Conclusion: Principles of Learning

Most of the time, the challenge in writing essays – whether a final exam or assignment – is demonstrating one’s understanding of a concept or a group of related concepts in one topic. Oftentimes, we are used to producing lengthy pieces just to prove the depth of understanding and mastery of concepts. If we use the constructivist and cognitivist perspective in learning, writing becomes an application in two ways: (i) articulating the basic concepts of the many schemas constructed in the mind throughout a period of time and trying to connect them to one another and (ii) processing information in the long-term memory using skills that are not directly taught but required (i.e. critical thinking, writing).

Yet in the final exam of “EDS 103: Principles of Learning”, the challenge is different: it is demonstrating depth of understanding and application in the most precise and concise way possible. So how does one simplify a few months of accumulated learning without losing depth in just two pages? At first, I felt a bit overwhelmed with the task because its instructions were very broad and dependent on one’s own understanding. Yet when I went back to review the content of the modules I appreciated how the task served both as a refresher and a synthesis of what I and my fellow students have been learning for the past few months. Another aspect that I appreciated was that it went hand-in-hand with “EDS 111: Principles of Teaching”, wherein the principles of learning apply to the teacher as a learner and the teacher as a facilitator of learning.

Overall, I feel happy at this conclusion, but certainly this is not the end of learning as learning is not the end itself but is the process.

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Epistemology

Ah, how do you further dissect something that is already in your head and in others’? It’s quite the same as looking at yourself in the mirror and trying to look at others looking in the mirror as well – its uncomfortable, it’s abstract, and it takes a whole lot of thinking to get around the fact that we’re thinking about the knowledge our thinking is part of and where it comes from.

Epistemology and its doctrines are not new to me as they were present throughout college and graduate studies. I have come to a realization that different epistemological dimensions of learning depends on the discipline itself. Back in graduate school, our knowledge in demography and population studies are highly empiricist and positivist because we deal with demographic data and quantitative analysis. In this sense, a person has the ability to learn and apply demographic concepts and analysis with much effort over time. Certainly, basic demographic concepts and sub-concepts under migration, fertility, and mortality form the complex network of knowledge under demography, but the knowledge of its practical application comes as isolated concepts because of its empirical nature (i.e. regression, correlation, chi-square, odds-ratio, etc). Certainly, demographic data is assumed to be generalizable to the larger population and hence statistical analysis can prove the probability of an assumption to be true yet in some aspect it is relative because there are always outliers that do not fit in with population.

Moving from my personal experience and analysis of my discipline to the epistemological dimensions of learning, I believe that an individual must have the ability to control his learning (with no limited ability) and knowledge is a complex network of concepts. I think it would then depend on the nature of the subject matter whether the speed of learning is quick or a gradual acquisition over time and if knowledge is fixed or relative.  For example, once basic concepts are learned in mathematics, it can automatically lead to faster processing of more advanced concepts. Additionally, mathematics is a universal language and can be translated into reality. In contrast, history and other subjects that are built upon human experience require more time for learners to be able to construct, co-construct, and understand the concepts behind relative knowledge (it may not be true because it is socially constructed).

 

Critical Pedagogy

Back when I was in college, I went through a phase when I would question everything. It began slowly with our theory class that introduced us to the Frankfurt school of thought, Gramsci, and Althusser, and as I tried to make sense of the industry and system of the mass media (for where could a Broadcast Communication graduate go?) I became disenfranchised and discouraged to join such an oppressive occupation judging by the political-economy and power relations of the system.

My last year of college was peppered with a lot of debates and disagreements with my classmates and teachers as I sought to break the silence and to assert an alternative view on media content and theory. I found myself caught up in the crossroads of accepting the status quo or challenging it, particularly since the real world awaits after graduation.  For this reason, I found solace in one theorist who would be able to give a theory on what I was experiencing. I could resonate with feminist author bell hooks (1994) when she wrote in “Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom”,  “My commitment to learning kept me attending classes. Yet, even so, because I did not conform – would not be an unquestioning, passive student – some professors treated me with contempt. I was slowly being estranged from education.” Both of us found Paolo Friere and his work, “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, as a way to understand the limitations of our education (or schooling, perhaps as what Ivan Illich would argue) and to discover alternative strategies for learning as a student.

Freire’s work can very well be considered to be aligned with constructivist theories of learning, as these theories posit that individuals are actively involved in the construct of knowledge (as cognitive constructivists like Jean Piaget would argue) and that knowledge is socially constructed and embedded within socio-cultural contexts (much like what Lev Vygotsky woud posit). However, Freire argues that the very nature of traditional education as a practice of domination, which oppresses and silences the masses, can be transformed to a practice of freedom and critical reflection that considers people in their socio-economic and political reality. The first step towards this change is through problem-solving education and critical consciousness through meaningful dialogue in the classroom.

Fast forward to the present, and I find myself entrenched in another line of work that is vastly different than expected from a graduate of Mass Communication (which wouldn’t matter anyway). Throughout the discussion about constructivism and instructional design in this week’s course, there is still the underlying assumption that the teacher is still the key source of information and guidance in the process of learning – well, Vgotsky would point out that peers or co-students can also be the More Knowledgeable Others (MKOs) in the process of learning – which brings us to examine more closely the power relations in the classroom. There is also the lack of discussion on the teacher as a learner in the discourse – how do these roles interact with one another and how does critical reflective practice play into the classroom when the MKOs can possibly be the students themselves? How do teachers, as a perceived frontliner in knowledge reproduction and ideology, be able to work within the system in order to create critical thinkers?

Hence, I end with bell hooks (1994) call for hope in the midst of the prevailing power and ideological structures within society: “The academy is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom, with all its limitations,
remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labor for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to
move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom.”

REFERENCE:

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. Routledge. Retrieved from https://academictrap.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/bell-hooks-teaching-to-transgress.pdf

All Alone With the Memory

♫ Of my days in the sun ♫

I remember very well our classroom when I was in Kindergarten and Grade 1. It was a small and cozy room, with blue carpeted floors and three large whiteboards affixed to the walls of the room. At the entrance were are our little cubbyholes, small wooden shelves marked with our name that was our own little space for our items. To the left of the entrance was the bathroom. Walk a little further inside and desks are neatly arranged in the right side of the room facing the whiteboard and to the left is an area full of large wooden building blocks. At the back was a play-area full of toys for us to entertain ourselves and a long shelf full of books we chose from during reading time. I remember a lot of activities during that time. First, was our reading time – once a day for an hour, we would settle down on the floor with our pillows with the lights out and either nap or engage ourselves in a book of our choice. Second, we used to have different stations set up around the classroom – a listening station (you can listen to a story through headphones and cassette tape), an arts and craft section where you can create any art, and others which I can’t recall. We would rotate the activities as a pair or as a group after a while, and I remember distinctly creating a greeting card.

That was two decades ago. It took me quite a while to retrieve this memory from my long-term memory storage and it was tied to myriad of senses and experiences of the place and the people in the classroom that had allowed me to recall. As Lutz & Huitt (2003) wrote, memory is the combination of all mental experiences and is multi-faceted and multi-staged system of representations that embody our lifetime accumulation of perception.

♫ If you’ll touch me… ♫

Some cognitivist theorists would posit that our memory works and processes information like a computer and its hard-drive. We have limited capacity at different points in the process of encoding, storing, and retrieving information and that there is a type of control system for dealing with stimuli. However, the drawback of likening our mental processes to the processes of technology seems to reduce our humanity. We are not computers that can accurately retrieve and spew information. Case in point, my memories of Kindergarten and Grade 1 may have been inaccurate to some extent but that shows the very nature of our memory and humanity. Winn & Snyder (as cited in Lutz & Huitt, 2003) said that memory is somewhat inaccurate and is retained, manipulated, and modified when new knowledge is acquired.

There are many factors that influence my ability to remember information. For one, I learn best while doing, manipulating or emulating; I memorize best when listening and visually absorbing new information. In other words, experiences or information that I have prior knowledge to or have produced or reinforced positive/negative memories mostly stick with me in the long-term, while unrelated information which does not connect to any of my existing schema is stored in the short-term for use until its ready to be discarded . For example, back in college we had an exam about behaviorist theories which discussed all those theories in the first module of EDS 103. Of all the information I memorized back then for that exam, the one that stuck with me until now was Ivan Pavlov’s classical conditioning theory because I can relate it to my previous concepts (dog, food, saliva) and process their relationship (conditioning). The more grounded it is in my experience (actual or observed), the more it is retained and referred to in the future.

Well, five years later and my learning strategies and goals haven’t evolved that much. For one, I am a perennial procrastinator and much of the information stored in the short-term memory has been used and disposed of. However, the construction and modification of schemas since elementary have contributed well into my ability to have a deeper understanding of new information or to connect old but familiar information so that it is more codified into a “usable” nugget of memory. Again, learning by doing and seeing its application in the real world makes learning easier so that I do not have to resort to rote memorization for single use.

♫ You’ll understand what happiness is ♫

So now what? What are the implications of cognitivist theories on teaching practice, learning strategies and instructional design? Memory is a complex mental construction and knowing how our minds work can help us design lessons and structure activities that facilitate the processing of information so that it can be combined or modified in relation to existing schema. From there, learners will be able to have a deep sense or understanding of what we teach them so that they can apply it or use it in real life.

Memory connects us yesterday to today to tomorrow, so as long as we live there is always a chance to learn. As Barbara Streisand sung:

♫ Look a new day, has begun… ♫

Social Learning in Reality and in Distance Education

Social Learning Theory in Reality

Life never ceases to remind me that as a parent, I have obligation to be a good role model to my daughter. Just the other day, my husband pointed out that Wyona is not as friendly as often to other people as before, and he attributed this to my natural tendency to be shy around people. “Learn to smile and say ‘Hi’,” he joked. “Kaya napagkakamalan kang mataray eh (That’s why people mistake you for being snobbish).” I shrug off his suggestion and laugh, but deep inside I am reflecting. Why would I expect Wyona to be friendly if I don’t show her how to be friendly? No matter, at least her father’s friendly.

Kidding aside,  modeling behavior and observing such behavior are important aspects of the learning of a toddler. Everything she sees, she imitates from social interactions (clapping, smiling, laughing, saying goodbye, kissing) to movements that require motor skills (opening the cabinet, putting things inside and outside the box, opening the zipper of a bag, putting a phone against the ear). The ones she repeats are mostly the ones she is exposed to everyday, which she picks up from my husband and I’s habits and daily routine. She also learns new movements from the daily commercials she watches on TV. Yet she also has the agency to choose not to act, depending on her current environment and mood.

Count on Albert Bandura to put a name to what a toddler (and I) was going through. Combining cognitivist and behaviorist theories, Bandura posited that not all types of learning come from direct reinforcement or experience, but also from observation of others in person and in media (Cherry, 2017). And to me, Wyona embodies all the components in social learning theory: observation, imitation, and modeling.

Distance Learning and Social Learning Theory

Yet how does learning work if technology is factored in? Bandura’s theory on social learning was significantly used in explaining behavior among viewers (i.e. aggression) yet it did not consider yet that the forms of interaction would change through media — from face-to-face to online. So how would social learning occur if there is no one to observe?

The best thing about online learning is that it is asynchronous and independent, yet everyone is on the same page. Therefore, one particular behavior that online learners should have and is required in this type of learning environment is time management. This is to ensure that there is enough time to study the resources, participate in the discussions, and write.

The first step is to learn through a verbal instructional model, which involves descriptions and explanations of a behavior. How can you manage your time well, given the available modules and resources? How do you organize and manage knowledge? Second, internal mental states are important. Extrinsic reinforcement through interaction through the forums can help boost self-efficacy as other learners affirm or recognize opinions and thoughts. Most importantly, intrinsic reinforcement like the satisfaction of finishing a module within time and see other learners complete their own tasks contributes to better time management.

As of now, with the completion of social theories of learning, I have to go back to the reality that my toddler has managed to open the drawer in the room, empty its contents, and climb into it. Where she learned that she can do that, Bandura cannot fully explain since no one in the family climbs into a drawer to play…but I am happy to know she’s making connections among what she knows (the drawer can be opened in the way the adults open it and it is big to accommodate her), her potential behavior (she can climb into the space and can explore), and the responses from her environment (being told that she could be hurt in the process or being observed for consequences). Ah, learning is never this interesting in the classroom.

REFERENCE

Cherry, K. (2017). What is Social Learning Theory? Verywell. Retrieved from https://www.verywell.com/social-learning-theory-2795074.

Then and Now

Then

Just the other day my mother and I had a conversation on behavior. How some aspect of it can be deeply and unconsciously embedded in us since our formative years — which most of us barely remember. Why is it that I had an unexplained fear of numbers up until college? Why was it that I always procrastinated and studied late from high school up until now? Why was it that I love eating out or eating new food after a particularly hard task at work and/or home?

When I was in elementary, I had a hard time doing math homework at home. For one, I think I hated homework back then. Second, the only one who could help me with my homework was my mother, who was a housewife back then — and a BS Statistics graduate. Perhaps her knowledge of statistics surpassed the absorptive capacity of my tiny brain or perhaps there was a language barrier in translating simple math concepts into Filipino that I had a hard time with since we used English at school. Either way, I would find myself bursting into tears after my mother exhausted herself in explaining the concepts repeatedly. This happened a few times. Then I have no collective memory of it by the time I reached Grade 5. By then and up until college, I would come to have an aversion to math. I feared numbers, not because I couldn’t understand them or have the capacity to understand them, but because of my mother’s disapproval for not being able to grasp them back then. This can be an example of unintentional classical conditioning, wherein a strong emotional response (fear) was conditioned to respond to a previously neutral stimuli (math homework/numbers) because of a repeated conditioned stimulus (unable to meet approval of mother). Not that it was her fault – I can imagine her perplexity, frustration, and confusion at a child bursting into tears in the middle of an explanation of how to compute the missing of an acute triangle.

Maybe it is because of this experience — and my growing independence as a young adult — that I developed the habit of procrastinating and removing the stress/worry brought about by a looming deadline or task. My mother gradually left me to do my work on my own, so many was the time when I would immerse myself into my books and games and then work on my homework or project a few days before. Coincidentally, my grades were good and I never failed a subject until I graduated cum laude in university — call it pure luck but it opened the door for me to deal with  working under pressure because I would get rewarded anyway. We were given a lot of positive reinforcement growing up — mainly because it was the only way our parents could help us while they were working abroad — and mostly in the form of cash and gadgets and technology. So I also developed a taste of reward – literally.

Aside from reinforcements, we also had our share of punishment at home. When I was young, my mother took to spanking us when she got frustrated or tired from the daily toil of taking care of four kids alone during the day. She also locked my sister and I in the bathroom to cry our lungs out just so she could put the baby to sleep or get some rest. Nowadays, she says she realized that she was wrong to use corporal punishment back then — I always joke that its our turn to spank her wise old bottom. Kidding aside and fast forward to a few decades later, I realize that this form of discipline is not the way to go in raising a child because it brings out fear and mistrust.

Now

Now as a first time mother, I realize that I behave in ways that I reinforce and modify her behavior based on a combination of my learning, knowledge, and experience. Currently, she is at the age where she’s learning to be independent and testing her authority. Couple that with the fact that she is at a crucial stage of development – ah yes, the formative years – that will set the foundation for her learning and development later on.

We rely on various reinforcements to increase good behavior, such as praising her when she follows instructions, picks up her toys, babbles new words, and makes an effort to socialize or granting her something she wants (i.e. watching TV, swimming, going out of the house, playing) after she completes a given task like eating, taking a bath, or cooperating when being dressed. We downplay the use of punishment as much as possible as it could cause trauma or deliberate numbness, except for the use of a gentle and repeated “No” coupled with an explanation why on non-negotiable and potentially life-threatening objects or situations (i.e. electrical socket, going down the stairs alone, touching animals, eating non-food items).

With this knowledge and theories on behaviorism in teaching, we are also in the process of learning theories that can explain why we behave in a certain way and how this impacts the way we change our children’s behavior. While we’re figuring that out (which will take a lifetime, I suppose), I just hope Wyona would be able to develop a love and taste for numbers and be a better time manager than me.

What is intelligence?

My work requires a lot of mobility and flexibility, so wherever I go my toddler (and husband) goes as well. Just recently, we attended an out-of-town workshop along with participants from various regional and division offices in the Department of Education. For the whole week, she roamed the vicinity, explored the nooks and crannies of the function room, weaved through the tables and chairs, and made friends with the participants and hotel staff.

Perhaps it was lucky that the participants were also teachers and education program supervisors — they were amused at how sociable and well-behaved the youngest participant was. “Exposure,” I explained as I kept an eye on the ever-mobile toddler. “She’s always with us and she interacts with a lot of people”. One participant quipped that at the age of seven, Wyona would be college-ready because of her ability to socialize and to learn fast. I laughed, but deep in the inside I was terrified at the thought of my daughter being too intelligent for her age. But what constitutes intelligence, anyway? Can we have too much or how can we measure if its more or less?

This week’s module tackles the definition and the different theories of intelligence. What struck me the most is that most of the earlier literature on intelligence tends to focus on mental abilities that are traditionally the markers of achievement in the school setting. There was also much focus on quantifying or measuring intelligence through mental aptitude skills and tests. As other theorists contribute to the discourse, other definitions and perspectives of intelligence emerged: multiple intelligences (i.e. Gardner), social intelligence (i.e. Goleman, Thorndike), environmental adaptibility (i.e. Sternberg).

In making sense of how we define “intelligence”, we come to understand how we measure this in school and how we formulate interventions for students in the classroom (assuming that they have varying levels of intelligence). However, there is one important issue in the use of tests to measure mental ability and aptitude of students: the labeling of “intelligence” in these tests connote that those who obtain below average scores are not intelligent when we know very sure that intelligence goes beyond as what Thorndike said as the “abstract”. Hence, teachers should be able to integrate knowledge about the different theories in intelligence in pedagogy and content so that it caters to different learners. After all, the role is to teach learners how to adapt to a new or changing environment and to make a change in society, and that doesn’t come through high grades or scores alone — they need the guidance to harness and to hone the different aspects of their intelligences so that they can help themselves, help others, and be a productive citizen.

Perhaps Wyona can give a better answer when she turns seven. Until then, I can only watch and wonder.

Touching the Future

Every day is a new learning experience when you’re a parent, particularly if you have a toddler who is raring to explore the world around her. However, this constant learning on how to parent and to be a good parent instantly becomes different when theories on learning are introduced. It is like a chain of seemingly abstract ideas connect and materialize right before your eyes and the living evidence is none other than you and the people around you.

Just this week, I was able to connect the theory of unlearned and learned behavior with my toddler’s behavior, as she exhibits both. While she is in the process of biological maturation, she is refining her coordination (walking) and motor skills (grasping) or unlearned behavior. At the same time, she has learned behavior from us and her environment: she uses non-verbal (pointing, facial expressions) and verbal communication (babbling, words) to let people know what she wants or needs. Not to mention that her keen eye for detail and curiosity help facilitate imitation. Just by observing, she is able to open containers with caps, peel off stickers, flip through pages, turn on the television, tap/swipe a phone, among many things. Just by watching how people interact, she shows the same reactions and emotions towards different stimuli and people. This makes it all the more challenging as me, the parent/learner, and my partner must also be good parent/teachers for her!

Yet moving past the observable behavioral changes caused by learning, what I consider the most important is that learning is a constant change in state, whether through the acquisition of a skill or through a new understanding of the world (Roberts, 2013). I could relate very well to the concept of surface learning and deep learning, as most of my college days were spent through selective learning and rote/memorization! However, what I learned in the classroom made an impact on my decisions and/or my behavior if it could be related to my prior experiences/knowledge; if it piqued my interests as a student; and if it was applicable or useful to me in the future. Yet what struck me the most was how much I learned outside of the four walls of the classroom: the “hidden curriculum” behind societal expectations and decorum. When I came to study in the Philippines, I had to make a big adjustment from what I was used to in Saudi Arabia (I was born and had lived there for fourteen years), from the language to behavior to social mores.

Looking back at my experience as a student and as a parent, I would like to become a teacher (both formal and informal) who is able to effectively guide her learners in achieving their maximum potential. After all, we are not blank slates or tabularasa who sit passively to absorb information, skills or knowledge. Rather, I would like to be the facilitator of learning so that my learners can make informed decisions and act with their own agency. The concepts of informal and non-formal learning appeal greatly to me (owing to my own experience in learning) and I hope to improve skills in facilitation and teaching since I have no formal experience in the classroom yet.

So for the meantime, I will continue to learn through being a parent. After all, the teachers are said to be the second parents of the children. They are given the task of making an impact on the learners and subsequently, the future of society. So as Christa McAuliffe said, “I touch the future. I teach.”

The Beginning

Welcome to this little cozy nook of mine in cyberspace!

Back in my graduate days (which was not so long ago), a dear professor by the name of Dr. Arnisson Ortega required us to submit one-page reflection papers each week to help us process our learning. He called them, “Think Pieces”. Inspired by how much this simple writing exercise has helped me learn, I created this blog to share my “think pieces” as a parent, learner, and a distance education student.

This eJourney of mine begins with my “think pieces” from two introductory courses in the Professional Teaching Certification program: EDS 103 (Theories of Learning) and EDS 111 (Principles of Teaching).

Insights are always welcome. Happy reading and learning, fellow learner/netizen!