A First Learning Module

Building a learning module is not an easy task.  There are many factors to consider

  • Learning outcomes and objectives
  • Instructional design model. In this module I used a combination of Dick & Carey and some ADDIE
  • Technology and media choices
  • Assessment – confirming learning has a been achieved. I decided on embedded, summative assessments

I chose an area of physics – Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation – which is targeted at secondary level students aged 16-18 years. Take a look and let me know your suggestions on how it could be improved. Click on the image below to begin


Read my next blog which discusses in more detail the Instructional design methodologies and my reflections on the process.


Instructional Design – first steps!

Instructional design principles are top of my agenda this week as I start out on a project to building a lesson plan to teach Newton’s Laws of motion. The lesson plan is aimed at grade 10 students and I will have to decide the learning outcomes that need to be achieved as well as considering any pre-learned or requisite knowledge that the learners will need.

My initial steps were to examine the key information components and learnings that needs to be imparted – equations, concepts, gravity etc.  I considered  assessment tools that could be used to confirm that learning has taken place. I began to think of the software technologies I would use – Articulate, Camtasia, video, audio. I imagined drag & drop elements, small animations, videos of eggs falling to earth. I visualised this ‘workflow’  and wrote down some early story boards or flow diagrams.

Then I became confused, lost!

I had all these elements but couldn’t quite link them together in a coherent, thoughtful manner. I soon realised I hadn’t based my thinking on any instructional design principles. I reached for Robert M Gagne’s book ‘Principles of Instructional Design’  (2005). Gagne defines an ‘instructional system as an arrangement of resources and procedures used to facilitate learning’. These instructional systems can be broad based -public schools, business organisations  or have a narrow focus such as a specific training module. Instructional Systems Design (ISD) is the process used for creating instructional systems. All ID involves a systematic process. It generally but not always, begins with a goal and then follows and interconnected series of steps to achieve it.

As I delved into Gagne’s ideas I had to ask myself  –  what type of pedagogical model would I follow? Did it matter?  Contsructivist, Behaviorist, Metacognitive? I have begun to appreciate the difference between different ID models – there are hundreds of them !

  1. ADDIE
  2. Dick & Carey
  3. Rapid Prototyping
  4. Spiral model

So my first step is to decide the right ID model to help structure my learning system. More in my next blog.

Gagne and a quick ID project!

I have been reflecting on some of our discussions from last week and also from having read parts of Robert M Gagne’s book ‘Principles of Instructional Design’  . Robert Gagne (1916-2002) was one of the leaders in the field of instructional systems design and his theories about the conditions of learning are still used in many design models today. His early theories of instructional design were based on the behavioral model but he later dropped this in favour of cognitive models and understanding what was going on in the brain.

Gagne proposed 5 types of learning and that each required a different instructional method.

  1. Verbal Information
  2. Intellectual Skills
  3. Cognitive
  4. Motor skills
  5. Attitude

Gagne also went on to develop 8 conditions of learning and from that developed his 9 Events of Instruction. These nine events form the bases for best practices in instructional systems design. The 9 events  are based on the process of learning and what happens in the brain – neural impulses, selective perception (short term memory), semantic encoding (long term memory), retrieval etc. They must occur in a predefined sequence as one event is dependent on inputs from the prior event.

9 events of Instruction

  1. Gaining attention
  2. Stating the objective
  3. Stimulating recall of prior information
  4. Presenting the stimulus
  5. Providing learning guidance
  6. Eliciting performance
  7. Providing feedback
  8. Assessing performance
  9. enhancing retention and applying to other contexts

We did an interesting but quick instructional design project. Take 12 photographs in sequence and tell a story. Here is Jonny’s and my team result.

Learning Theory 2-Constructivism

Although Skinners Behavioral theories were high influential many educational psychologists were dissatisfied with it and were concerned with what could not be observed and what was going on in the brain. (Gary Borich)

The cognitive theories were led by several epistimologists ( a new word for me!) such as Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky and Jerome Brunner. Their proposition was that learners/children construct knowledge and this process happens in a social context. It is  a very broad philosophy for education. Although there is a real world there is no such thing as an intrinsic meaning. The meaning is mainly imposed by people and cultures.

Vygotsky suggests that learning takes place in a zone of proximal development which relates to the difference of what a child can learn alone versus that with assistance. It relies on scaffolding techniques that acknowledges the childs prior experiences but challenges them to progress to the next stage of development.

Some thoughts from Macu’s lecture  Oct 26th.  

Constructionist theory want to allow learners to develop independently, be innovative or become critical thinkers. It is about the student discovering but the guidance of the teacher is crucial. There still needs to be learning objectives and assessment to confirm that understanding is being achieved.

Contructivist methods provide great flexibility to choose how to achieve the outcome

There are 2 branches to Contructivism – Cognitive (Piaget) and Social Contructivism (Vigotsky)

Constructivist cognition assume that knowledge is not received from outside but is developed within. It is a personal understanding of what is happening in the outside world

Jonassen (1994) propose the characteristics of contsructivists learning environments. These are quite broad and do not give specific guidance on best practice. -e.g.  Provide Multiple representations of reality.  From a practical point it is very difficult to create real world environments in classrooms.

Jerome Bruner was one of the leading education psychologists and was hugely influential in shaping the education system in the US over the last 40 years. Here is an interesting video with Brunner.

Learning Theory 1-Behavourism

During the last 60 years or so  three  learning theories have shaped our education systems –  Behaviorism, Cognitive Models and Constructivism. Each theory builds upon and extends the previous one but as we progress from the behavioral  to the constructivist model we are acknowledging  the learners ability  to solve problems for themselves based on acquired knowledge

The behavioral model focuses heavily on the learning environment to achieve the desired outcome. This can be done through rewarding or disincentive  strategies. BF Skinner is credited with the founding of the behavioral model. Skinner carried out many observational studies of how students learn and used this data to inform strategies for teaching. His model is a cause and affect one. Learning is considered as a sequence of stimulus and response actions in the learner (Gary D Borich – Effective Teaching Methods). The teachers role is in modifying the students behavior by establishing and environment where specific responses are expected and when received reinforcing them in the learner.  These behavioral skills are acquired in step by step manner.

In the early 1950’s Skinner developed the teaching machine as a way to reinforce behavioral learning. The teaching machine was a mechanical device that provides a stimulus – questions or content – that the student responded to. Once the response was received the student got immediate feedback from the machine as to the correctness of their answer. This was the reward .

Take a look at the teaching machine in action. Does it look familiar to some 21st Century techniques and devices? The questions raised by Skinner at the start of the video are still as  relevant today as they were in 1954.


From Borich’s 5 key behiours for effective teaching discussed in the previous blog Clarity is an attribute that could benefit well from technology.

Clarity refers to how clear a teacher’s delivery and presentation of content is in the class.  Effective teachers

  • Can make ideas clear to groups of learners who may have different levels of subject understanding
  • Guide students in a logical way through the subject matter – step by step
  • Have a distinct and audible vocal delivery free of any distracting mannerisms.

Less effective teachers will use vague and ambiguous language. They will tend to communicate in language that is difficult for students to understand, with complex sentences and overly long explanations. Students of less effective teachers have to ask for clarification more frequently and spend more time going back over the material.

Borich suggests that Clarity is a complex behavior as it is related to the organization, the familiarity of the content, and delivery styles (questioning, probing, discussion). Through technology and digital lesson plans it should be possible to replicate the good attributes of Clarity and minimize the influence of the negative elements.  Good instructional design – clear layout and defined structure of lesson plans with explanations of what the objective is at each stage are could aid clarity.

In a future  blog post I will analyze a digital learning module (lesson) and extract the elements that are related to Clarity.

What makes an Effective Teacher?

As I start out on my Msc. in Technology & Learning I am having to fill in the big gaps in my knowledge of education theory and practice. I have had many good teachers over the years an had opinions about why they were effective. I have not thought deeply as to how you would experimentally determine and categorise the  attributes of effective teachers.

BorichReading Gary Borich’s book ‘Effective Teaching Methods’ has started to provide the language an building blocks to help me understand this area.  In chapter 1 he discusses the research methods for studying classroom interaction patterns of teachers and students.  From this research 10 teacher behaviors have been identified  to impact student learning.

5 Key behaviors are considered essential for effective teaching and a further 5 are called helping behaviors because they can be used in combinations to implement the Key behaviors.

The key behaviors are

  1. Lesson clarity
  2. Instructional variety
  3. Teacher task orientation
  4. Engagement in the learning process
  5. Student success rate

Borich explains in more detail each of these attributes.  I expect that the characteristics of a good teacher can be applied to technology as a teaching tool. To ensure good Lesson clarity and Instructional variety any technology learning tool must address these as part of the instructional design (ID) and interaction (IxD) processes.

The additional 5 Helping Behaviors are

  1. Using student ideas and contributions
  2. Structuring
  3. Questioning
  4. Probing
  5. Teacher Affect ( building strong teacher – learner relationship)

As I start to address the technology aspects of education these 10 behaviours of an effective teacher will inform my ideas and practices.