How do we learn? How do we know what we know? What connections are valuable between the learner and teacher? What is more important: learning what to learn, or learning how to learn? These are a few, of the many, questions I have been filtering through while reflecting on my personal beliefs of the overall learning process. I believe that learning is much more than simply passively receiving information from someone and retaining it to be regurgitated at a later point in time. “Learning is an active process of constructing rather than acquiring knowledge” (Tan & Hung, 2003, p.49). I see learning as this active process wherein the learners (or students) are actively involved, engaged, and connected with the information at stake. “Learning becomes active when students are able to connect new knowledge with their prior understanding” (Mims, 2003, p.1). Learners need to thoroughly understand subjects at hand in order to be able to retain that knowledge and apply it to future learning experiences where they will need to make those meaningful connections to see the big picture.
From the standpoint of the child, the great waste in school comes from his inability to utilize the experience he gets outside while on the other hand he is unable to apply in daily life what he is learning in school. That is the isolation of the school–its isolation from life.
–John Dewey, 1916
How does this active learning process come about? I know that I personally become more driven to learn and understand when I am able to take control and research topics and information that pertain to my work, to areas that I am interested in, or areas that pertain to my family. It is extremely hard for me to become motivated when I feel as though I am only completing a task for a ‘grade’. “Using interesting, engaging, and authentic problems helps promote ownership of the problem and thus motivates the learners towards the learning goal” (Tan & Hung, 2003, p. 51). This is accomplished by using real-world scenarios that we, as learners, can directly relate with. “the problems should arise out of a real-life context, which is usually ill-structured, with some emergent aspects that are definable by the learners” (Tan & Hung, 2003, p. 51).
This real-world case based learning is extremely personal to me and my personal learning strategies, the first degree I received, and the subject that I am now teaching. I teach students who will eventually enter a dangerous working environment. Real-life problem solving is an extremely important aspect of our learning. I did not realize how grateful I was for the hands-on, active learning I received during my first degree program until I graduated and entered the work force. The knowledge and understanding that I had retained throughout those courses blew me away. I now know that this is because I truly learned the material. I did not just memorize key facts to pass a test, then have that information become stagnant, and eventually fade away. Because I had been engaged, challenged, and motivated during my learning process, I actually knew and understood what I needed to become a successful, safe, and efficient employee in the instrumentation field. “Students must be able to realize that their achievements stretch beyond the walls of the classroom. They bring to the classroom experiences, knowledge, beliefs, and curiosities and authentic learning provides a means of bridging those elements with classroom learning” (Mims, 2003, p.1). My goal is to challenge my students and push them to their learning limits where they will begin to embrace the struggle, find motivation, and collaborate to troubleshoot, problem-solve, and think critically when things are not always ‘black-and-white’.
Students must be able to realize that their achievements stretch beyond the walls of the classroom
“An idea, together with an individual’s experience with that idea, is an integrated unit that constitutes the meaning of an individual understanding of that idea. Thus, experience with the idea is critical to its understanding and one’s ability to use and apply the idea” (Tan & Hung, 2003, p. 50). When we learn things in the “lab” during our hands-on activities, we tend to draw more conclusions, retain more information, and value the experience more than regular, routine class work. If all of our learning settings could be linked to some type of experience we have with the idea under study, we would be able to apply this information and utilize it in ways we never imagined.
The relationship between learner and teacher is an extremely important connection. If the teacher is too dominate and controlling, the learner will not apply himself to his full potential; however, if the teacher is not present and available enough, the learners will not have sufficient guidance and direction to accomplish the correct goals and objectives. I strive to be a learning mentor or coach rather than a teacher. I want to spark, initiate, and challenge my students, then sit back and observe their learning behaviors. Task manager is another term that I found to fit quite nicely into my ideal role as an educator. “Task managers set learning activities or tasks for learners, provide guidance and assistance, and offer feedback and assessment. A typical task manager is the teacher, but task managing could also include activity templates, learners, and even computers” (Tan & Hung, 2003, p. 50). Task managers are the fifth component of Perkin’s (1992) five-facet constructivist learning environment that aims at achieving the educational goals of retention, understanding, and active use of knowledge and skills, all which directly relate to my personal learning theories (Tan & Hung, 2003, p. 50).
the responsibility and ownership for learning must be on the learner
Although learning mentors or task managers should focus on creating useful significant learning environments that engage, inspire, and motivate their learners to explore and embrace the learning process in naturally inquisitive ways, “the responsibility and ownership for learning must be on the learner” (Tan & Hung, 2003, p. 50). The teacher, guide, mentor, facilitator, coach, task manager, or whatever title we choose to appoint, cannot force any learner to learn if they are not readily willing and eager to do so; however, I do believe we can teach students to love learning when they are provided with the correct learning environment. “Fostering a collaborative learning environment is premised on the notion of social constructivism, which emphasizes learning through collaborative construction of socially shared knowledge” (Tan & Hung, 2003, p. 51).
“One definition of a constructivists learning environment would be: a place where learners may work together and support each other as they use a variety of tools and information resources in their guided pursuit of learning goals and problem solving activities” (Wilson, 1996, p. 5). Meaningful learning environments should be those where students are compelled to collaborate, yearn to learn, and strive to succeed- together. As learners, we need to understand the importance of working together, teamwork, and collaboration. “A focus on creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration is essential to prepare students for the future” (“Framework for 21st century learning,” n.d.). In the world today, there are VERY few scenarios where anyone must face a difficult task or situation alone. We will (almost) always have some sort of co-worker, partner, friend, mentor, supervisor, etc. there with us to collaborate with, share ideas, draw conclusions, and make decisions together. “Constructivists often emphasize that knowledge and understanding are highly social. We do not construct them individually; we construct them in dialogue with others” (Perkins, 1999, p. 7). We need to treat our learning environments like the real-world situations the learners will face. Why not partner up and work through the challenge? Some of the best classroom discussions and learning activities stem from small group discussions being analyzed together as a whole. As learners, we need to understand the importance and value of working with others, contributing to group projects, listening and learning from others, and being a team-player. It is amazing what we can learn from one another when we bring such a variety of perspectives to the table.
A key outcome of constructivist learning is knowing how we know
“In constructivist learning environments how a learner knows, is more valuable than what a learner knows” (Wilson, 1996, p. 22). I want my students to learn how to learn. I believe this is one of the most important lessons of any learner. A learner that knows how to learn will always be more successful than one who waits for step-by-step instructions accompanied by examples and demonstrations to follow and use as guides. The later style of learner becomes blinded by the examples and information given to them, creating monotony and lack of creativity and personalization. We become machines as we venture through the examples and templates given; filling in the blanks, and plugging in our own information as we progress. “A key outcome of constructivist learning is knowing how we know” (Wilson, 1996, p. 12). When learners reach their desired outcome, do they know how? If we simply fill in the blanks that someone else provides, have we truly created and learned anything? Just like our elementary math class when our teachers asked us, “But why? Why is the answer 17? How did you figure that out?”, our learners need to be able to answer the same questions. Explaining how you developed the answer, and why it is the best possible solution to our problem will solidify our understanding of whatever the subject may be.
Overall I believe learning should be student centered and student driven with some form of facilitator (teacher, parent, subject matter expert, etc.) assisting and guiding throughout the learning process (Mims, 2003, p.1). Much like Piaget, learning is more than a simple calculated, one-size-fits-all formula to me. “To Piaget, knowledge is not information to be delivered at one end, and encoded, memorized, retrieved, and applied at the other end. Instead, knowledge is experience that is acquired through interaction with the world, people and things” (Ackermann, n.d., p. 3). Teachers need to quit telling and start asking, while reiterating the importance for learners to know how to learn. Learning is a process, and should always be an active one. One where we connect ideas, experiences, and prior knowledge to current events and knowledge, and build on these connections as we advance to new levels; “the assumption we have made here is that the process of learning is facilitated through construction rather than information pumping” (Tan & Hung, 2003, p. 49).
Ackermann, E. (n.d.). Piaget’s constructivism, Papert’s constructionism: What’s the difference? Retrieved from http://learning.media.mit.edu/content/publications/EA.Piaget%20_%20Papert.pdf
By analyzing deep theories of Piaget’s constructivism and comparing them with Papert’s constructionism, Ackermann points out a few differences, but mainly just the play on words. Ackermann uses the information from both famous theorists to explain how we can utilize information from both theories to help us develop and grow a truly rich learner.
Framework for 21st century learning. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.p21.org/our-work/p21-framework
This website explains how learners today need to be geared slightly different than learners over the last 20 years. Successful learners need to develop and retain certain skill sets to be considered successful outside of the educational system upon entry to the work-force. This new culture of learning should become a factor when establishing our learning philosophies as well as our teaching philosophies.
Mims, C. (2003). Authentic learning: A practical introduction & guide for implementation.Meridian, 6(1). Retrieved from https://www.ced.ncsu.edu/meridian/index.php/meridian
In this article, Mims compares several learning theorists outlooks on the learning process and learning environments. Mims details authentic learning and how valuable real-world problems are to our learning processes. This article explains how learning should be student driven, related to real life problems, and an active process in order to engage and challenge the learners.
Perkins, D. (1999, November). The many faces of constructivism. Educational Leadership. Retrieved from http://www.wou.edu/~girodm/library/Perkins.pdf
David Perkins details the various view points and perspectives of constructivism. Perkins explains how there are several components to the constructivism as a whole. He also urges us to understand many learning environments contain one or some, of many, constructivists approaches, such as active learning, authentic learning, social collaboration, etc., not one certain standard approach.
Tan, S. C., & Hung, D. (2003). Beyond information pumping: Creating a constructivist e-learning environment. Educational Technology, 42(5), 48-54.
In this article, Tan & Hung explain the importance and the benefits of constructivist learning environments. They spend a lot of time talking about technology and e-learning, highlighting the ease of use, constant access, collaboration and feedback tools, and more. They also provide an overview of what the constructivist theory is, why it is important, and how it benefits learners today. While comparing several famous learning theorists such as Perkins, Piaget, and Jonassen, the authors explain how everything ties together in a comprehensive learning environment which is student centered and learner driven.
Wilson, B. G. (1996). Constructivist learning environments: Case studies in instructional design. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
Wilson gives great detail about constructivist learning environments as a whole in this book. He gives many details on how to enforce contructivists learning environments as an instructor or facilitator, and how to actively participate as a learner in those same environments. Wilson compares and contrasts several ideas of the learning process, learning environments, ownership and voice, and learning theories as he expands on several of the famous constructivist theorists prior work.