Below is a guest article by Estelle Shumann on learning resources. While the target is more of a general audience, I think the readers here at Cook Ding's Kitchen will find it very useful. Enjoy.
Online Learning and Constructivism
The constructivist view of education can be contrasted with the objectivist view, which has traditionally dominated formal education. The objectivist view of learning says that knowledge can be transmitted from teacher to learner with the help of lecture, instruction, and practice. Reality, in this view, is made up of a body of facts. Different views and understandings are discouraged, experiences and different contexts of individuals are disregarded, and the individual is seen as a passive recipient of factual material. Emphasis is on teacher-control and learner-compliance.
The constructivist view emphasizes the active role of the learner. It emphasizes things besides facts, and suggests that our views of the world are in continuous flux, building on past experiences. Constructivist learning at its best involves active self-directed cognizing by the learner; the teacher, if present, is more of a guide.
Online degree programs can cater to individuals’ need to build their own knowledge, and in that sense it can be regarded as a constructivist approach. But if the structure of an online learning environment is fairly rigid, relying on lecture and online discussion and using pre-ordained inflexible metrics to determine student learning success, it is more in tune with the objectivist mode.
It has been shown in several studies that it is difficult to foster active online discussion in an online course. Architects of such courses tend to feel that those who participate actively are the students who are truly learning, while the quiet students are merely ‘lurkers’ relying on the thoughts and the efforts of others. But the expectation that students will respond to fixed discussion questions about course material is not a constructivist expectation. Lurkers may not trust the situation, or they may be even more engaged in the course than those who actively discuss, using their time to reflect rather than respond. Teachers must resist the need to always see evidence that students are learning and trust that lurkers are learning on their own terms.
Online classes, aimed at transmitting a certain body of information, with specific syllabi, and fixed assignments, all assembled under the authority of a powerful instructor who assigns grades, may not be constructivist learning environments at all. Khan Academy, a free online resource, is an example of a delivery method that helps students learn at their own pace, and build knowledge based on their own specific experience. Khan Academy may be used in the classroom, in which case the teacher does take on the role of guide, even though he or she may use a dashboard to see individual students’ progress. Khan Academy’s ten-minute videos are followed by “modules” so students can monitor their own progress, and the classroom setting is not necessary.
Other free online learning resources are Harvard’s Open Learning Initiative and the Open Culture website, both contain entire courses with the click of a mouse. While these courses are structured, the learner is completely free to direct his or her exposure to the material, and will not be graded or asked to respond in any prescribed way.
Incorporating constructivist learning methods into education may require many changes to our current system, expectations and attitude. Some of the possibilities for change are reflected in the newest constructivist models for online learning. They offer a range of rich learning platforms. If successful in the long-term constructivism may profoundly change the common view of what learning is and could be.