New Theories

I just finished reading this post by Steve Wheeler about learning theories for a digital age. I don’t know about whether these new theories are making older theories as anachronistic as he thinks. While connectivism and other  learning theories are enhancing our understanding of how humans learn, it’s not as if the new ideas render all that old work obsolete. In fact, I think it scaffolds our understanding of education quite nicely. If we go back a mere fifty years ago, there were only a few people interested in explaining how we learn. If we go back a hundred, there were even less. What Dewey said in the 1930’s, was amplified by others throughout the 60’s and is presently augmented to reflect our current way of thinking in the modern day. Sure, Steve’s not suggesting we forget where we came from – at least I hope he’s not – but Dewey resonates as an overarching theory as much as connectivism applies to how we learn online. Perhaps that’s because the shifting of what an “experience” exists as. An experience in 1930 is different (contextually and functionally) than an experience is today. Our perspective is broader (although our focus may be narrower).

Dewey could never have anticipated YouTube, but in a way we can watch a video on YouTube, experience it, and then attempt to practice it in our own reality. Dewey certainly thought that experiential learning was doing something and learning from it. While we can draw a parallel between watching a YouTube video and listening to a lecture in the 1930’s, I wonder if there’s enough of a difference between the two (referencing R.E. Mayer’s work with multimedia learning, Innis’ work with communication theory) that they are cognitively different. Factoring in motivation (typically YouTube videos are viewed with purpose, lectures, well, we all know about them) may have a big difference in whether or not information is retained. I think it’s incredibly valuable to return to the foundations of educational theory to ground ourselves and think about what we know.

One thought on “New Theories

  1. Just like anything else that involves human experience or interaction, the act of learning does not happen in a vacuum. It is at the intersection of prior knowledge, experience, perception, reality, comprehension, and flexibility that learning occurs. In years past, the traditional learning paradigms of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism have been the benchmarks against which the learning process has been measured. What happens, though, when you throw into the mix all the technological advancements that have come about over the last 40-50 years? These theories certainly do not become obsolete by any means, but they do need to be used in a very different way to be able to incorporate the attributes of a 21st century learning environment. In today’s technology-rich society, it has become increasingly important to learn how to learn. Vail put it simply by declaring that learning must be a way of being (1996).

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