Over my last few M.Ed. courses at the University of Regina, we have explored different theories of knowledge and learning. My first introduction was in the summer through EDL 811: Supervision in Education. One section of the course explored different theories of knowledge and their place in the supervisory process in schools. At first, I found the connections overwhelming and almost too much to take in. Theories, knowledge, philosophies – your head starts to spin trying to understand the meaning in relation to your own experiences in education. This fall semester I am also taking EC&I 804: Curriculum Development, and our first major assignment was reading and responding to questions about theories of knowledge and learning with a focus on curriculum. Again, still a lot of ideas to process! And now here we are in EC&I 833 exploring theories of knowledge and learning in regards to our teaching philosophy and classroom practice. Luckily I stumbled across a tweet from classmate Dean to summarize learning theories:
— Dean Vendramin (@vendi55) September 27, 2020
My classmate Amanda also provided an excellent summary of behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism and connectivism. She shared Paul Stevens-Fulbrook’s “15 Learning Theories in Education” which provided an easy-to-follow explanation of learning theories. Is it possible that this is all finally coming together and starting to make sense?
What is theory of knowledge? What are learning theories?
First, I think it is important to understand what is meant by the term “theory of knowledge”. During our class this week, Dr. Couros discussed the concept of knowledge and when it is the case that you know something. This includes knowing what is true, believing in it and having the justification (facts or evidence) for believing whatever is true.
Ertmer and Newby compare three of the theories (Behaviorism, Cognitivism and Constructivism) from an instructional design perspective. This article guided me in my understanding of how theories are represented in a classroom setting.
- Behaviorism: This theory suggests that the role of teachers is to create an environment that will result is specific and desired responses. Students are usually rewarded when they make the “correct” response.
- Cognitivism: Similar to behaviorism, the environment is very important in learning. “Instructional explanations, demonstrations, illustrative examples and matched non-examples are all considered to be instrumental in guiding student learning.”
- Constructivism: This theory “equates learning with creating meaning from experience.” The learner takes information and elaborates and interprets the new information.
George Siemans explains that behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism are the three broad learning theories, but were developed before the digital age. Connectivism helps bridge the gap in these theories and recognizes that learning is no longer an individual activity and focuses on the skills required to help learners succeed in the digital era.
Which theory of knowledge for me aligns with my teaching philosophy?
When I consider the four learning theories I have discussed so far, I find many connections to my teaching philosophy as it has evolved over the course of my teaching career. For all of my career, I have been a specialist teacher in elementary schools, often working with primary students in their classrooms (usually in schools without an additional Arts Education room). One of my biggest challenges is classroom management, especially if I only work with a class once a week. For years, I have used the same “trick” to maintain a calm and controlled learning environment. I enter the room, write the word MUSIC on the board and the goal is to keep all of our “letters”. If students are not following instructions, I erase a letter, but there is always the opportunity to earn the letter back. If we get to the end of the class with all of our “letters”, I add a sticker to a chart. Ten stickers means we get to do something fun, like play a game! It is amazing how well primary students buy-in to this method of classroom management.
As I read about learning theories, I realize that my classroom management tool follows the classic action-reward method of the behaviorism theory. I really try to focus on earning and losing letters as a team effort (example – I do not erase a letter because one student is acting out). Sometimes even just walking up to the board and raising the whiteboard eraser is enough to get all the students back on track. Is this an appropriate tool to use in schools today? I know from experience that it does not work beyond about Grade 2, so maybe there is a place for behaviorism among certain subjects or grade levels.
Cognitivism has also been part of my teaching career, especially when I build on knowledge acquired during Arts Education lessons. I have really noticed the influence cognitivism has had in my teaching as I stay in one school for many years. At one of my schools, the work I planned for Grade 4 students was only successful because I had taught these students since Kindergarten. Every year we build on prior knowledge and go beyond surface level learning.
I also find Constructivism to be a major part of the Arts Education curriculum as students are able to gain knowledge through experiential learning and think about the roles of the arts in their world. One of my favourite experiences as a teacher was guiding students through an Activist Art gallery and exploring social media activism.
Students collaborated to create an art exhibit that aligned with the social constructivism learning theory. In some ways, it feels as though my teaching career has incorporated different learning theories based on the grade level. Behaviorism is closely linked with Kindergarten to Grade 2 students (because they really buy-in to the action-reward method). Cognitivism relates closely to Grades 3-6 students, as they are beginning to develop the metacognition to taking their learning to a deeper level. Constructivism aligns more closely with Grades 7-8 students because they are willing to challenge and explore new ideas.
A shift in my beliefs
Last week I left my position as an elementary Arts Education teacher to join the team at Regina Public Schools eSchool. While I understood how learning has shifted with the introduction of technology in schools, technology integration has not always been feasible in an Arts Education setting. The biggest factor that prevented this was the time I got to spend with student groups each week. But this has all changed now that I am a Grade 3 online teacher! Online integration is now my life and the last week has been a whirlwind of learning and considering how to adapt learning and curriculum in an online environment. To say this course, Foundations of Educational Technology, came at a good time would be an understatement.
In the spring during remote learning, I covered a Grade 4/5 class and used tools like Seesaw and Google Classroom. But this learning was emergency and supplemental, so there was not as much pressure when it came to assessment. Now the eSchool team is tasked to create engaging lessons that will provide the same educational objectives and outcomes as an in person classroom setting. My classmate Leigh highlighted the connections between connectivism with social constructivism and the core principles of connectivism from Siemans including:
- Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
- Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
- Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
- Capacity to know more is more critical that what is currently known.
I am so excited when I think about the potential of eSchool and opportunity we have to create a unique learning experience for students. Connectivism is the theory that heavily aligns with online learning and I look forward to my new role as an online teacher. Although many people may look at the negative aspects of the COVID pandemic, I think it has forced education to look to the future and embrace the changes needed to facilitate learning online.
Until next time,