Monday, June 10, 2013

No Theoretician here

I'm still struggling with the concept of a learning theory. I'm pretty good on practice-- I teach and observe and see what works-- which is an essential forerunner of theory-- has to be some evidence to base the theory on. But I can't ever seem to come up with a theory that explains the evidence.

I have figured out that a theory is only a theory until it's accepted as a "law", like the "theory of gravity" became the law of gravity.

I'm not sure, but I think the theory of behaviorism is probably pretty close to a law now, it's so widely accepted. We might argue that it's limited or that what stimulus will cause what behavior might be unpredictable, but I doubt anyone argues that living things respond to stimulus. Even plants seek the sun and nutrient-rich soil.

I just get more and more confused. Below, a def of "constructivism", but it's called "a philosophy!"

I think a theory has to explain something. "This is why this works," not "this is how to do it."

Gravity isn't just "Throw a ball up and it'll fall back to you." It's "this happens because of a thing of mass creates a force that pulls things towards it."

The evidence is, obviously, true-- provably true. When in  my class, the playwriting group spent hours debating a topic for their play, but then I stopped them and gave them a very specific situation to write about, they immediately started collaborating and produced a 1-act play in an hour. That's true.
The theory would explain it, but it would be arguable, like "Putting restrictions on students helps them focus" maybe? My theory of "limitation is liberation?"
Theories have to be something less than proved, right?
And there could be other explanations for the students hopping to it when I limited their options, like they finally realized I was seriously annoyed and decided to buckle down so I wouldn't fail them.

I wonder if a theory should be so specific. But my limitation theory could apply to other situations, not just that playwriting-- that was just the "evidence" that led me to theorize. 

Source for Constructivist assignment

 From Asynchronous Learning Networks Magazine Volume 1, Issue 1 - March 1997 ISSN 1092-7131.
"Definition: Constructivism is an educational philosophy which holds that learners ultimately construct their own knowledge that then resides within them, so that each person's knowledge is as unique as they are. Among its key precepts are:
  • situated or anchored learning, which presumes that most learning is context-dependent, so that cognitive experiences situated in authentic activities such as project-based learning;
  • cognitive apprenticeships, or case-based learning environments result in richer and more meaningful learning experiences;
  • social negotiation of knowledge, a process by which learners form and test their constructs in a dialogue with other individuals and with the larger society [15]. collaboration as a principal focus of learning activities so that negotiation and testing of knowledge can occur.
Constructivist philosophy is often contrasted with 'objectivist' philosophy and practice as embodied by instructional designers, especially ISD (Instructional Systems Design) practitioners, many of whom see constructivism either as nothing new or as not truly related to instruction [16], [17].
Relevance: Constructivism is one of the hot topics in educational philosophy right now. It potentially has profound implications for how current `traditional' instruction is structured, since it fits with several highly touted educational trends, for example:
  • the transition of the teacher's role from "sage on the stage" (fount/transmitter of knowledge) to "guide on the side" (facilitator, coach);
  • teaching "higher order" skills such as problem-solving, reasoning, and reflection (for example, see also generative learning);
  • enabling learners to learn how to learn;
  • more open-ended evaluation of learning outcomes;
  • and, of course, cooperative and collaborative learning skills.
Relationship to ALN: ALNs can effectively support constructivism because of their emphasis on access to resources (which learners can use for knowledge construction) and to the extent that collaboration is used as a means of community formation (in which learners can also build knowledge and test it through social negotiation). ALNs are not inherently constructivist; whether or not an ALN is constructivist depends on how the course is designed.

References on Constructivism

College of Education, University of Denver, Constructivism Site [Online]. Accessed 2/14/02:
This Website contains many links to websites that, in total, provide a substantial introduction to the field of constructivism.
Links Dealing with Constructivism … [Online]. Accessed 5/11/01:
Contains a number of links to online resources (mainly published papers) dealing with constructivism.
Piaget's Developmental Theory: Cognitive Constructivism [Onine]. Accessed 2/26/02: from the Website:
Jean Piaget is a Swiss psychologist who began to study human development in the 1920s. His proposed a development theory has been widely discussed in both psychology and education fields. To learn, Piaget stressed the holistic approach. A child constructs understanding through many channels: reading, listening, exploring and experiencing his or her environment.

Piaget's Stages of Cognitive Development

Approximate AgeStageMajor Developments
Birth to 2 yearsSensorimotorInfants use sensory and motor capabilities to explore and gain understanding of their environments.
2 to 7 yearsPreoperationalChildren begin to use symbols. They respond to objects and events according to how they appear to be.
7 to 11 yearsConcrete operationsChildren begin to think logically.
11 years and beyondFormal operationsThey begin to think about thinking. Thought is systematic and abstract.
A child will develop through each of these stages until he or she can reason logically. The learner is advanced through three mechanisms.
  1. Assimilation - fitting a new experience into an existing mental structure (schema)
  2. Accommodation - revising an existing schema because of a new experience
  3. Equilibrium - seeking cognitive stability through assimilation and accommodation
President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology: Panel on Educational Technology [Online] (1997). Accessed 5/17/01:h
This report contains an excellent introduction to constructivism, with a focus on constructivism in an IT environment. Quoting from the book:In recent years, however, many researchers have begun to focus on the potential of technology to support certain fundamental changes in the pedagogic models underlying our traditional approach to the educational enterprise. Within this "constructivist" paradigm:
  • Greater attention is given to the acquisition of higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills, with less emphasis on the assimilation of a large body of isolated facts.
  • Basic skills are learned not in isolation, but in the course of undertaking (often on a collaborative basis) higher-level "real-world" tasks whose execution requires the integration of a number of such skills.
  • Information resources are made available to be accessed by the student at that point in time when they actually become useful in executing the particular task at hand.
  • Fewer topics may be covered than is the case within the typical traditional curriculum, but these topics are often explored in greater depth.
  • The student assumes a central role as the active architect of his or her own knowledge and skills, rather than passively absorbing information proffered by the teacher."

Piaget's theory outlined here:

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