Archive for September, 2010

Learning Theories and Learning Tool Design

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Have you heard the joke of two researchers specialized in behaviorism meet on a street? The dialogue goes like this: – “Hey John, how am I today?” – “You seems to be pretty ok, so how am I then?“.

Some of the basics ideas of behaviorism are used daily in (good) teaching and learning. With relatively simple ability to track our behavior, by trying out different strategies of behavior and playing with it we learn. In some areas of learning you also need trill and practice, trial and error — the most classical form of behaviorist teaching and learning strategies.

Constructivism, or more specifically cognitive constructivism, is often presented as some kind of anti-thesis of behaviorism. If in behaviorism the focus is on the external behavior, constructivism is more interested in interaction of a mind with it’s environment. According to constructivism human mind is accommodating and assimilating new knowledge from experiences. New experiences have an effect on the existing framework that is in a continuous change. In practice we do not learn only by simply changing our behavior but by building new structures of knowledge that will have an impact on our behavior. Learning takes place inside a human mind.

Like constructivism was an anti-thesis of behaviorism, social constructivism is an anti-thesis of constructivism. According to social constructivism the most crucial aspect in learning is the social interaction that is always taking place in some linguistic and cultural context. People construct knowledge and meaning together — from the early days of children’s play to the last moment in a deathbed. The knowledge constructed as well as all the shared artifacts with shared meanings are all social products, products of the culture.

Often I see, especially in the English speaking world, that people consider constructivism to be the “core” and social constructivism to be some kind of a subclass and application of it. This is a misconception. From Vygotsky’s writings I have understood that his theory is from large part showing weaknesses in the constructivism. He is not really building on it, but rather aiming to do a paradigm shift.

When analyzing different learning tools, from OLPC-XO / Sugar to “Hole in the Wall”, different LMS, wikis (and marginal things like Fle3) we may see some learning theories behind them.

In the OLPC there is a lot of baggage from the constructivism (and Papert’s Constructionism), the Dynabook’s behaviorism and other R&D projects relying on the PC revolution. The Sugar has been fast to move to the direction of being more “social” and actually been very successful in it. On the other hand if the underlying theory would have been social constructivism the device and the software could look very different.

Hole in the Wall” is an interesting case. I highly appreciate the experiment and definitely one can see in it some connection to social constructivism. In the experiment children are teaching each other. On the other hand the result from the learning point of view are very weak and behavioral. In the documents and presentation I have seen, the main learning achievements have been ability to use computer. That is of course interesting and important, but if the learning is in the level of clicking and browsing internet it is not very impressive. It is simple behavior with very little knowledge constructed at all — whatever we consider it to be inside or outside a single human mind.

Many of the LMS are some kind of hybrids of tools that represent all different kind of theories of learning. The quizzes and multiple-choice test tools come somehow from behaviorism. Simulations come from constructivism and discussion forums from social constructivism. In most of the cases the implementation of all three theories in the tools have been miserable.

I think wikis and Fle3 are both, more or less, build on the theory of social constructivism.

EduFeedr beta released

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

EduFeedr is a feed reader for online courses where each participant is using his/her personal blog to publish thoughts on course readings, answers to assignments and other course related posts.

We have just release a beta version of the EduFeedr software. It runs in here:

. . . and you may downloaded it from here:

The EduFeedr development is based on a simple vision (with an intertextual reference to the Wikimedia’s vision):

Imagine courses that take place in wikis, blogs, social networks…

Actually you don’t need to imagine this. There are people who are doing it right now. The Personal Learning Environments, Networks and Knowledge (PLENK2010) facilitated by Stephen Downes, Dave Gormier, Rita Kop and George Siemens with more than 1000 participants (if I got it right) is the best example of the phenomena. Kudos!

We hope that the EduFeedr will help in courses like PLENK2010, although we did not really have so massive courses in mind when designing the tool. In practice we were more looking for online course with 100 people or so.

A funny thing with the EduFeedr is that it is actually a Learning Management System (LMS): an idea I have been criticizing and fighting against for close to 15 years now. I have been like the late Alonso Quixano tilting at windmills.

For my defense I can admit that the EduFeedr is very different LMS. It is free, open and libre in all possible meanings of the terms. You are free to use it. It works with courses that are free for anyone to join. All the content created in these courses are free. People may naturally use different licenses with the content of the courses but at least it will all be, by default (and there are not other option), accessible for you and everybody else online.

So, I still think that with the LMS, as they are today, there is something fundamentally wrong. I am not sure if EduFeedr is the final right answer (I doubt), but I am sure it is a step to the right direction.

Here is a short video presentation of the EduFeedr idea.

With EduFeedr I think it is fair to give most of the credit related to it to Hans Poldoja. In the research group we work as a team, but in this case the leadership, the design, the design decisions and most of the hard work was all carried out alone by Hans.