A Personal Learning Theory, with a little PBL

How well supported does your personal theory feel? What research could you do in order to support your theory? What methods would you employ?

This week I have spent time researching constructivism in the online learning setting.  My personal learning theory for higher education online learning is well supported. I identify with the constructivist philosophy and have researched and used various constructivist-based learning models in coursework, course development, and research studies.  While these models all have constructivist underpinnings, each is unique and could be applied in a variety of settings and circumstances. The setting for my personal learning theory is online, and the online classroom. This is the setting in which I teach and learn as a student. In this setting, knowledge is best constructed through authentic experiences.  In this active learning process, the instructor acts as a guide, providing direction to students and participating in the learning process (Tam, 2009).

The research of my personal learning theory must begin by researching the roots of constructivism. The two characteristics fundamental to the constructivist learning process are problems and collaboration; solving real-life problems and interacting with peers and the instructor (Tam, 2009).  Bringing this into the online classroom requires more than accommodating these processes.  The design practices should also “support the creation of powerful learning environments that optimize the value of the underlying epistemological principles” (Tam, 2009, p. 67).  Developing an understanding and awareness of the theoretical principles must come before the design.

Problem-based learning (PBL) is a constructivist framework where problems and collaboration are central. Problem-based learning is a student-centered pedagogy where through interpreting information, learning occurs. Duffy and Cunningham (1996) note the importance of active learning in both understanding and challenging the learner’s thinking.  They argue that aspects of constructivism are necessary components of PBL that contribute to an effective learning experience. This type of learning can be effective in motivating learners, but is typically applied to face-to-face settings and the research on its use in online learning is limited. Distributed problem-based learning is a version of PBL that can be offered to distance learners (Wheeler, 2009). Instructors provide students with real-world, authentic problems through computer technology and a learning environment is utilized for collaboration in solving the problem (2009).

A personal learning theory is modified over time. As I build on the knowledge I have surrounding additional learning theories, I find aspects of these models that are appropriate for certain projects or situations. The methods I employ to research my personal learning theory and applying learning theories to online learning are constructivist in nature.  I am faced with a problem, question, or situation and I begin at my step one, thinking about how this applies to prior situations I have encountered or discussed with someone.  I begin pulling books, article, sources, and opinions to immerse myself in what others have found and done about this problem.  I collaborate with my peers and family members on various sub-topics.  This self-directed, self-motivating approach is how I tackle my work in the online classroom.

Duffy, T.M. & Cunningham, D.J. (1996).   Constructivism: Implications for the design and delivery of instruction. Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology. NY: Simon & Schuster.

Tam, M. (2009). Constructivism, instructional design, and technology. Research Methods for Educational Technology: Constructivist Instructional Design Foundations, Models, and Examples. Charlotte, NC, USA: Information Age Publishing.

Wheeler, S. (2009). Learner support needs in online problem-based learning. The perfect online course: Best practices for designing and teaching. Information Age Publishing, US.

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