Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Malcolm Knowles, Andragogy, and Technology, Part II

Last month I promised to continue the conversation about Knowles' distinction between andragogy and pedagogy by talking about learning objects. A key tenet of andragogy is that adults are ready to learn . . . what they need to know. I like the way this paper (all 52 pages of it! Hang on, I'll summarize it for you in a minute.) on learning objects ties in with the "ready to learn" aspect of andragogy by connecting learning object design to constructivist learning theory.

Let's go back to that "what they need to know" aspect of readiness to learn before going on to the specifics of learning objects. One way to create the expectation in students that they need to know something is to say to them, "It's going to be on the test." Instructors get the question "Is this on the test?" often enough anyway. The problem with this approach is that the motivation for deep learning is going to be weak for a significant number of students. They may study cursorily and become just familiar enough with a topic to have a shot at passing the test. All learners benefit by feeling that knowledge is valuable to them personally. The internal desire to learn will strengthen the motivation to learn beyond the level provided by the negative external motivator from testing. Remember when you were a little kid and you got your first bicycle? Is there a better example of the personal desire to learn than a kid who is learning to ride a bike? You didn't need a test to motivate your. You wouldn't give up until you could ride that bike. I don't want my students giving up until they learn economics. Is there a possibility that learning objects can help provide a positive motivation to learn?

OK, so what's a learning object, anyway? This paper gives us a good insight. Wikipedia has a good entry on learning objects, too. Let's go into the Merlot tasting room and nail down the specifics:

A learning object is a reusable instructional resource, including:
  • Simulations, games, classroom experiments
  • Animations
  • Tutorials
  • Practice sets
  • Lecture-related materials
  • Cases
  • Quizzes/Exams/Other Assessment materials
  • Collections of materials
  • Reference materials

Let me try to distill the essence of the 52-page paper mentioned in the first paragraph and relate it to the readiness to learn aspect of andragogy. The key observation of constructivist learning theory is that learning occurs when learners are able to relate instruction to their own personal experiences, knowledge, and beliefs. Learning objects built on this principle will enhance students' readiness to learn. Thus, effective learning objects will be learner centered. [Aren't you glad I saved you the work of reading the whole paper? :>)]

I'll end today's post with an example from my Principles of Microeconomics course. Last night I authored and posted a learning object on WebCT that involves the Microsoft antitrust case. The assignment requires students to reflect on Microsoft's behavior and the court's ruling from their own perspective as computer and software users, and then answer several questions, also from their perspective. By personalizing the case learners should be motivated to tackle the study of the economics of antitrust. I'll know how successful this approach has been after I see the exam results over this topic.



Blogger Dr. Tammy said...

You are correct that a key assumption in adult learning theory is "readiness to learn." Adult learn what they need to know to be able to address a real-life situation. A key to this "readiness to learn" is the focus on "timing." It's difficult to judge if a student is ready to learn...as that is up to the individual.

For example, in a business situation, an administrative assistant may not need to understand how to use macros in an electronic spreadsheet, such as Excel. Then, the supervisor requests an end product that requires the use of macros. The administrative assistant wants to complete the task...therefore...picks up a book or goes online to learn how to create macros. Was the motivation there? Yes. Was it there before the supervisor's request. Probably not. So, you see, "readiness to learn" goes back to the "timing" issue.

This is not to say that college freshmen are not ready for a course in Intro to Microeconomics. Professors don't have to sit passively and wait for this "readiness" to develop naturally. The examples of the learning objects you provided in your posting can be used to create a desire for learning that originally did not exist.

This boils down to the fact that as facilitators (professors) of adult learners, we must be aware of the importance of "engaging" learners in the process. Telling a learner "it's going to be on the test" only results in compliance at best (for short term retention). However, having the learner discover personal application/meaning from the assignment/discussuion/task will go beyond "compliance" and hopefully lead into a REAL learning experience.

As we all know, REAL learning is about change and growth. I look forward to reading about the results of the assignment you provided in your next BLOG posting!

9:49 AM  

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