Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Learning and Instruction Hierarchy


Much has been written about learning objects in the literature. A few (e.g., Dave Merrill) have pointed out that learning objects alone do not constitute instruction. To explain why I think that Merrill is correct, I offer these remarks. First some definitions are needed. An educational system, broadly conceived, is intended to develop responsible, thoughtful and productive members of society (see Dewey’s writings for more on this). Instruction is that which is intended to support or facilitate learning. Learning is characterized by stable and persistent changes in what a person or group of people know or can do.

Some regard anything found on the Internet as a knowledge object that could support learning. However, there is misinformation and mistakes in many Internet resources, so the information found should be confirmed or verified before using it to support learning; when verified, the information object might be considered a knowledge object. Learning is a naturally occurring and ongoing process – sometimes intentional (oriented toward a goal) and sometimes not. Self-directed individuals might make use of many information and knowledge objects in pursuit of their interests. Within the context of an educational system (instructional curriculum learning environment, training program, etc.), learning is typically associated with a specific goal, in which case a knowledge object can be considered a learning object. However, many students in an educational system lack adequate preparation, motivation or self-regulation skills needed to make systematic progress towards the intended outcomes. That is why formative feedback (timely, informative, explanatory feedback) is so important. In addition, summative feedback is typically needed to mark important milestones along the way to success in and completion of a program or curriculum. Learning objects which have support for learning in the form of learning guidance, feedback, and assessment can then be considered instructional objects.

A typical MOOC (massive, open online course) lacks sufficient support for learning as do many so called serious games. While there is a place and use for MOOCs and serious games, it is important to keep in mind the intended learning outcomes, which can and probably should be negotiated with learners early and often.


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