Bobbi Kamil, the “blushing bride” of my colleague John Ittelson (and demonstrably successful as the founder of Cable in the Classroom), is a strong believer in constructivism, and so (at least philosophically) am I. So, in teaching a summer course in Learning Theory courtesy of Professor Ittelson, I designed a rich sequence of assignments to accompany each developing chapter.
Owing to cognitive theory and wanting them to elaborate the concepts for themselves, practice elaborating them conceptually, and apply the principles, I had them write a journal, answer a discussion question, and work in groups to address a question (typically framed as an RFP), respectively. I felt strongly that this was an appropriate set of activities.
For reasons that I won’t go into here, I was prevented from doing more than provide feedback on the group assignments during the semester. Naturally, I was somewhat leery of what the outcomes were going to be (to put it mildly).
I can’t really comment on the personal journals (yet), but the group assignments led to some very insightful outcomes. Moreover, and here’s the big lesson: the responses to the discussion questions (in a bulletin board, with a requirement for commenting on someone else’s response), were quite simply awesome. The developing understanding was with few exceptions as good or better than I could have provided.
Then came Kisrshner, Sweller, & Clark’s robust (NB: a PDF) denunciation of Constructivism. The point they make (and it’s not original, but nicely documented) is that you can’t trust learners to self-direct, and you need to provide guidance. In some what’s it’s reminiscent of the furor Reder, Anderson, & Simon caused in their reaction to situated cognition and constructivism. And, I note, that KSC do admit that the older the student, the more you should expect self-determination.
I qualify that by saying that we can’t *expect* self-learning capability, we should develop it. On the other hand, this was a Master’s program. I’m mindful that Bobbi’s advice was to ‘have faith’. And while I had hoped to provide more personal feedback, the outcomes indeed showed that the learners could come to grips (by and large) with the challenges and ambiguities, and successfully grasp the concepts.
So, do ensure you match the guidance to the learner, but do have faith and take a chance on empowering learners to take ownership of their learning and wrestle with (an appropriate level of) ambiguity. They may not enjoy it, but the learning outcomes are the proof.
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