The educational landscape is changing as innovative technology continues to emerge as a driving force in teaching and learning (Januszewski & Molenda, 2008). To guide practice into the 21st century, the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) defines educational technology as “the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources” (Januszewski & Molenda, 2008, p.1). Clearly, technology should not be used as an accessory to teaching; on the contrary, it should be utilized to enhance learning both formally and informally, as well as inside and outside of the classroom (Januszewski & Molenda, 2008). The learning experience or competency being taught should be the force which drives the rationale for and the use of educational technology (Januszewski & Molenda, 2008).
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There are many learning theories that support the specialization of educational technology and e-learning. The three selected for this essay are (a) Bandura’s social cognitive theory, (b) Bruner’s constructivist theory, and (c) Kolb’s experiential learning theory. An overview of each theory, inclusive of applications to the educational technology/e-learning specialization, will be presented. A discussion involving the comparing and contrasting of the theoretical frameworks selected will follow the overview and lastly an in-depth discussion of one of the three theories from the overview.
Social Cognitive Theory
Bandura’s use of social cognitive theory emphasized the concept that learning is the result of the interrelationship between people, the environment, and their behavior (Schunk, 2012). Initially, Bandura focused on learning through observation or the modeling of another’s behavior (Hill, Song, & West, 2009). As Bandura continued his research, he dismissed the belief that observational learning was only an act of imitation and prescribed to the concept of self-efficacy and self-regulation (Burke & Mancuso, 2012).
Social learning theory was renamed social cognitive theory as Bandura shifted from an entirely behaviorist view to emphasizing the elements of motivation (Burke & Mancuso, 2012). The concept of self-efficacy in social cognitive theory relates to the learner’s belief in their own capability to produce a desired outcome (Rutherford-Hemming, 2012). Developed during childhood, self-efficacy and the development of self is a life-long process, which enables the adult to manage the requirements of daily living (Kolb, 2011).
The provision of self-efficacy acquired as a child determines what an adult has to draw upon. Therefore, learners who experience success have a higher level of self-efficacy than those who experience failure (Hill et al., 2009; Schunk, 2012). In addition, the more self-efficacy held by the adult, the more capable they are to make transitions (Kolb, 2011; Schunk, 2012). This transitional process can relate to a new career, moving to another educational program, or working with a different technology (Kolb, 2011; Rutherford-Hemming, 2012).
Another important aspect of self-efficacy is the ability to problem solve. This is considered an essential skill in any educational program and should be threaded through the curriculum (Kolb, 2011). The success experienced through problem solving leads to increased confidence. This process can be promoted by providing the learner an opportunity to reflect as well as adjust to improve the outcome. The concept of reflection following problem solving assists the learner in evaluating and is also considered a learning outcome (Rutherford-Hemming, 2012).
Self-efficacy is evidenced when individuals are able to demonstrate self-regulation. This concept involves the learner’s ability to implement control over their life experiences to produce the outcomes which are sought after (Kolb, 2011). When the learner believes he/she can be successful, he/she perseveres to attain his/her goals. This is an important phase in the learners approach to confidently managing day-to-day responsibilities (Moos & Azevedo, 2009).
The importance of motivation in relationship to self-efficacy is emphasized in social cognitive theory. Motivational theories indicate that students with a strong sense of self-efficacy tend to believe a lack of success directly relates to the amount of effort in preparation (Schunk, 2012). Those learners with less evident self-efficacy believe their failure is somehow linked to their inability to demonstrate success (Schunk, 2012).
The use of observational learning and modeling remain important strategies that contribute to learning (Schunk, 2012). Students observing learning are able to garner new skills and knowledge without actually engaging in the event themselves. Observational modeling such as role playing or simulation should be considered an effective teaching methodology to allow learners to problem solve, make decisions, practice skills, reflect, and evaluate (Burke & Mancuso, 2012; Kolb, 2011). By providing the learner with positive communication, feedback to help improve comprehension, and assist with managing anxiety, instructors will help build self-efficacy, self-confidence, and self-esteem (Rutherford-Hemming, 2012).
Constructivism theory is based on the belief that learning is an active social process in which student’s build or scaffold new viewpoints from current or previous knowledge (Schunk, 2012). Central to constructivism theory is the notion that learners are on a journey of discovery in which they inquisitively seek answers to problems. According to this theory, the learner’s approach to reasoning is not age or developmental specific, but rather present throughout adulthood (Schunk, 2012).
As intellectual growth occurs, the learner is believed to move through three stages: (a) enactive, (b) iconic, and (c) symbolic (Schunk, 2012). Learners in the enactive stage begin knowledge acquisition through an active sense of touching, feeling, and engaging in order to determine how what they are learning works (Schunk, 2012). In this stage, the student may be able to better perform a task or skill rather than describing it. In the iconic stage, the learner prefers more visual information through the use of a diagram, a picture or a video (Schunk, 2012). In the final stage, symbolic, the learner uses abstract thoughts to begin the process of critically thinking (Schunk, 2012). The student must successfully pass through all three phases in order to connect new knowledge and become an independent learner (Schunk, 2012).
With the educational environment shifting to a more learner focused approach, the literature clearly shows support for constructivism as an appropriate and applicable framework (Kala, Isaramalai, & Pohthong, 2010; Legg, Adelman, Mueller & Levitt, 2009; Rolloff, 2010). In a constructivist environment, the instructor assumes the role of a facilitator, guiding open discussion and assisting learners to be self-directed, information seekers, and problem solvers (Hrastinski, 2009; Kala, et al., 2010). This facilitation process promotes independent critical thinking and encourages the concept of life-long learning (Schunk, 2012).
Experiential Learning Theory
Building on the works of Dewey, Piaget, and Levin, Kolb’s theory of experiential learning focuses on the role experience plays in the learning process (Kolb, 1984; Silberman, 2007). The belief that learning is a continuous process, in which knowledge is constantly obtained through active participation and then reflected to formulate meaning of the experience, is foundational to this theory (Clapper, 2010). The traditional means of conveying information through lecture is thought to encourage the use of rote memorization and add little to the learner’s knowledge base (Clapper, 2010). Learners who acquire numerous facts without engagement and interactivity, are unable to apply knowledge to the real-world (Benner, Sutphen, Leonard, & Day, 2010; Turesky & Gallagher, 2011).
Experiential learning theory has been used in a wide variety of educational settings and is well supported as a valuable learning style assessment (JilardiDamavandi, Mahyuddin, Daud, Elias, & Shabani, 2011; Massey, Kim, & Mitchell, 2011). According to Kolb (1984), learners recognize and manage information on a continuum. Individuals continually use previous experience to determine whether to perceive new information as a concrete experience or an abstract experience. As the learner processes this new information he/she either uses reflective observation or active experimentation (Clapper, 2010). Each of these modes presents the learner with a choice and based on previous experience, the learner develops a preference over the continuum of concreteness over abstractness and action over reflection (Kolb, 1984; Kolb & Kolb, 2006).
Experiential learning theory has four styles which link to the stages on the continuum: (a) accommodators, (b) assimilators, (c) convergers, and (d) divergers (Kolb, 1984). In order to assess the learner for style preference, Kolb (1984) developed the Learning Style Inventory (LSI). Results of the LSI indicate the learner has a preference for one of the four styles (Kolb, 1984). Researchers using the LSI to evaluate learning styles have recognized a connection with the specialization or discipline of the student (Kolb & Kolb, 2006; Massey et al., 2011).
A study at Norfolk State University was conducted to investigate 86 students enrolled in undergraduate courses related to social work (Massey et al., 2011). Each participant took the LSI online to determine their learning style. The results indicated 46.5% of students had a preference for the Diverging learning style and 34.8% preferred the Accommodating style (Massey et al., 2011). Previous reports of research indicated the Diverging style is consistent with individuals in the psychology and social work fields (Massey et al., 2011). The Accommodating style typifies those working in educational administration, government, and business organizations (Massey et al., 2011). Using the information provided by the LSI enables students to be more insightful to their learning preference, which has the potential of higher academic success. For faculty, knowing the results of learning styles encourages consideration for diversity in development of courses and course content (JilardiDamavandi et al., 2011; Massey et al., 2011).
Theory Comparison and Contrast
Constructivist theory is a framework in which the learner actively acquires and transforms information, constructs meaning based on previous knowledge, and finds solutions to questions or problems (Schunk, 2012). In comparison, experiential learning theory takes a similar view in which knowledge acquisition is based on experience. Both theories emphasize how learning is a continuous active process of discovery (Kolb & Kolb, 2006). This concept can be conveyed in constructivism’s spiral curriculum as well as Kolb’s learning cycle (Kolb, 1984).
Both constructivism theory and experiential learning theory are used to address feedback and reflection (Schunk, 2012). Constructivism relates to the integration of feedback and reflection opportunities in the discovery learning approach (Schunk, 2012). Experiential theory, in comparison, emphasizes moving through each stage and following the experience through learner reflections; this can be integrated through the use of discussions or journaling. It is at this juncture the learner can modify the next similar event through action. In addition, both theorists encourage problem solving skills as a valuable learning skill (Kolb & Kolb, 2006; Schunk, 2012).
Social cognitive theory is reliant on the concepts of self-efficacy, and modeling, as well as self-regulation (Schunk, 2012). In comparison, several different stages of experiential learning theory are found to overlap in relationship to social cognitivists’ view of self-efficacy and modeling. These parallels occur during the reflective observation stage as remedial feedback, the abstract conceptualization stage as simulation and modeling and the concrete experience stage as skill accomplishment (Kolb & Kolb, 2006; Schunk, 2012).
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Constructivism theory can be used to support the concept of discovery learning in which students are encouraged to actively construct knowledge and become independent (Schunk, 2012). In contrast, social cognitive theoretical concept of self-efficacy through positive modeling allows students to become successful by the observation of others or through modeling (Schunk, 2012). In comparison, constructivist’s discovery learning concept in which students are encouraged to actively seek knowledge demonstrates similarity to social cognitivists’ enactive learning concept where learners gain experience by doing (Schunk, 2012).
Constructivism: Theory Application
Distance education continues to grow as more colleges and universities are including online learning in their strategic plans (Allen & Seaman, (2011). The need for institutions to provide more educational opportunities for the nontraditional student is evident (Holly, 2009). The discipline of nursing is one such area, over the last several years the nontraditional student far surpasses the numbers of traditional students on college campuses (Holly, 2009).
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) report (2010) indicated a critical shortage of professional nurses as well as qualified faculty to prepare learners for this role. Included in this report is a strong recommendation for nursing program administrators to consider distance education as an option to combat the continued shortage of professional nurses
(AACN, 2010; Mancuso-Murphy, 2007). This proposal would not only assist in educating more nurses to decrease this critical shortage, more importantly, it provides nontraditional students with educational opportunities that are flexible as well as accessible (Holly, 2009). This clearly meets the needs of students who live in rural areas, work full-time, and have family responsibilities, which may prevent them from attaining their academic goals.
Constructivist theory is an alternative to traditional pedagogy within the distance education environment for any discipline, including nursing. The use of constructivism is consistent with the principles of adult learning and the requisite of possessing critical thinking skills (Holly, Legg, Mueller, & Aldelman, 2008). Unfortunately as online learning has continued to demonstrate growth, challenges abound.
Nurse educators are skilled in the profession of nursing; however, more often than not, they have little knowledge of educational theories and best practice in teaching (Benner et al., 2010). As a result, many nurse educators continue to perpetuate the “sage on the stage” role by presenting students with facts and information with little interactivity and engagement (Holly, 2009). The major challenge becomes applying constructivism as a learner-focused theory within a discipline which believes only knowledge can be imparted from the teacher via lecture and PowerPoints (Holly, 2009).
The professional nurse is expected to critically think, collaborate with the healthcare team, and provide safe, quality client care; however the nursing student is educated in an environment that lacks creativity, cooperative engagement, and fails to truly support life-long learning (Benner et al., 2010; Holly et al., 2008). In the literature, this has been referred to as the “banking concept,” where learners are empty accounts passively waiting for the instructor to make a deposit (Freire, 2007). Nursing faculty, who have been educated on theory are abandoning control and working to transform nursing education where learners can and should be active participants (Benner et al., 2010). Reduction of lecture, engagement from learner-to- learner, facilitation by the instructor, scaffolding, and reflection are all positive methodologies to better prepare students for the 21st century in nursing as well as other disciplines (Kala et al., 2010).
Using constructivist theory as a framework, researchers at Washington State University surveyed 210 nursing students enrolled in online coursework (Kardong-Edgren & Emerson, 2010). Student perceptions and use of podcasted lectures were assessed through the utilization of a 16-question online survey (Kardong-Edgren & Emerson, 2010). The results indicated students owned iPods and/or MP3 players, however, only 30% were familiar with using this technology for listening to lectures at the beginning of the semester (Kardong-Edgren & Emerson, 2010). Once students were familiarized with this technology, this number grew to 50% and 91% of students acknowledged podcasts were easy to use (Kardong-Edgren & Emerson, 2010). The highest ranking student perceptions related to the podcasts facilitating clarification of concepts, enabling preparation for assignments and examinations, and learners better comprehending complex subject matter (Kardong-Edgren & Emerson, 2010).
The constructivist theory is applicable to many disciplines besides professional nursing. Graduate students in education were the focus of a study wherein constructivism was investigated (Hussain, 2012). The researcher examined 32 learners enrolled in a qualitative on-ground research course using a field observation method (Hussain, 2012). Activities for this course were specifically designed using constructivist pedagogy, including case studies, group collaborative assignments, and discussions sharing viewpoints (Hussain, 2012). The researcher/instructor provided feedback and guidance to improve quality by allowing students to amend weak parts of assignments (Hussain, 2012). Several observed outcomes from this research resulted. The researcher observed the effect of collaborative assignments was that it assisted students to develop communication techniques (Hussain, 2012). Learners demonstrated they were independent by engaging with each other and requesting assistance from the instructor when they felt they needed guidance (Hussain, 2012). The group and collaborative work led to students contributing and building a community of learning (Hussain, 2012). As the semester began, those students, who revealed characteristics of introversion and feeling reluctant to participate, began to gradually demonstrate increased confidence as the semester progressed (Hussain, 2012). Additionally, learners exhibited attitudes of concern, caring, and patience with each other as well as competency in course content (Hussain, 2012).
The teaching and learning strategies of constructivism are applicable to both the classroom, online, and blended learning environments. Within the nursing education community, it is clear the focus for these settings needs to be on preparation of faculty to promote educator competency as well as course delivery methodology (Kala et al., 2010; Legg et al., 2009). The goal of implementing constructivist theory is to promote a connection between educators and learners to share knowledge as well as engaging the student in a collaborative learning process (Hussain, 2012).
The pedagogy of constructivism is directed towards the learner and not on teaching (Richardson, 2003). Despite the pros and cons, constructivism remains popular within the higher education community and has the appropriate elements to be applicable to online education (Rovai, 2004). The role of the learner is active, in which he/she becomes an information seeker, user, and disseminator. Students construct their own knowledge and work collaboratively to share building on previous experiences (Kang, Brian, & Ricca, 2010).
Advantages of constructivism include the development of critical thinking through questioning and seeking answers, real-world application of knowledge, increased levels of student confidence, and the skill of being a lifelong learner (Kang et al., 2010). These skills aid in bridging the gap between learning and what is really experienced (Kang et al., 2010). Potential disadvantages are related to resistance on the part of the learner. This may be related to confusion as he/she has never experienced this type of learning methodology, which may lead to frustration and possible anxiety (Kang et al., 2010).
If learning is strictly approached from the constructivist methodology without the instructor being flexible and in touch with the student, several concerns arise (Hussain, 2012).
There is the possibility that the learner may have limited knowledge related to the content and the required course objectives. Secondly, the learner may not have foundational knowledge in addition to the limited content knowledge, so there is little opportunity to construct new knowledge. In addition, constructivist activities often require more time to complete (Ruey, 2010). All of these issues may lead to learner confusion and frustration (Hrastinski, 2009; Hussain, 2012). To avoid these potential issues, fostering a positive and trusting relationship with learners as well as the design of the course are significant considerations that must be made (Legg et al., 2009).
Theory guides practice, research, and developing trends in all disciplines (Schunk, 2012). Of the numerous theories that exist, there is clearly overlap from one to another (Schunk, 2012). Educators and researchers must declare what is best for the learner and his/her success in preparation for the 21st century workforce.
Online education must standardize and focus on best practices, rather than the ongoing comparison debate with traditional on-ground learning (Hussain, 2012). The task of educating today’s student is changing and an integral part of teaching, learning, working, and everyday life is and will continue to be technology. With challenges come opportunities and educators must embrace the change. The focus of administrators in colleges and universities everywhere must be to recognize technology has forever changed the educator’s role. As such, new strategies must be established to provide teachers with proper training, with the understanding this is and will be the new normal, as well as the skill to create powerful learning with sound pedagogy (Legg et al., 2009; Wei, Chen, & Kinshuk, 2012).
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