Thursday, January 22, 2015

How our learning theories shape how we use technology for learning

I read a paper called Perspectives on learning and technology: A review of theoretical perspectives"This paper provides a review of literature pertaining to theoretical references on educational practice and technology from perspectives of learning theories of the 20th and 21st centuries."

A learning theory (or theories) helps understand how people learn, thereby assisting educators, trainers and facilitators reflect on their educational practices. The three major prominent learning theories are known as behaviourist, cognitivist and constructivist, though Siemens later developed the connectivism theory as a learning theory for the digital age. The graph displays more theories and some of the major terms used.

The paper caught my interest because I am a fan of social constructivist theories of learning (think: learning by conversation) and always amazed at how differently people can think about what learning is and what it needs. For me it is obvious that Twitter can be an important learning instrument but if see you learning as acquiring new knowledge it is less obvious. 'Twitter is not about learning. How can you learn from 140 characters?! I blogged about the difference before in: twittering= learning? I know my preferences but more and more I start the see the learning theories as all saying something about realities, in other words as pieces of the same puzzle. Depending on the situation a certain theory (and practice) may fit better. Interestingly the practices of people with different ideas may be pretty close...

 I think the implicit learning theories people use determine how enthousiastic you are about new technologies and shape which application you see. The three theories outlined in the paper with their use of technology are:

1. Behaviourist theory 
The main purpose of the behaviourist learning pedagogy is to accomplish the correct behaviour which focuses on achievable learning objectives. Behaviourist focus on learning objectives in 'to do' in the sense of describing observable behaviour. For instance, "when dealing with a complex problem X will contact relevant colleagues for input." The knowledge skills and attitude distinction is also used within this approach. In the context of online learning based on the behaviourist theory the focus is on delivering learning content with clear intended behavioural objectives, and drill and practice and ’electronic page turning‘. Somehow the traditional e-learning modules.

2. Cognitivism theory
Cognitivist views of learning recognize the importance of the human mind in making sense of the material with which it is presented (Harasim, 2012; Schunk, 2012). Cognitivists sought to understand what was inside the black box of the human mind and tried to emulate it computationally. Cognitivists developed educational technologies such as intelligent tutoring systems (ITS) and artificial intelligent (AI). "In addition, online learning based on a cognitivist approach is focused on a learner’s working memory and sensory system. This is done through utilising different multimedia modality (e.g. audio, visuals, animations, or video), the proper location of information on screen, screen attributes (e.g. colour, size of text, or graphics), the pacing of the information, and information chunks to avoid information overload." The cognitivism use of technology is hence very instructionally oriented, focussing on proper media to convey information. The recent focus on 'brainscience' may help to support the cognitivism practices.

3. Constructivist theory and social-constructism theories.
Constructivist learning theory views learning as a process by which a student constructs knowledge thorough interacting with more knowledgeable others; "learning starts by conversations". it is an umbrella term representing a range of perspectives on learning. Educational practices adopted the constructivist approach including situated and active learning, learning by doing, problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning, cooperative learning, collaborative learning, personalised learning, the learning community, active participatory learning, activity and dialogical processes, anchored instruction, cognitive apprenticeship, discovery learning, and scaffolded learning. The constructivist learning technologies are often associated with learning environments and Learning Management Systems such as BlackBoard, WebCT or Moodle with characteristics including the following:

  • providing multiple representations of reality to prevent oversimplification and represent the natural complexity of the real world; 
  • emphasize knowledge construction and co-creatiom instead of knowledge reproduction
  • provide learning environments such as real-world settings or case-based learning instead of a predetermined sequence of instruction
  • foster reflection on learning experiences; 
  • online learning based on a constructivist approach including learning should be an active process; learners should construct their own knowledge

I was a bit disappointed with the explanation in the paper.. I had expected a deeper explanation. I would like to add social learning (probably part of the social-constructivism group) because this theory is really charmed by social networks rather than learning management systems. See Jane Hart's use your Enterprise Social Network for workplace learning.

What I notice is that in technology/ tools, there is a code in the technology (like DNA!) and the code is determined by the people who developed the technology. Hence it makes it hard for people with a different view to use the technology for a different purpose. This code in the technology is very implicit. For instance, we use Ning, a social network for our learning trajectories whereas we could use a learning management system (LMS). However, most of the LMS we tested are way less focussed on interaction and learners in the driving seat than we like. An example: when I work with Moodle the technology invites me to prepare the course with all sections in advance. In Ning, the technology invites me to start on the fly with new discussions. This stimulates a more flexible role for the facilitator.

Lesson? It is important to know your own convictions when choosing and using technology.. and try to find 'the code in the technology' you want to buy or try.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The 10 basic online tools every trainer and online facilitator should know

(photo by Kitty Terwolbeck) There are lots of online tools that you can use for free or for very little money. Every week I try some new tools (like this week vialogues) and honestly? Occasionally the high number of tools and possibilities make me restless.. I have a tools list (both in a booklet and online in diigo) to try out and I never find the time or have the idea that I've tested enough tools. I therefore completely understand that facilitators of learning and change processes and trainers/teachers can't see the wood for the trees. I have good news: I can recommend a group of 10 tools that are so useful that each facilitator needs to know them and should be able to use them. The bad news is that for every tool also is another alternative ...

10 online tools in the backpack of every trainer and facilitator

  1. Twitter - microblogging
  2. Diigo - or any other social bookmarking service
  3. LinkedIn - for networking and groups
  4. Padlet - a brainstorm wall
  5. Youtube - search and make your own channel/playlists
  6. Yammer - and other smart tools to create private conversation groups
  7. Screencast-o-matic - and other screencasting tools
  8. Bigmarker - webinar tool for free
  9. Google - and Google plus
  10. Ning - or another paid online platform/LMS
Do you know and work with the tools mentioned? A short description below.
Twitter is good for networking with colleagues, use and follow hashtags like #lrnchat.  But Twitter is also very useful in a learning trajectory - search and follow your participants who are on Twitter. It will help you to know better what they are doing. I think there are many facilitators already doing this. Furthermore, as a facilitator of a group you can create a list for others to follow, participants or around a particular topic. So no facilitator should not be able to manipulate Twitter!
  • Diigo - or any other social bookmarker
Diigo is very important to keep track off your online sources. An alternative to this bookmark tool is delicious. You may also use Evernote to store your resources, but I prefer diigo because its default is public.
Everyone knows LinkedIn . However, as facilitator, you should also know how LinkedIn groups work and how you can facilitate conversations in groups. Are you already an administrator of one or several LinkedIn groups?
Padlet is an example of a brainstorming wall where participants don't have to create an account. You can also export a padlet wall as pdf or photo (.jpg). There are many alternative brainstorming walls like stormboard or spiderscribe.
Everybody knows Youtube. However: do you have your own channels or playlists? It is useful as a trainer or facilitator to create your own playlists which you can later use whenever needed.
  • Yammer - or other tool for rapid, private conversations
Yammer is widely known and used within organizations, often not by all employees. If you have your own Yammer network you can easily build an external network in which people with different email accounts can exchange. Not many people know this but it is very useful if you intend to facilitate a week online before a meeting or workshop. Yammer is spontaneous, but experienced as chaotic and fast. It works well with people who use Facebook alot, they will recognize the logic of the conversations.
I think every teacher or trainer should be to make a so-called screencast video to explain one of your subjects. I use screenflow for mac, which is a paid screencasting tool. If you want to try screencasting, start with the free version of screencast-o-matic. One alternative is
I was tempted to write webinar tool, but the other nine are actual services... to make it very practical. Bigmarker is a webinar tool to organise online meetings. The better-known paid webinar tools are GoToMeeting, Webex and Adobe Connect.
Everybody can google, but you can always learn new boolean tips to Google better (did you know that if you Google video site: Google search for content on the website Very handy are Google forms and Google drive to work together on documents. And let's not forget Google communities and hangouts tools to facilitate a group conversation.
  • Ning - or other paid online platforms
I hesitated whether Ning had to be included in the list because it is not a free tool. Well I think that as a trainer / facilitator you should have the experience of working with at least one online platform with more options then Yammer, a LinkedIn group or a Google Community. Ning is a social network, but it can also be a LMS (Learning Management System) such as Moodle. Ning is more focused on social interaction, works well and is affordable. Once you mastered one platform, it's easier to learn to work with another platform.

Which tool is missing? Please share it below! More tools? Have a look at the top 100 by Jane Hart.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Do you eat burgers? Do you meet online?

In the Netherlands we have Expedition Robinson. Some famous Dutch people go to an island and have to battle. Here is a very funny scene from Expedition Robinson. Remy gets a burger, but because everyone gets to eat all kinds of scary insects he can not get the idea out of his head that he's going to eat maggots or insects. As a result of that idea in his head he does not manage to eat the burger and fails. Watch the scene below, even though it is in Dutch it is a very visual scene.


I was reminded of this scene because an experience today made me think about the importance of beliefs for seeing possibilities of using new media. I had a consultation in the north of the Netherlands (only 150 km but still a 2 hours journey) and we proposed to do the meeting online. We had proposed this earlier last year, but the group thought it was very important to see each other. "it is really necessary for a good conversation." Finally we convinced the group and did a test using adobe webinar using a screen and individual ipads. I was especially proud that it went very well and everyone thought it was a good meeting. It took some persuasion to try this! My first experiences of working online was working with John Smith from Learning Alliances in 2004... At the time I didn't think it would be possible to collaborate without being face-to-face.

See below also the youtube video with interviews about cell phones from 1999 ... "I have an answering machine, and that's fine" "if people want to reach me, they can do so by letter and if it is urgent, I have a telephone at home" :). These beliefs about the need to have a mobile phone have certainly changed!


To introduce innovative ways of communication to improve effectiveness and collaboration in organzation need a number of people at least who see what is possible (who can eat the burger!). The belief that you do not always have to see each other face-to-face to have a meaningful conversation or to learn from each other is very important. What are your own beliefs? What is really not possible online in your opinion?