Sunday, February 28, 2010

Reflections on Learning Theories and Instruction

This course has deepened my understanding of my personal learning process in a myriad of ways. Traditionally, I have utilized various cognitive strategies, such as note-taking, determining meaning from context and using mnemonic devices, to help me learn. I am better able to store information in my long-term memory when I can see an image of it, even if it is a mental image of how a word is spelled. I have always been aware that if I am able to draw a picture of something then I fully understand it. “We do seem to have an amazing capacity to remember what we see, largely in an image form, but in general, visual imagery is a highly effective way of remembering things. People can remember things for a long time if they have a vivid visual image of it” (Ormrod, 2009). I would describe myself as a metacognitively astute learner because I am able to self-monitor my learning. As such, I determine if I understand the material and whether or not I can explain it and/or apply it. When I attempt to explain it to others, I am able to come up with new examples to clarify my explanation. Now that I am a more seasoned learner, I recognize that I learn best through Social Constructivism, “…emphasiz[ing] the importance of culture and context in understanding what occurs in society and constructing knowledge based on this understanding (Derry, 1999; McMahon, 1997)” (Kim, 2001). “Social constructivist approaches can include reciprocal teaching, peer collaboration, cognitive apprenticeships, problem-based instruction, webquests, anchored instruction and other methods that involve learning with others (Shunk, 2000)” (Kim, 2001).

Something in particular that I found surprising from the course material is relative to Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences (MI), “the theory [which] suggests that there are a number of distinct forms of intelligence that each individual possesses in varying degrees…: linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, body-kinesthetic, intrapersonal (e.g. insight, metacognition) and interpersonal (e.g. social skills)” (Kearsley, 2010). I was convinced by everyone around me that my primary intelligence would be logical-mathematical. I was further convinced, particularly by close family members, that I had no musical intelligence. However, upon studying the various areas of MI and taking an MI test, I learned that the logical-mathematical intelligence is my weakest area of MI and that musical intelligence is my third strongest intelligence behind interpersonal and intrapersonal. This was surprising indeed! “Gardner also emphasizes the cultural context of multiple intelligences. Each culture tends to emphasize particular intelligences” (Kearsley, 2010). I can attribute my family’s culture to the emphasis throughout my life on the logical-mathematical intelligence as my father is a Certified Public Accountant and my mother’s family has produced two world renowned doctors. Further, I am better able to understand how my two strongest MI’s, interpersonal and intrapersonal, support my ability to learn best through Social Constructivism and to be metacognitively astute. Still, I wonder how my life might look a little differently if my musical intelligence had been encouraged and developed.

Student motivation is an area that has always intrigued me as an instructor. “Cognitive theory emphasizes intrinsic motivation and creates situations where students are stimulated to see answers” (Pew, 2007, p. 15). “Motivating external stimuli can include, but are not limited to, a quest for a college degree or knowledge, opportunity for career enhancement or entrance into a career, grades, fear of failure or avoidance of shame (grading) personal recognition, money, externally set goals pleasing the instructor, pleasing one’s parents, friends, or colleagues, etc…” (Pew, 2007 p.16). It is difficult for any instructional designer or teacher to really know what will motivate the learner, either intrinsically or extrinsically. In addition, there is a vast difference between what motivates a child learner (pedagogy) as opposed to what motivates an adult learner (andragogy). Further, what may motivate a learner at one particular time will very likely change, so that something different becomes the motivator. However, “the ARCS model of motivational design (Keller, 1987a, 1987b) provides a systematic, seven-step approach (Keller, 1997) to designing motivational tactics into instruction…based on four dimensions of motivation…known as attention (A), relevance (R), confidence (C), and satisfaction(S), or ARCS” (Keller, 1999). “The ARCS model is an attempt to synthesize behavioral, cognitive, and affective learning theories and demonstrate that learner motivation can be influenced through external conditions such as instructional materials” (Huett, Moller, Young, Bray, & Huett, 2008, p. 114). The use of technology as an instructional medium can be a motivator. In some instances, though, once the novelty has worn off, it no longer motivates the learner. Nevertheless, technological tools can be incorporated into the design in various ways to maintain motivation. One such researched method is the use of confidence-enhancing e-mails. In addition, “…allowing…access to a blog and threaded discussion for comments [can enhance] attention or even relevance” (Huett, Moller, Young, Bray, & Huett, 2008, p. 124).

Finally, the knowledge I have gained in this course will help me as I continue my career in the field of Instructional Design. “As one moves along the behaviorst – cognivist - constructivist continuum, the focus of instruction shifts from teaching to learning, from the passive transfer of facts and routines to the active application of ideas to problems” (Ertmer & Newby, 1993, p. 62). “The critical question instructional designers must ask is not ‘Which is the best theory?’ but ‘Which theory is the most effective in fostering mastery of specific tasks by specific learners?’” (Ertmer & Newby, 1993, p. 64). “Depending on where the learners ‘sit’ on the continuum in terms of the development of their professional knowledge (knowing what vs. knowing how vs. reflection-in-action), the most appropriate instructional approach for advancing the learners’ knowledge at that particular level would be the one advocated by the theory that corresponds to that point on the continuum” (Ertmer & Newby, 1993, p. 68). Beyond the theories, we must continually strive to create learning environments “…where students can gain knowledge and skills in critical thinking and problem solving in their chosen areas of learning” (Pew, 2007, p. 20). “Technology has enabled our generation to externalize – through video, pictures, audio, text, and simulation –our ideas” (Siemens, 2010). “The growth of the internet, advancement in social media,…reduced budgets, and greater awareness of the importance of creative and innovative thinkers…[creates] a compelling vision of what education could be given new technologies and almost global connectivity” (Siemens, 2010). The applications of emerging technologies will continue to have a significant impact on teaching and learning. “Increasingly, those who use technology in ways that expand their global connections are more likely to advance, while those who do not will find themselves on the sidelines” (Johnson, Levine & Smith, 2009). As an Instructional Designer, I will strive to incorporate emerging technologies in my work as a means of promoting motivation, involving active experiential learning, nurturing collaboration, enabling elaboration, and providing for reflection.


Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4), 50–71.

Huett, J., Moller, L., Young, J., Bray, M., & Huett, K. (2008). Supporting the distant student: The effect of ARCS-based strategies on confidence and performance. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 9(2), 113–126.

Johnson, L., Levine, A., & Smith, R. (2009). The Horizon Report (2009 ed.). Austin, TX: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved February 15, 2010, from

Kearsley, G. (2010). Multiple Intelligences (H. Gardner). The Theory Into Practice Database. Retrieved February 8, 2010, from

Keller, J. M. (1999). Using the ARCS motivational process in computer-based instruction and distance education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning (78).

Kim, B. (2001). Social constructivism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved January 25, 2010, from

Ormrod, J. (2009). Information processing and the Brain. Retrieved January 11, 2010, from

Pew, S. (2007). Andragogy and pedagogy as foundational theory for student motivation in higher education. InSight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching, 2, 14–25.

Siemens, G. (2010, February 2). Now that we have selected the curtain colour, let’s build a new house. Connectivism networked and social learning. Retrieved February 3, 2010, from


  1. Eileen,
    I am very impresssed and encouraged by your meticulous approach to writing a very complete summation of our learning experiences for the Learning Theories course. Thank you for sharing your reflections on these lessons.