Three words characterize the title and focus of this program: Learning, Design and Technology. The order in which they appear is quite relevant, and I want to focus on this.
Learning is the first of all. It has always been there, in every course, in every article, in every activity. Since I started three years ago, along these ten courses that I have taken, learning has become a kind of passion. What is it? How it happens? When? Where? Is it a behavior, a skill, or the result of a cognitive process, or maybe the result of an experience? Is it social reality or an individual one? Has it to do with a real external world or with an immanent process, or both?
I realize that they are only some of the questions that may be formulated about learning, and that is what I have been learning about along this program: about learning itself. Now that I am close to completing the LDT program, I see learning as an open, complex and multifaceted reality, which deserves a science that will never completely capture the whole.
I have learned something of all the learning theories that I have read about, including those that a priori I was more reluctant to accept, like situated learning, Marxist learning theories like CHAT, or neo-Marxist based ones like radical feminism or post-modern theories.
A number of notions and conceptions have been especially influential to me. Among others, the conceptualization of learning as the result of an experience, by Dewey; the theory of situated learning with concepts like legitimate peripheral participation and community of practice; the idea of role shift between learners and teachers, joint to the notion of learning community; the idea of learning construction and sense making.
Given the variety of learning theories, I prefer an integration perspective. Rather than highlighting confrontation among theories, I try to get the best of each of them, acknowledging that such variety may be beneficial. Thus, I believe that there is a deep analogy between a learning community manager and an orchestra conductor, and between teaching and cooking. With these two comparisons I intend to stress the need of variation. Like a chef who takes the best of different ingredients and combine them, a teacher needs to manage a number of theories and combine them in order to successfully make the learner/community have a sequence of positive learning experiences.
I find it difficult to understand confrontation among learning theories, and the first of the three papers included in the portfolio focuses on the integration of two supposedly contrary learning theories: constructivism and realism.
All these insights have transformed the way I teach along these three years. It can be appreciated in the second paper, based on the application of wikis into my classes. Actually, wikis are only the technology, but the use of wikis is based on a design in which a number of learning concepts and insights are applied. This leads me to follow with the second word I highlighted previously.
In my previous background there is not too much about design. Actually, I had never heard about instructional design before. That is not very common in my country, Spain. Instructional designers may be found mainly in corporations that design courses for other corporations, but not in public institutions like universities or schools.
After my experience in this program, I understand that design consists in designing learning activities, or more generally, learning experiences. Thus, design is responsible for putting learning theory into practice. I believe that a good design is unlikely to exist without a good underlying theory. The activities that I design in the second paper, show a clear theoretical background.
First, we may find concepts close to constructivism. “Constructivism suggests that learners create knowledge as they attempt to understand their experiences” (Siemens, 2004, p.3). In this design, wikis are used as a tool for knowledge creation.
This activity leads us to a knowledge building community, according to Andriessen’s classification of knowledge communities (2005). However, I like to apply the concept of Community of Practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991) to this activity. I mean a community where the practice is no other than learning itself, and the skills are those included in the Framework for 21st Century Learning.
Once the concept of learning community is fully incorporated, the shift of roles between learner and teachers becomes clear. The teacher is a member of the community, certainly the most qualified and experienced. But any learner is a member, too, and the more s/he contributes, the more experience s/he acquires, and then the more s/he becomes like a teacher. On the other hand, the teacher, as any other member, certainly learns with the contributions of the others.
That shift of roles is evident in my teaching experience, and it has had two clear consequences: First, the knowledge of the class -say community- expands further than the knowledge of the teacher. She or he conducts the community, rather than transmitting what s/he already knows. And second, the syllabus cannot any longer state what will be the contents, since experienced learners are given the freedom to choose. In other words, objectives no longer focus on content, but on learning skills.
After learning and design, comes technology, certainly the last one. In fact, I believe that learning and design is not a question of having technology, but of having ideas. Something that hit me when I took LDT415b was that technology is the last decision, and I totally agree. I believe that this is the way of getting the best of the learning technologies, because first learning theory, then design, have to ground the activities and experiences that technology supports. Otherwise, technology may even hinder learning. I saw a clear example when I took LDT832 and I read some papers about how e-learning platforms and projects were wrongly conceived sometimes.
That conflict of what is a right and what is a wrong application of learning technologies is present in the discussion about handheld devices, which is the topic of the third paper in the portfolio. Again in this paper, it is theory that grounds an application of a particular technology to learning.
It could be argued that sometimes technologies are not the last thing, but the first, since technology breaks through daily life, and then it is brought into classroom. This is something that has already happened in my country, when during 4 consecutive years a laptop was given to every student who started 5th grade. The result seems to be a waste, though I can only make the determination based upon my own observation. As far as I see, there have been no training for teachers, almost no theory background and very little design.
Mobile devices bring us a world full of questions. They are an opportunity, but we must avoid what already happened with laptops. In line with this, there is a theory that I find very interesting in order to ground the application of handheld devices into learning -the theory of seamless learning.
The third and last paper that I include in the portfolio was created for LDT505. It suggests the suppression of boundaries in learning, connecting individual learning (first boundary) out of school (second boundary) after class (third boundary). The way to get that is the design of a mobile application that intends to connect the homework of students by proposing challenges related to what they are learning. The application fosters individual participation and then discussion, by letting students see others responses once they have given theirs.
In addition, the application allows students to ask questions, since those questions are many times challenges for others who are able to explain it. This way, sense making becomes social.
This third paper suggests that that application brings many potential benefits of mobile devices. For instance, they give the teacher a valuable amount of formative data collected from every individual, since challenges and answers let teachers assess what is understood and what needs clarification. It gives the teacher the possibility of working with real time assessment.
To conclude this statement, I want to add a fourth term which both summarizes my learning philosophy, as well as my future personal targets and objectives in this field: synergy. Somehow, this term has been present along all this reflection, and I feel that it cannot be separated from the others. Any of the three concepts of this program’s nomination -Learning, Design and Technology- makes sense as long as it is related to this fourth concept -and consequently, to the others. The Oxford Dictionary of English makes it clearer by defining synergy as “The interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects”. Thus, I just want to finish this reflective statement and my capstone project with the conjunction of these four words, which represent what I have learned and what I seek now: Learning, Design, and Technology Synergies.