My philosophy regarding teaching and education has been developed over the past 10 years as I have worked in both formal and informal instructional positions. Based on that experience, I view education as a process of transformation. Students seek learning because they want to become something, or, as Ertmer & Newby (1993) put it in a more academic framework: “Learning is an enduring change in behavior, or in the capacity to behave in a given fashion, which results from practice and other forms of experience.” Through the process of learning, students are transformed, with the hopeful intention that they will be able to change their lives. I also believe strongly that this transformation afforded through education should not be limited by socioeconomic status, age, or location. We should be embracing methods and technologies that make education available universally.
While I am arguing that education is a transformative process, by no means do I think that it is a magical one. I have seen firsthand through my 8 years of teaching in higher education, the work that has gone into creating high-quality, accessible instruction. In looking at the many learning theories that have been brought forth in the field of instructional design, I see validity in each of them at certain levels in scaffolding the process of education.
I believe that the tenets of behaviorism as espoused by Skinner, can make the lives of many individuals better, especially those with addictions or special needs. Principles of behaviorism can also help children get up to baselines of behavior so that they can be prepared to participate in the classroom. Behaviorist principles of reinforcement are also important component in new learning technologies that I’m particularly interested, including adaptive learning engines, as they attempt to give students personalized feedback and reinforcement that will lead them to mastery knowledge in a given subject (Kara & Sevim 2013).
I feel that the cognitivist approach is also important for establishing baseline levels of knowledge in a student. Before a student can become truly transformed through the process of education, they need to gain an understanding of certain key words and concepts for the community that they are seeking to become a part of. While I feel that deeper knowledge and application of these principles can be achieved by more constructivist and connectivist approaches, I think it is effective to first develop semantic knowledge for a given subject field. Learning models such as Gagne’s 9 Events (1977) can be helpful in accomplishing that in the novice learner.
While these two principles of learning are important, I feel that they alone cannot bring us to the point where a learner is truly transformed. Behavioral and Cognitivist methods can help us understand a given field, but I truly feel that in order to become a contributing member of a community, more methods of learning are needed.
Connecting Ourselves with a Community
My philosophy of learning now aligns with the ideas espoused by Lave and Wenger (1991) regarding “Legitimate Peripheral Participation.” In this learning theory, they discussed the ways that individuals become a part of a “community of practice” through their participation in that community. “The newcomer’s participation at first is legitimately peripheral, but over time is centripetally drawn in-ward and becomes more engaged and more complex” (Floding & Swier 2012). I think this theory has a particular pull for me because of the central idea that we need to exercise our learning in the context of a community. Learning may be edifying for us as individuals, but ultimately we need to exercise that knowledge to see it’s full benefits.
In the majority of my teaching experience, my goal was to take students that had varying levels of knowledge in video production and editing, and help them become individuals that would be able to contribute to the media production field. And while much of the teaching I did was to help them understand ideas and concepts through the behavioral and cognitive methods stated above, that was always a small precursor to attempts to get them to create materials that could add to the body of work that was being produced in the local media market. Over time I began eschewing more and more assessments that would evaluate only their remembering and understanding (Bloom, 1956) of video production concepts, and instead focused more projects toward the process of creation.
I knew that by having them create their own works that my students would be able to 1) Participate in the creation of projects that they really cared about, 2) use higher-levels of Bloom’s cognitive domain (1956) for their projects and hence acquire greater long-term knowledge of the topics that we were covering, and 3) start the process of transforming themselves from students of media production into participants in the community of media creators, hopefully with the skills to one day push the bounds of that community.
For this reason, my teaching style is hands-on and constructivist. I want my students to have meaningful, playful experiences with the body of knowledge that I am teaching. I also prefer to have my students engage in whole-task approaches such as Van Merrienboers 4C/ID Model (2003) so that their learning is situated in context and they will easily be able to do the whole process when they enter the workforce.
Opening the Doors to Education
As I have mentioned, I believe that education is a transformational process that can make us participants in a new community of practitioners. I have seen this manifest in my own career in workforce education where plumbers have come back to school to become video editors, and secretaries have come back to school to be nurses. What remains to be a challenge to this process, however, is the issue of access. The cost of college has risen 500% since 1985 (Jamrisko & Kole 2013) and college students are weighed down with enormous amounts of debt. At the same time we have seen the proliferation of Internet technologies that have the potential to make learning more efficient and accessible around the world. I believe that our education system has the ability to embrace methods to make it more “open.” I’ve tried to embrace more open practices by freely sharing the content that I have created in my classes using Creative Commons licensing. While I don’t believe that open is the panacea for our education system, I think that it would do us good to take our knowledge sharing more in that direction.
I truly believe that education can have a transformational power because I have seen it in my life. In my career, education has changed me from a teenager into a filmmaker, from a filmmaker to a researcher, from a researcher to an instructor, and now (hopefully) from an instructor to an instructional designer. By embracing a more open stance in regards to education, we can hopefully make that transformational process more accessible to individuals throughout the world.
Bloom, B. S. (ed.) (1956) Taxonomy of educational objectives, the classification of educational goals – Handbook I: Cognitive Domain. New York, NY: McKay
Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4), 1993, pp. 50–72.
Floding, M. & Swier, G. (2012) Legitimate peripheral participation: Entering a community of practice. Reflective Practice: Formation and Supervision in Ministry, 31, 193-204.
Jamrisko, M. & Kolet, I. (2013) College costs surge 500% in U.S. since 1985: Chart of the day. Bloomberg. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-08-26/college-costs-surge-500-in-u-s-since-1985-chart-of-the-day.html
Kara, N. & Sevim, N. (2013) Adaptive learning systems: Beyond teaching machines. Contemporary Educational Technology, 4(2), 108-120.
Gagne, R. M. (1977) The Conditions of Learning and Theory of Instruction. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Lave, J. & Wegner, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Van Merriënboer, J. J. G., Kirschner, P. A. & Kester, L. (2003). Taking the load off a learner’s mind: Instructional design for complex learning. Educational Psychologist, 38(1), 5-13.