Instructional Design: Theoretical Made Practical

In Part 1 and Part 2 of our Instructional Design series, we took a broad look at the Instructional Design process, and discussed some specific ways Edvance360 can help our clients design courses that optimize learning outcomes. In our final installment, we will now turn to a more abstract component of Instructional Design: learning theory. Because the Instructional Design field finds its roots in cognitive and behavioral psychology, a basic understanding of the theories of how we learn can be immensely helpful in building courses. Obviously, the field of learning theory is large, and we could not hope to cover all aspects of it in a single article. However, a brief discussion of the key concepts can easily advance a working knowledge of the subject. We will examine 4 models of how people learn and discuss how our clients can use Edvance360 to accommodate concepts from each into courses.

First, we will look at Cognitivism, one of the oldest theories of learning, which was developed by the Developmental Psychologist, Jean Piaget. Piaget claimed that the most important facet of learning was for people (particularly children) to develop cognitive pathways through responding to and understanding experiences. Cognitivism places importance on lectures and texts, so it fits in very nicely with most traditional ideas of classroom instruction. When building courses in Edvance360, designers are able to schedule reading assignments, upload documents or excerpts for learners to access, design discussion and debate boards around concepts, even allow learners to build out a wiki response to presented case studies or material. If you think they would also benefit from a lecture, you can either upload a video or use our built-in video-conferencing software to schedule a live broadcast to their personal computer screens.

A competing theory of learning is the idea of Constructivism. This theory argues that learners construct their knowledge and understanding by creating links between previous experiences and new information. In this model, emphasis is placed on the learners connecting the course material to their personal lives. It lends itself well to discussion groups, debates, and personal essays, journals, or vlogs. While the open discussion many classrooms strive to foster can be difficult to reproduce in an online environment, Edvance360’s discussion forums or smaller discussion groups can be an excellent means of allowing students to work out their own links to the course material. They can also use wikis to build their own responses to key elements of the course material.

 Next we come to Humanism – which, though there are some similarities, should not be confused with the Humanist philosophy. Humanism, as a learning theory, focuses on the individual learner and argues that learning is a natural process that does not require an outside impetus in order to take place. In the learning environment, it emphasizes setting up scenarios, experiences, and role modeling situations for learners, as well as encouraging exploration and the observation of others, with the focus of developing empathy in the learner. This can be a more difficult theory to incorporate into online class building, but can be done with a little creativity. Is there a real-life example you can provide to help your learners better grasp a concept? Present it in a wiki and have the learners develop an empathetic and effective response. Looking to stimulate passion? Present it in a discussion forum to have the learners debate the correct course of action. Then let them vote the winning response. Looking for learners to internalize? Use Journals or blogs. Can you send them out to explore something in their locale, structuring an assignment around that? Perhaps asking them to make and upload a video (which they would upload to either Dropbox or discussions) of their exploration could help solidify the concepts for them. Divide into groups. Provide discussion guides to group leaders. Go on field trips. The possibilities are endless.

Finally, we will take a look at Connectivism. This is one of the newer theories of learning, and has grown hand-in-hand with the digital and technological age. As its name implies, Connectivism focuses on the learning made through connections – whether those be networking with others, or connecting the concepts of a game with similar concepts taught in a class. Unsurprisingly, it also stresses the importance of being able to use the wealth of digital information at our fingertips in relevant ways. It is the only one of the theories we’ve discussed which addresses the importance of learning outside of formal education – whether that be in the realm of job skills, technological advances, or hunting down new information – and subsequently linking that learning to formalized instruction. As you may have guessed, Edvance360s platform is particularly suited to including concepts from this theory as it was design around this concept particularly. (We believe the we learn through our relationships.) Since designers on Edvance360 are already building classes for a digital format, it is easy to encourage learners to use the vast resources online to further the understanding of course material. Edvance360 provides learners with links to external information, a myriad of ways to share and connect with others, as well as tools to continue the learning long after the course is completed. Users can also use the profiles and messages tools to help them connect with one another and network professionally. 

 Obviously, these are not the only four theories of learning. However, they are four of the most well-developed, as well as most commonly encountered, theories. By looking at different learning theories, designers can see ways in which courses can incorporate different techniques in order to help all learners flourish. Since most courses will almost certainly have a mix of different learning styles among their students, branching out into the types of assignments encouraged by all four theories can help ensure that the information being conveyed is understood by everyone. Furthermore, understanding a little about the theories behind learning can help us, as course builders, to understand what types of assignments are most likely to be effective in producing our desired outcomes. Happy course building!