Social constructivist instructional design?

There are many good and useful models of instructional design, for example, ADDIE, ASSURE, CRESST, ARCS, 4CID, Component Display, Gagne’s Instructional Design Model, and so forth. These seem to me to identify some of the critical processes that instructors typically go through when teaching online.

What strikes me about these instructional design models, as the wikipedia entry on instructional design indicates, however, is that most of them are based upon cognitivist perspectives of learning. Indeed many of the originators of such models are well known for their work in cognitivism, and some specifically through their ideas about the information-processing model of cognitive learning theory.

Despite the suggestion that there is interest in constructivism amongst instructional designers, It still seems to me that most of the instructional design models still have at their core a cognitivist perspective. I’m not sure what this means really other than the processes that they walk us through likely are designed to help us create conditions for learning based upon the underlying tenets of cognitivism. So for example rather than leading us through the steps to enable a change in behavior or a change in constructed and multiple realities, they may well be leading us to design teaching and learning activities for changes in cognitive structures (such as schemata). If we have different goals, then we have different methods, and likely we have different outcomes.  These things are necessarily interrelated.

What this leaves me wondering is whether those professors who have assumed or who want to assume a more social constructivist stance to teaching and learning can gain the most benefit from these models. Or do we need a way of thinking about designing for learning, one that engenders and more constructivist approach? Does such a model exist? Or do we need a new way of thinking about course creation?

In a post I wrote what now seems like ages ago, Jason Green suggested that it would be useful to have a design model that walks us through the important questions we need to consider, rather than the processes that we should follow. This idea has resonated with me, and I wonder whether such an approach would be a good starting place.

I also wonder whether choosing instructional activities that allow students some control of their learning enough to really be constructivist? Or do we also need to allow students some control of the course itself?  If it’s the latter, how do we do that, particularly when we teach online and must have many matters settled and many decisions made before the course even starts?

 

7 thoughts on “Social constructivist instructional design?

  1. Hi Claire – what an interesting – and challenging – post. So much of what you have written resonates with me.

    My experience with constructivism, or social constructivism, is that it is really much harder than I ever would expect to design an activity that really will change a learner’s thinking or move their thinking forward. There is plenty of research to show that even when students can provide you with the right answers and pass the exams, etc. their thinking can be faulty – they really believe what they have always thought – they just know that in order to pass the exam, there is a certain answer they must provide. I have seen this time and again when I was a science teacher. Designing activities which would help students to experience those ‘Ah-ha’ moments, when they cross a threshold into a new level of understanding, was for me always very difficult.

    I completely agree with you about the importance of questioning in teaching and learning. For me good questioning is another skill which is difficult to do well, but is critical to good teaching. For me, just about anything to do with teaching can be supported by really good questions.

    > do we also need to allow students some control of the course itself?
    For me the answer is yes. This relates very closely to the work I have been doing in the last couple of years in relation to emergent learning, where we have been looking carefully at what kinds of learning environments support learner autonomy, choice, control and emergent learning. Getting the balance right between prescription and emergence is something else that is not easy to achieve. The system needs to be adaptive 😉

    Thanks for this really interesting post Claire. Would you be able to expand a bit on your understanding of cognitivism. If a teacher’s practice was influenced by cognitivism, what would you expect to see?

    • HI Jenny,

      Thanks for the great comment!

      By cognitivism, I’m thinking of those folks, starting just a bit with Bandura (who ok is a bridge between behaviorism and cognitivism but still) to some of the information processing ideas (e.g. Atkinson), to some of the schemata theorists (e.g. Anderson), and so forth. So basically those folks who see learning is a somewhat permanent change in the learner’s schemata or cognitive processing.

      That’s obviously pretty different from seeing learning as a change in behavior or as social construction of multiple realities. So I was just thinking that if cognitivism is your perspective, then that would influence how you tell others how to develop learning environments and activities.

      I just got interested in the idea I guess that most of the ID models come out of the cognitivist theoretical position. I’m not sure what it means exactly, but it does strike me that the theoretical perspective would influence the model and thus the steps that the model takes us through and thus the potential learning outcomes.

      I haven’t found a really good model that comes out of a social constructivist position. Perhaps I’ve just overlooked it though. But then I wondered what would that even look like? Can one _design_ social construction?

      I also wonder what a _real_ social constructivist course would look like. It seems that using activities where students can construct their own knowledge is a good start. But after all, it’s just an activity, and we’re still the ones selecting and designing it, at least in most cases. What would a through and through social constructivist course _design_ look like?

      And what would it look like online? At my institution for example when you teach an official online course, it must be designed, developed, evaluated, and approved before the term begins. So if I follow a cognitivist ID model to develop it and then I use constructivist type activities (say I am big into PBL for example), what do I have?

      Interesting things to mull about at any rate. (either that or a ramble….not entirely sure which)….

  2. Hi Claire – I see you have already made another post and I am still thinking about this one :-) You’re too fast for me!

    As soon as I read your comment I thought of Etienne Wenger’s work and in particular his comment that learning cannot be designed it can only be designed for. I have just found this on the web – someone else’s interpretation of Wenger’s words – in which I think this last paragraph explains what Wenger meant very well. – http://ematusov.soe.udel.edu/EDUC390.demo/Articles/design%20for%20learning.htm

    > “Practice itself is not amenable to design. In other words, one can articulate patterns or define procedures, but neither the patterns nor the procedures produce the practice as it unfolds. One can design systems of accountability and policies for communities of practice to live by, but one cannot design the practices that will emerge in response to such institutional systems. One can design roles, but one cannot design the identities that will be constructed through these roles. One can design visions, but one cannot design the allegiance necessary to align energies behind those visions, One can produce affordances for the negotiation of meaning, but not meaning itself. One can design work processes but not work practices; one can design a curriculum but not learning.” <

    I have always found this tension between the necessity to plan for learning and yet not being able to know what the outcomes will be interesting. As a teacher trainer (in a past life) I had to require students to plan their lessons in detail, but I always found myself saying 'don't feel you need to stick to it' – and then there was the problem of 'learning outcomes'. The paragraph above makes it difficult to believe that one person can determine learning outcomes for another – so we used to put the word 'intended' before learning outcomes.

    You might be wondering what on earth this has to do with your comment – I suppose its the thoughts that your questions – "Can one _design_ social construction? What would a through and through social constructivist course _design_ look like?" sparked off.

    Whilst it is important to be informed by different learning theories,do we need to label our plans/designs as being associated with given theories? And if we do – then I would suspect that a learning design will always be influenced by more than one theory.

    I don't think I've responded to your comment very well – just thinking aloud here – hope you don't mind.

    Jenny

    • Hi Jenny,

      I’m actually trying to catch up, hence my close-together comments. I was close to being caught up (I may have even been for a few hours), but we just began a new week today, I believe!

      Great quote above! It really resonates with me. There is that tension between believing students should have control of their learning and having to design for learning.

      I’m thinking that perhaps whether we label them or not (whether we even know the labels), that what we do/design is based upon our views of learning. Which is why I got to thinking about following an ID models, likely a cognitivist ones, in the first place. Does following a model that comes from a particular philosophical perspective mean that we are less likely to follow our own beliefs by imposing a philosophical framework on the process? If we use a model and try to adapt it for our own belief systems, are we struggling against belief systems in the model?

      Perhaps it just not that important. We may just do what we are going to do. But perhaps if we were more aware of the belief systems from which the models were born, we’d be better able to reconcile them with our own beliefs. Or perhaps if we knew the underlying philosophies of each of the models, we could select the models most consistent with our own belief systems?

      I seem to be better at thinking of questions than answers :-)

      Claire

  3. Hi Claire

    > But perhaps if we were more aware of the belief systems from which the models were born, we’d be better able to reconcile them with our own beliefs. Or perhaps if we knew the underlying philosophies of each of the models, we could select the models most consistent with our own belief systems?

    I agree with you. I remember years ago, early in my career, going to an interview for a teaching job and being asked to explain my philosophy of education. That was an important moment for me. I realised that I did have very strong beliefs about how I thought I should teach and what it would mean for children’s learning, but I had never before thought about it in terms of an underlying philosophy. That was when I began to realise that I had been and continued to be influenced by a growing understanding of the work of different learning theorists.

    > Does following a model that comes from a particular philosophical perspective mean that we are less likely to follow our own beliefs by imposing a philosophical framework on the process?

    Well – I personally wouldn’t be able to follow a model that didn’t fit with my beliefs, although I know that in some jobs we have to ‘play the game’! – but my beliefs remain my beliefs.

    And >I seem to be better at thinking of questions than answers

    Questions are always better than answers, don’t you think :-)

    No need to reply. Week 22 beckons :-)

  4. Thanks for your thought-generating post!

    I have also been thinking a lot about constructivist design vs. the traditional instructional design approaches (which you correctly state are cognitivist). This has been especially interesting to me, as most of the work I’ve done (and am currently doing) is a-synchronous e-learning. One might expect that a strong cognitive-based design is all the more essential given the solitary e-learner interacting with an e-course or curriculum.

    However, given our modern age of information at our finger tips the idea that a learner can construct his or her own learning lends itself to rethink how constructivist thinking can and should inform our ID. In the best circumstances, this could empower learners to become life-long learning strives by teaching the literacy of learning in the information age. I call this new paradigm “The Learning Age,” in which it is both an individual and organizational imperative to constantly learn and adapt in order to succeed. See http://inthelearningage.com/2013/03/18/is-constructivism-the-only-path-forward-for-adult-learners/ and http://inthelearningage.com/2013/03/15/from-information-workers-to-learning-workers/ for related ideas I’ve been pondering.

    • Hi Benjamin,
      Thanks for your comment! Is nice to hear from someone else who has been thinking about similar questions/issues. Your blog looks very interesting! I’ll check back from time to time to see what you are up to!

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