Amy Potthast | Instructional Coach & Designer | Learning Design Studios

Posts tagged ‘Constructivist instructional design’

Learn whatever you want

You don’t need a teacher to learn, just a plan.

Photo by Jayel Aheram, Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Jayel Aheram, Flickr Creative Commons

Develop a learning project and create a learning contract with yourself that includes, goals, resources, strategies, and assessment.

1. Describe your learning goals

Make a list of the things you want to, or need to, learn. If you’re not sure what your learning goals are (or should be), ask some experts.

You may have heard of an “informational interview,” often used in the context of a career transition. For a learning project, seek out experts who already know what you want to learn more about. Ask them: “After a month of effort to learn, what should I be able to do, out in the real world?”

For example, you want to learn more about using You might ask, “After a month of effort, what should I be able to do, using WordPress?”

Experts might help you come up with such verb-driven learning outcomes as…

  • Navigate the back end of a WordPress site
  • Author a blog post
  • Design the content and organization of your pages
  • Add and delete widgets
  • Attach a new URL to the site
2. Discover useful resources

Through conversations with your experts, Google searches, a trip to your local library, reading key blogs and Twitter feeds regularly, and other methods, keep a list of resources you can draw on to learn more.

To continue with the example, you might find:

  • A range of books on the topic,
  • and/or Youtube tutorials,
  • Friends who’ll let you look over their shoulder
  • Blogs about blogging
  • Coursera and other free online courses (MOOCs) about writing web content
  • WordPress user forums (where people write and answer questions about using WordPress).

You are limited only by your imagination and savvy!

3. Decide on learning strategies

What steps will you take to learn what you need to know? List the activities that you can realistically undertake, and that will help you learn. Your list will grow once you begin your learning project — because the more you know, the more you’ll see what your learning options are!

Using the example, you might:

  • Play around on
  • Watch and chat with a friend or an expert as they update their own blog
  • Hire a coach
  • Watch online tutorials about WordPress (via Lynda or Youtube, referenced above)
  • Read books
  • Listen to podcasts or audiobooks
  • Go to a conference or training
  • Keep a journal of questions, problems, and discoveries
  • Read other WordPress-hosted blogs to discover what you like and dislike
  • Read blogging experts’ tips.
4. Determine markers of your success

What does success look like? Before you embark on your learning project, think about how you will know you’ve succeeded. Some ideas for assessing and “grading” yourself:

  • Write a test for yourself, asking open-ended questions that you want to learn the answers to (ask an expert if s/he would be willing to read your answers once your learning project is nearing completion
  • Develop a checklist of skills you’d like to be able to execute (and check them off as you succeed)
  • Complete a meaningful project incorporating your learning goals, and ask an expert or friend to assess it for you according to criteria you specify
Execute your project

Once you’ve developed your learning contract, put it into action — use the resources, follow the strategies, and assess your progress. It may help you to set up a schedule for yourself, or get into a rhythm — commit (to yourself!) to try one new strategy a week, or reflect (journal) three times a week on what you’re discovering.

Benefits of a self-directed learning project

Whereas a teacher-led learning efforts are usually time-limited (i.e., a college course lasts a term; a workshop may last an hour or two — time lengths that you have no control over!) — with your own learning project, your goals are focused, but you can keep learning till you’ve accomplished what you set out to.

And once you’re done — celebrate, and then start all over again!


Protected: Victory! An article: “What Constructivism Demands of the Learner”

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The Evergreen State College site visit – CIEL Conference

On TESC campus - from Codiferous on Flickr

Today I drove up to TESC for the CIEL conference (CIEL is the Consortium for Innovative Environments in Learning), a gathering of about 12 schools that have a “progressive” bent in education innovation, according to the webstie — not sure how specific the word “progressive” is… does that actually mean something? Or does it just mean not traditional?

Anyway I had a chance to ask several students about their experiences with learning contracts, and listen in on a few sessions during which I heard faculty and others comment on student-directed learning.

Attributes of successful learning-contract students:

  • Students succeed who are self directed (everyone says this so I asked what does this mean…)
  • Students who know themselves do better.
  • Students succeed who have a gap between high school and college, who have been out in the world working and come back knowing what they want out of a college education. At TESC it’s common for students to be a bit older than at most colleges.
  • Intrinsic motivation.
  • A faculty member from a visiting school said that in “our schools” you [students] bring yourself, your identity, your feelings and passion to the work.
  • Self selection of learning contract opportunities. Dennis (a Masters of Environmental Science student who also did his undergrad at TESC)  said he didn’t see fellow undergrads struggling because contracts were optional, people chose them who wanted to tackle them.
  • Sarah (a grad student in the Masters of Environmental Science program) said she and another student did the exact same internship but she got a lot more out of it while the other kid was going through the motions just to get the credit.

— D. Aubrey and S. Weber, personal communications, Oct. 21, 2011.

How I’m feeling

The trip to TESC was fun. I wish I had taken some time to walk around and look at classroom buildings and such — it was a quick in and out trip during which I sat in on a session about a prison program that the MES program is operating in Washington prisons, and another on the need for/how to integrate social justice in the curriculum.

I met an MES student Sarah who is learning about adult education on her own for her thesis — if she emails I’d like to give her a bibliography of some of my favorite adult ed books to date from our program.


Preliminary investigation leading up to the learning contract

Is there even an answer to the question I have?

First step – research and read to better understand constructivism as an instructional theory or ISD model — versus educational philosophy. For the past several days I have been searching on the OSU library (and ERIC etc.) for articles and books that can orient me to constructivism.

I think I’d like to investigate whether constructivist models of ISD work better with some kinds of learners than others. Like rich/well educated hippie college kids with intrinsic motivation and great work ethic and self discipline and an academic history of inquiry based learning. But I am not finding a huge body of writing on the topic which makes me doubt there is research to look at to answer my question.

Tonight I found a book review for Constructivism and Instructional Technology (book is by Duffy and Jonassen) helpful. The review points out that it’s hard to ask good questions about a topic you don’t know much about (Miyake and Norman, 1979). Ringing very, very true!

Could “scaffolding” be the answer to the problem of learners not knowing enough to ask good questions in constructivism? Clark and Graves 2008 — study on contrasting literature methods in elem classrooms (PDF is on the macbook):

Inherent in the concept of scaffolding is the gradual release of responsibility model (Pearson & Fielding, 1991). In this model, students progress from situations in which the teacher assumes the majority of responsibility for successful completion of a task to situations in which students assume all or most of the responsibility for the task. – page 10

First clue that constructive isd works better with some populations than others. In a comparison of open and directed literature text mediation in fourth and fifth graders, it seems that the fifth graders enjoyed the books better when the approach was more constructivist while the fourth graders enjoyed the books better with the objectivist approach. p. 22 – Mean ratings of interest table.


How I am feeling:
Before I found the book review corroborating George’s take, I was feeling frustrated
Feeling better now, like I am onto something, not sure what
Afraid that this whole process is going to take a long time
Scared about developing an assessment and rubric for myself

One thought to answer my research question (if it is the same one I mention above) is to chat with some professors at Evergreen (to the extent that Evergreen is constructivist in its approach — how will I confirm that?) and see what admissions criteria looks like as far as predicting success in that environment. Also — interview George?

– Chinese faculty member at Evergreen who Maggie knows
– Maggie
– Gail
– George?