines this means that as we age and go through life’s experiences, we change and we learn. The learning is continuous. In my paper, I proposed that the adult learner is every adult, because whether our training and/or instruction is formal or not, we are constantly being placed in life’s situations which cause us to make choices from which we learn. Sometimes the outcome teaches us that we should have made the other choice, sometimes it reinforces the choice we did make. This goes along with Mezirow’s (1978) point “transformation can lead developmentally toward a more inclusive, differentiated, permeable, and integrated perspective and that, insofar as it is possible, we all naturally move toward such an orientation. This is what development means in adulthood….”

Although the next theory out the gate, cognitivism, once again shifted the focus of learning. The behaviorists were using stimuli in the environment, the humanists were using the whole person, but cognitivism moved toward the process within the mind: what goes on inside our heads that allows knowledge to enter. Probably the most famous of early cognitivists is Piaget and his 4 stage model of development:

  1. Sensory-motor response to stimuli (infancy)
  2. Representing real objects via symbols and words (preoperational)
  3. Understanding concepts and relationships (concrete operational)
  4. Abstract thinking and hypothetical reasoning (formal operational)

Like any theory, Piaget’s was built upon and changed. Others came along with more steps or different steps, others focused on one of his stages, yet all remained within the cognitivist realm. According to Driscoll (2005, p.74), “When learning occurs, information is input from the environment, processed, and stored in memory, and output in the form of some learned capability”. This is represented in the summational evaluation of instructional design models. It also incorporates Knowles humanist view of respecting the memory and experience that adult learners bring with them to the point of instruction.

Social cognitive theory built upon cognitive theory but added the idea that much of what we learn comes from social contexts. Whether it is a hobby class, formal schooling, at a craft store demonstration, etc. we are not isolated during our learning experience. We learn and at the same time we are able to observe others. Through this observation we are able to better our skills by watching others and also, we are able to observe and learn the behavioral norms of the group or community in which we find ourselves.

Finally we move to the most often used theory nowadays, constructivism. According to Ertmer & Newby (2013), “Constructivists do not deny the existence of the real world but contend that what we know of the world stems from our own interpretations of our experiences. Humans create meaning as opposed to acquiring it.” Learning takes place within a context and that idea is used in instructional design. Constructivist instruction can help when learners already have knowledge of a subject and their memories of how to proceed in that domain may be wrong or biased. Constructivism acknowledges this prior understanding in the learner’s memory and can help to set it right and build from there.

Motivation and the Adult Learner [ID Blog]

The readings this week focused on the various motivations of the adult learner. All I can say is that I never realized there were so many reasons, subcategories, barriers and societal impacts that came into play. Wlodowski’s definition of motivation is “why people behave as they do” and  it is interpreted as being purposeful in one’s actions. His theories were largely constructivist and included a lot of biological/neurological side studies, i.e., how the brain reacts positively to self-directed learning. Wlodowski also accepted the premise that thinking and emotions are inseparable. Honestly, I felt that all the neurological information – which parts of the brain react which way to what stimuli, etc., just made the reading a bit confusing. But that could just be me.

In addition to reading  “What Motivates Adults to Learn” (Wlodowski), we also read Merriam and Bierema’s “Motivation and Learning” chapter from Adult Learning:Linking Theory and Practice (2014).  In this reading it was posited that there are extrinsic and intrinsic motivators for adult learners. Extrinsic motivators often have a tangible goal in sight – getting a degree for a promotion, learning new technology in order to enhance your value to your employer, etc. Intrinsic motivators are unique to each student – learning to expand a social circle, to meet others who enjoy what you do, to be a better parent, or even just to learn solely for the sake of learning. I think even if you have an extrinsic motivator (to learn in order to get a promotion) it also incorporates a bit of intrinsic with it (you want to make a better life for yourself and your family in the long run even if the promotion won’t be the final goal) you may still have more to do in order to create this better life.

In Houle’s The Inquiring Mind (1961), he identified three types of learning orientations – goal-oriented learners (a means to an end, a specific goal in sight), activity-oriented learners (learning for the social aspect or activity), and learning-oriented learners who are focused on learning new things just to learn.  You might start out as one and morph into another. Perhaps you take a class at your community center on jewelry making. Many people comment on how beautiful the necklace is that you made, so you take more classes, delving deeper into the intricacies of jewelry making and end up starting your own business. I would think this happens quite a lot just from the many people whom I’ve encountered that start their own jewelry, soap making, and perfume making businesses. Also, as technology and social media grows, people can do their own marketing (yet more ways to learn, either in a formal setting or just doing self-directed tutorials of software and social media applications).

There were so many different theories in the M&B chapter that it was a bit hard to keep straight how each differed. One thing I did like was McClusky’s Theory of Margin (1963). This theory states that “Margin is the dynamic relationship between load and power.” It wasn’t making that much sense reading about it until I saw it illustrated in the table.  So if you put into the load category the demands you’d have on yourself as an adult learner (family commitments, job responsibility, social and civic duties, along with your own goals, values, attitudes and what you expect of yourself) and in the Power category put in your resources or ways to cope with the load (financial status, social contacts, your health, social skills, coping skills, resiliency) you can create a fraction of Power/Load =margin. If your at 1, then your breaking even but less than that you have too many pressures, more than that and you have a great ability to devote time to learning. Although this theory holds true, I don’t know many people consciously do the pro/con listing when considering pursuing adult education. I would think that it is more likely that someone might see, or be told by others, of barriers in their way. Some people will find ways around this barrier while others might see only the barrier, and it may be quite valid. The digital divide still exists. Where I work we have computers for the teens to come and do their homework. We also offer free computer classes for adults because where I work it is the inner city in a very low-income area. If you don’t have a computer at home, and you don’t have a car, even if you can get financial aid, you still may not be able to physically get to the learning location and you can not take blended classes from home either. Sometimes being motivated doesn’t equate to being able.

Wlodowski’s Integrated Levels of Adult Motivation (2008) has four conditions for instructors to use when designing classes for adults. They are: inclusion, developing an attitude of favorability toward the learning, enhancing the meaning of the learning through challenging and engaging experiences, and finally, engendering confidence by helping each of the learners see what they have learned from the instruction. I liked his K-W-L strategy – learner’s identify what they Know, what they Want to know, and finally what they have Learned.  He had 60 strategies listed to accomplish all of this and some are quite simple (e.g. use constructive criticism, allow for introductions, etc.). Most of the strategies fall back to the idea of who the adult learner is: someone who is full of life experiences and wants to learn but does not want another to act dominant over them. They want to be respected and feel that they are valued. They’re used to making their own decisions and thus are better at self directed learning as that is something that they already do every day, whether in the work place, online, across the informal and non-formal domains, and if in school, in the formal domain as well.

As we continue on in this class it becomes clear that when creating instruction for a class one needs to be cognizant of so many factors: who the learners are, their experiences, what their motivators are, what barriers they might have had to overcome in order to get there, and finally, where they lie in the Theory of Margin. How do you design a class when the participants may be so vastly different? I’m hoping I’ll know all of this by the end of my own instruction at UMB.