Tag Archives: Connectivism

Marrying Constructivism & Instructional Design


Carr-Chellman (2010) describes both constructivism and behaviourism as “beliefs about how people learn” rather than as learning theories (p.2).  Due to the conflicting nature of these beliefs or learning theories, Carr-Chellman offers in this chapter, a means by which to integrate constructivist principles into the ID4T model.  Carr-Chellman offers solutions to the potential conflicts between the goal and results orientated behaviorist approach of ID4T and the learner-centred views of constructivism.


The shift in education due to digitally connected classrooms has led to a call for the integration of constructivist principles into instructional design models.  This shift towards creating participatory, digital learning is the difficult but essential work of teachers. The Alberta Education (2013) Learning and Technology Policy Framework (LTPF) requires of all teachers to “use technology and research to design personalized, authentic and student-centred learning opportunities to meet the diverse needs and interests of all students” (Alberta. Ministry of Education, p. 30).  This connected approach and philosophy to learning and teaching requires personalization, a shift with far reaching implications for instructional design. In a constructivist approach, the teacher moves from the content knowledge expert who supplies information to students to the “role of a learning expert” (Starkey, 2010, p.241).  In order to make these shifts to constructivism within the ID4T model, a teacher is required to be responsive using Branch’s (2009) ADDIE approach to constantly analyze the learner and the context  in order to be able to create the plan for learning materials, activities, technology and authentic assessment required to meet the learning goal.  As Branch describes, this approach to instructional design is both behaviorists and constructivist in nature where “intentional learning should be student centered, innovative, authentic, and inspirational” (Branch, 2009, p.2).   Jacobsen (2015) makes the distinction that although the theoretical framework of constructivism is learner-centered, the role of the teacher as designer in essential.  “The most powerful thing teachers do to engage students is to design engaging, meaningful, and authentic work and technology-enhanced learning experiences. In other words, teaching matters.”

The role of instructional design is necessary in order to create, implement and assess learning outcomes. But, this is not done through better instruction alone, instead through combining instructional design methods with constructivist principles, “teachers who design for peer collaboration and individual reflection on learning cultivate stronger learning outcomes” (Jacobsen, 2015).  Alignment to curriculum objects is key when using the constructivist notion of authentic assessment in order to ensure that learner outcomes and objectives are being demonstrated. In a learner-centered constructivist approach, learning goals would be set “in collaboration with your learners” but the teacher is ultimately responsible for ensuring that designing learning that aligns with (CBC) curricular objectives (Carr-Chellman, 2010, p. 4).  In a constructivist approach to ID4T, students would start their learning at individual entry point based on their prior learning assessment. Before any instructional model or learning experience could be designed, the teacher would first analyze where each student is entering the learning, assessing their context, experience and understanding (p. 5).

An area of potential conflict between ID4T and constructivism as identified by Carr-Chellman is in the selection of learning resources (texts, media).  In most instructional design models, the teacher is as the designer of learning chooses the appropriate learning resources and experiences to reach the behavioral objectives and performance outcomes prior to beginning the instructional unit.  In a constructivist classroom, texts “can be more broadly defined” and used to support authentic tasks and problem-solving (p.5). In this way, an exhaustive list of resources and experiences would be very difficult to define prior to engaging in the authentic task and would need to be designed in collaboration with the learners. One bridge for implementation that Carr-Chellman offers between behaviorism and constructivism is through the use of scaffolding. Carr-Chellman believes that “scaffolding can allow a bit more of a traditional tinge to the classroom experience” (p.4).  Jacobsen takes the notion of scaffolding one step further where nothing in the instructional design is left to chance. “Strong discipline-based inquiry work exhibits a number of very discernible characteristics, including academic rigour, authenticity, assessment that is deliberately woven into the work, digital technology that is used in purposeful and authentic ways, connections with experts beyond the school, constructivist approaches to learning, and relevance beyond the classroom.”  Due to the iterative nature of a constructivist classroom explicit examples for implementation are difficult to produce.  Carr-Chellman stresses that constructivist learning design is very interpretive in nature as it depends on the learner and the context and therefore is difficult to use a specific example as a guide to implementation (p.6).

Final Question:

What considerations are required of teachers in order to adopt a constructivist approach to the ID4T model in order to ensure that learning is as both Branch (2009) and Jacobsen (2015) describes: deliberate, rigorous, purposeful, authentic, innovative, relevant and inspirational?


Alberta. Ministry of Education. (2013). Learning and technology policy framework 2013. Retrieved from https://education.alberta.ca/media/7792655/learning-and-technology-policy-framework-web.pdf

Branch, R. M. (2009). Instructional Design: The ADDIE approach Springer Science and Business Media. (Vol. 722).

Carr-Chellman, A. (2010). Instructional design for teachers: Improving classroom practice. Florence, KY: Routledge.

Jacobsen, M. (2015). Teaching in a Participatory Digital World. Education Canada. 55(3).  Retrieved from http://www.cea-ace.ca/education-canada/article/teaching-participatory-digital-world.

Starkey, L. (2010). Teachers’ pedagogical reasoning and action in the digital age. Teachers & Teaching, 16(2), 233-244. doi:10.1080/13540600903478433

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Lipstick on a pig? Learning Theory and Instructional Design

Tonight I have learning theory on my mind.  In particular this involves learning theory as it is applied to instructional design.  I have just read  from Carr-Chellman (2010) that instructional design, “does work on the whole within a behavioral framework, meaning that the underlying notions of learning are those of information transmission rather than learner construction” (p.8).

This quote sits uneasily with me as I wrestle with unpacking its implications. I personally believe in the need to design learning experiences and opportunities for students that allow for co-construction of knowledge through constructivist and connectivist principles.  In this approach knowledge is co-created by students and teachers through a community of inquiry (Garrison, Anderson and Archer, 2000).  The implication is that teachers are not only content experts but, more importantly, they must help students to understand that the “capacity to know more is more critical than what is already known” (Siemens, 2005, p.4).  Knowledge is created by making connections through personal learning networks. This social constructivist or connectivist approach is somewhat counter to behaviorist learning theory that works on knowledge as directional transmission from teacher to student.


My question is, how do we or even yet should we marry these approaches to learning?  Carr-Chellman stresses that instructional design can be used to, “alter the model and work a constructivist solution within the behavioral model” (p. 9).  In my current work I find teachers who are tied to behavioral learning theory find it difficult to move into constructivist and even further into social constructivist or connectivist approaches to teaching and learning.  Is this altering of behaviourism, as suggested by Carr-Chellman, the best approach or do we need to approach instructional design from a more emergent and contingent model that leaves behaviourism in the past?  I worry that this altering approach may be as Bates (2015) describes, “old wine in new bottles” (p. 145).  This is just one of many questions that I lose sleep over and have yet to find the answer to.  I cannot wait to hear your thoughts!


Bates, A.W. (2015). Chapter 5: Chapter 4.2: Old wine in new bottles: classroom-type online learning, in Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for Teaching and Learning (pp. 145-182), Contact North.

Carr-Chellman, A. (2010). Instructional design for teachers: Improving classroom practice. Florence, KY: Routledge. eISBN: 9780203847275

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age. Elearnspace. Retrieved from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm.


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Old wine in new bottles: MOOCs, SPOCs, OCs

The rapid rise and fall of the popularity of the MOOC movement in education is unprecedented.  As evidence of the mainstream exposure of this educational trend, MOOCs even had their five minutes of fame on the Colbert Report when edX president Anant Agarwal was interviewed by Stephen Colbert.  The fact that the Colbert believed that his audience knew well enough what a MOOC was and that they found the interview hilarious, illustrated the rapid exposure, acceptance and ultimate decline in popularity that we see the MOOC movement experiencing now.

The overwhelming problem with MOOCs in the way in which they have been taken up by large corporation and private post-secondary institutions is that they tend to ignore sound instructional principles (Baggaley, 2013, p. 126).  Many researchers in the area of distance education (DE) such as Bates have asked why institutions are ignoring the evidence of two decades of experience and research into the best design and pedagogical principles for online learning? The problem is clear to Baggaley, when you reduce the importance of the role of teacher or teaching presence and increase the number of students by a massive amount, the instructors will not be able to provide a quality learning experience (p. 126). The anonymous reviewers of Baggaley’s paper agree that MOOCs have “over-promised and under delivered” because a “focus on technology without a focus on pedagogy” always fails the learner (p. 130).

The question remains, why would post-secondary intuitions choose to ignore 20 years of research and literature on eLearning?  The answer might be found in Kanaka and Brooks (2010) where they argue that “[D]istance education can achieve any two of the following: flexible access, quality learning experience and cost-effectiveness – but not all three at once” (p. 69).  If the balance of all three things is impossible, corporations and private post-secondary institutions set on making a profit will access any learning innovations that favor cost-effectiveness and access to students (who pay) over quality of learning experience.  The massive uptake of MOOCs and now their derivative SPOCs is in one part a way for post-secondary’s to finally accept online learning as a legitimate learning pathway that they historically fought against. MOOCs might be as Bates describes, “old wine in a new bottles” motivated more by profit than by a belief in the learning design.

The fall of the MOOC popularity due to learner negative experience and the new post-MOOC world of SPOC (small private online courses) are simply a return to “the kind of online courses that distance education (DE) institutions have been providing since the mid-90’s” (p. 127).  Although Baggaley cautions that SPOCs may not be better than their MOOC counterparts if the designers continue to ignore the research on DE and online learning that has been gathered over the past two decades (p. 129).  The true test will be to see if the designers of SPOCs and MOOCs can attend to “learner engagement, assessment and feedback” (Baggaley, p.126).  According to Baggaley, the new uptake of Connectivist ideas may have more to do with a backlash against asynchronous delivery and learning and a “timely reminder of the need for more synchronous online interaction” (p. 129). If we are to get to the heart of learner engagement the true test for the future of MOOCs, and their derivatives will be is the designers and instructors can scale to massive and open, quality design that focuses on learning first, technology second.


Baggaley, J. (2014). MOOC postscript. Distance Education, 35(1), 126- 132. doi:10.1080/01587919.2013.876142. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/l ogin.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=95609836&site=ehost-live

Bates, A.W. (2015). Chapter 5: Chapter 4.2: Old wine in new bottles: classroom-type online learning, in Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for Teaching and Learning (pp. 145-182), Contact North.

Kanuka, H. & Brooks, C. (2010). Distance education in a post-fordist time: Negotiating difference. In M. F. Cleveland-Innes & D. K. Garrison (Eds.), An introduction to distance education: Understanding teaching and learning in a new era. New York & London: Routledget of conventional conversation rapidly and massively.

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Teaching in a Distributed Learning Environment

The readings for week three are wonderfully connected to my work and all attempt to answer questions about online teaching and learning that define my work as a teacher researcher in a distributed learning environment.  What does it means to teach online?  How is teaching and learning different when students and teachers are physically at a distance from one another?  What unique skills are required of teachers to be successful in distance learning?  How does research inform us as to best approaches for design and delivery of e-intensive learning?  How can we best train and prepare teachers for working in digitally enhanced and intensive learning environments?  And lastly, what are the implications for teachers working in digitally enhanced learning environments?   All four articles point to something that I feel to be true: there is something inherently unique about teaching online and at a distance.  Online teachers require a specific skill set and mindset.   These teachers are required to be both pedagogical content experts but also experts in digital tools that require a resiliency in approaching e-enhanced and e-intensive learning.

Many of my colleagues at the Alberta Distance Learning Centre (ADLC) participated in the Alberta Teachers Association study on the impact of digital technologies and therefore when the research was complete, it was used in discussion at ADLC about what it means to teach online and at a distance. This research along with many other studies helped to inform changes to ADLC as it transitioned from correspondence style distance education into an e-intensive online school.  I feel very fortunate in my role as a teacher researcher to have many opportunities to discuss the issues and implications as presented in this document with one of the researchers, Dr. Phil McRae.  The Alberta Teacher’s Association makes an interesting  point in that “the term distributed learning means different things to different people” (ATA, 2011, p. 9)  This is something I have come to find in my own research and personal experience and in researching best practices and research informed approaches to distributed learning.  This lack of consistency when it comes to defining the approach to learning makes it equally difficult to prepare teachers for teaching online and at a distance.  If the terms online/distance/distributed/blended were more clearly defined, teacher professional learning for each might be more effective.  As Yang (2014) concluded, the blended approach to teaching, “prompted the needs for new teaching approaches and skills that are different” (p. 202). Therefore new approaches to teaching require proper training and development.  Discussions during the ATA focus groups pointed to the need for continual training as the teacher’s believed, “substantial effort was required to attain mastery” in the skills required for e-enhanced learning (ATA, 2011, p.6).  The teachers in the focus groups also felt that their teaching context was unique and new teachers to their environments may  not be prepared in terms of “specific interests and aptitudes” (ATA, 2011, p 6).

As distance learning continues it’s shift in terms and approaches from correspondence, to distributed, to online and now to blended approaches to learning, a deep understanding of connectivism in essential for teachers.  As Starkey’s (2010) research clearly states, “The beginning teachers in this study were working from theoretical models that pre-dated the digital era” (2010).  In a connectivist approach to e-enhanced and e-intensive learning, the teacher shifts from the content knowledge expert who gives information to students to the “role of a learning expert” (Starkey 2010, ).  Starkey categorizes knowledge of digital tools as pedagogical content knowledge and stresses that in a connectivist approach to learning teachers would, “encourage students to go beyond the teacher’s existing knowledge base by making or enabling connections” (Starkey 2010).  This new role as teachers a expert  or lead learner who encourages their students to make connections by modeling learning, interaction and cognitive discourse for their students would require a unique skillset including; knowledge of learning theory, practical experience and a great deal of digital resilience.  As Ferriter (2011) points out, digital resilience is much easier for a connectivist as it is “easier for those of us who are willing to share what we know – and what we need” (p. 87).  As we work on planning our professional learning for our online teachers for the upcoming year, I will take away a great deal from the week three readings and apply it to our long and short range plans.  Recognizing the e-intensive teaching is an exciting profession that comes with many unique challenges and unique joys is the first step to creating professional learning that will help  online teachers see themselves as expert learner guiding their students to engage in critical discourse with the teacher, with each other, with the content and then connecting those experiences to their place in the world.


Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA). 2011. The impact of digital technologies on teachers          working in flexible learning environments. Retrieved from http://engage.education.alberta. ca/uploads/ 1006/20100621inspiringact86934.pdf

Ferriter, W. M. (2011). Becoming Digitally Resilient. Educational Leadership, 68(6), 86-87.

Starkey, L. (2010). Teachers’ pedagogical reasoning and action in the digital age. Teachers & Teaching, 16(2), 233-244.

Yang, Y. (2014). Preparing language teachers for blended teaching of summary writing.Computer Assisted Language Learning, 27(3), 185-206.

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