Learning theorists and the importance of community to flexible learning

Further to my previous post and Bronwyn’s comment.

The challenge that Annand proposes to the concept of communities of learning is an interesting argument. He comments further on this here and discusses the issues of paced and self paced learning. When learning is self paced, as distance learning often is, it is much more challenging for students to have an interactive community. The learning resources that the students are using need to take account of this and be structured to promote learning. I think this is the crux of his argument. If self paced learning is a the learners choice, learning community may not be such a big issue for them and they might be self motivated.

In an undergraduate midwifery course it would very difficult for students to be totally self paced. There are time frames that have to be met which are industry regulated. Students do benefit from interaction with one another and value this aspect of education. So community networks for learning should be an important aspect of an undergraduate midwifery course delivered at a distance or in a flexible model. My research suggested that a learning community was an important aspect for practicing midwives in their continuing professional development.

Annand suggests that a learning community is not of primary importance to learning if the course content and/or teacher/student interaction is of a high quality. He discusses this in the context of University education and the self motivated and self directed learner Anderson et al. One of the foremost thinkers on adult education is Paulo Friere he suggested that learning builds on experience and occurs through dialogue. (Jarvis, 2004). He developed the concept of learning through action and reflection and termed this ‘Praxis”. Malcolm Knowles suggests that adult learners are self motivated and engage with learning through previous experience which has stimulated interest. He termed adult learning principles as androgogy which involves

1) moving from dependency to self-direction

2) drawing on a reservoir of personal experience for learning

3) readiness for learning when new roles are assumed

4) solving problems and applying new knowledge immediately

In this context of adult learning communities may not be of primary importance and Annand’s assertion may be correct. However Jarvis (2004) suggests that not all adult learners are self motivated and self directed. Some may enter a course of study because it is a requirement and may expect greater direction and teaching. for these individuals a learning community may be an important aspect of the learning experience. Maslow developed a thoery of human motivation. This is often depicted as a pyramid.

Learning is optimized when an individual has reached a state of self actualization. This can only happen when all the other needs of the individual have been met. The basics of food shelter rest and security form the foundation but in addition the individual needs to have a sense of belonging to a social group. Through this social interaction comes a feeling of being needed and a sense of self esteem. Once these needs have been met the individual can be self motivated and can fully engage with learning and problem solving.

Vgotsky suggested that learning is culturally constructed and socially developed. Lave suggests that learning is situated within the activity, context and and culture within which it occurs. The following is from Barbara Jaworsky:

1 Knowing is an action participated in by the learner. Knowledge is not received from an external source.

2 Learning is a process of comparing new experience with knowledge constructed from previous experience, resulting in the reinforcing or adaptation of that knowledge.

3 Social interactions within the learning environment are an essential part of this experience and contribute fundamentally to individual knowledge construction.

4 Shared meanings develop through negotiation in the learning environment, leading to the development of common or ‘taken-as-shared’ knowledge 5 Learning takes place within some socio-cultural setting – a ‘community of practice’ in which we can think of social actions as well as social interactions.

Heimstra discusses self directed learning as a concept with growing interest in adult learning circles but states that self direction does not mean that all learning will occurs in isolation from others

In conclusion, social interaction is an important aspect of learning in most situations. None the less for individuals who have an interest and are self motivated a learning community may not be of primary importance in every learning situation. None the less we cannot ignore the importance of this aspect of learning when considering the design of flexible learning courses.

Image: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs savethedave’s photos on Flickr.com

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  2. This is a great post Carolyn demonstrating contextual reflection where you are critiquing a range of ideas and theories and making connections.

    I am not sure I agree with Annand about learners not being able to be self-paced and autonomous and interact with others online. Tossing out the schedule is less likely to help the self-paced learner – rather a schedule promotes support and guidance and actually encourages self-paced learning, because if you get left behind by the cohort, you can use the schedule as a compass to keep going.

    To my mind social interaction in an online community which uses web 2.0 strategies and social networking actually enhances learner autonomy. what do you think?

  3. I think Annand is suggesting that when students are at different stages in a learning program they have difficulty forming an interactive community. I can see his point that the students will not be at the same stage so the community that might form in this situation would be different to a group of students who are all at the same stage in their learning. I do think blogging and possibly wikis have a great deal to offer in establishing communities of learning no matter what stage the learner is at. We all have something we can share and lots that we can learn from one another. I certainly agree that autonomy is heightened is this format. for myself I am feeling pretty autonomous in my learning at the moment. Loving it 🙂

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  1. Pedagogical strategies for distance learning « Fled: Flexible learning education design

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