Ashley Murray nailed it: “As teachers I think that it’s important that we avoid getting caught up in which theory is the BEST theory to use.”
Taking a page out of John Dewey‘s playbook, I feel the need to ‘link sciences’. What is my take on learning theory? Learning as a chaotic, evolving mosaic. I use mosaic in the biological sense, when separate genetics are present together. Substitute genetics for learning theories, and away we go.
Much like evolution as a “theory”, they don’t become theory without reputable and verifiable strategies, experiments, and support. Since so many streams of learning theory hold weight, combining them and treating learning as an evolving and changing process. Let’s allow learning to proceed as a complex science including constructivism, behaviourism, cognitivism, and every other learning theory.
Ultimately, as educators, when we consider our philosophies it comes down to the first two questions Schunk (Learning theories: an educational perspective, 1991) asked:
How does learning occur?
What factors influence learning?
Learning occurs through connecting with others who may have different ideas and perspectives than us, through the chaos of diversity. We associate and establish similarities and differences between what we know and seek to learn. We conceptualize and translate texts, tones, and visuals. Everything we learn, builds to the next lesson. Every experience we’ve had, problems we solve, memories we retain, every innate ability and predisposition we have influences how we learn. Reinforcement and punishment influence our perception of how we view it, but even that knowledge and learning is organic and evolves as we reflect. We independently yet dependently learn holistically (physically, socio-emotionally, mentally) and it manifests itself in our society as a mosaic. This particular quote resonated with me and diversity and complexity of learning: “Which theory [or theories] is the most effective in fostering mastery of specific tasks by specific learners?” Adjust and adapt. To lock yourself into one belief of learning theory and deny others seems counter-intuitive, or think it is something clean and linear (like a pyramid). Humanity learns.
Ideally, that’s what my classroom would look like. Does it look like that every day? Maybe not upon initial viewing, but it’s rooted in what I do. And it’s constantly changing.
Do you agree that learning is hard to classify? It’s worth looking at all the different beliefs on learning. Some may have more evidence than others, but as a connectivist would tell you, even the opinions we don’t agree with have relevance and meaning to learning.
I wanted to open with stating: “as a high school environmental science teacher, it is required in the curriculum to discuss how connected different environmental systems are, what we do in one, affects another”… but then it occurred to me that being an environmental science teacher only represents one branch of courses that involve connections… a social studies class observes and applies connections between the past and present…. a health science class observes the connections between nutrition and homeostasis. Connections are everywhere. This isn’t a revelation, it is reality. Enhanced reading goals call for students to connect their content between chapters and prior learning… we look at challenging our students for higher order thinking and it asks to create connections or use “simple” knowledge (which is growing exponentially) and apply it to real problems. An inquisitive mind looks to the next question or connects new information to old and teachers are, after all, in the business of creating inquisitive minds.
Conversely, we want to create digital citizens who are connected. Connectivism seeks to address the acquisition of knowledge through networking and “pattern recognition”… but where is the connection between connecting content (“pattern recognition”) and being connected (networking)? “Pattern recognition” would pertain to the connections made within a classroom discussion… oranges and lemons both have citric acid in them… given that pattern, it kind of sounds like citrus fruits that I hear about (connecting two separate subjects together while connecting to background knowledge). Networking addresses the vast connectedness of the world we live in today. As informed educators, of course we’d want to utilize both. Reinforced by the constructivist research supporting students combining prior knowledge with experience, we can see the value in connections to prior knowledge. We need to create that connected-digital-citizen student, and I believe it can be through connections using our curricula.
A cynic may argue: I can make connections, but how do I create a connected student in <class name here>? Buy into the idea, make the curriculum yours. There is clear writing as to what the outcomes are, but manipulate it. Interpret it. Speaking to teachers, how many times have you find an activity you loved and then had to think, “how can I connect this to the curriculum?” And you manage to do so, quite easily? Curriculum in Saskatchewan is progressing to an organic system. To quote myself (classy, I know), in an assignment while completing my undergrad degree, “curriculum constantly adapts and changes, it’s never complete, education has no ranges.” While the explicit, written document may not change in the conventional sense, there is a reason no class is taught exactly the same. Much like the biblical scriptures of yore, it is subject to interpretation to connect and find personal meaning and relevance… and the “no ranges” addresses the vastness of our networked world… (Many would argue some of the new curriculum is too vague and may fail to prepare them for next level courses to which lower-levels are prerequisites, however if you can create a ‘connected student’, this may seek to combat discrepancies in how outcomes are taught class-to-class and simply teach a strong, connected learner).
There may be the perception this may not suit your style of teaching, but perhaps styles need to be refined. Versatility and clarity in organized chaos are the keys to engaging the connected student. Patience, humbleness and a calm composure lend itself to adapting to where thirty different directions of learning go. An educator able to make connections in chaos can create meaning and connected learners.
“Chaos is the breakdown of predictability, evidenced in complicated arrangements that initially defy order.
Meaning-making and forming connections between specialized communities are important activities.
Chaos, as a science, recognizes the connection of everything to everything.” – George Siemens
Creating the connected student calls on many digital understandings however, utilizing and critiquing different sources to establish a personal learning network doesn’t happen overnight and it can’t be left unattended… it is ongoing. Its prolonged growth requires the choice and freedom of the student, but how do you ‘enforce freedom’ to make them responsible? A quote that comes to mind is: “Freedom gives the inclination to be responsible.” In order to create that freedom and inclination, you need to let the student connect to the content to make it relevant, then they may want and understand it.
To connect to my previous blog, however, all of this depends on having a class in which every student has a computer and the resources to be connected. Without the funding for this, it makes it difficult for all this to become a reality. Example below, a grade seven student outlines their learning network. This shows created connected students is able to be done, but all the kids have laptops?! And a classroom leopard gecko?! Get outta here! My class just has fish!
Granted, we had this cute critter named “Frodo” last year:
We connected him to the need to maintain intact habitats and abiotic and biotic factors required for the healthy functioning of a terrestrial organism.
I feel I can connect everything to anything. And expect that same of my students.
How many connections do you make in your class?
What are some examples of connections and how does this translate to our connected world?
Is there a class you don’t think you can create a connected student in and why?
Author’s Post-Writing Note: if interested, hit CTRL+F to open up the find bar in your browser, and see how many times the term “connect” is used.