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Learning Theory and Its Implications for the Theory and Practice of Instructional Design Paradigm Shift in Instructional Learning Theory


Because of the global changes transforming every aspect of life there is a need to transform traditional instruction into learner-centered instruction. This requires a re-thinking of the roles played by the teacher and the students in the learning process which involves a major change in one's basic assumption on how people learn.

According to Chickering and Gamson (1987 p. 3) "learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much by just sitting in a class listening to teachers memorizing prepackaged assignments and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, related it to past experiences, apply it to their lives."

Research on cognition reveals that students who reflect on their learning are better learners than those who do not (Cross, 1996, p.6). Classes in which students are expected to receive information passively rather than participating actively, will probably not be as effective in encouraging students to think reflectively (King and Kitchener, 1994, p. 239).

Learning is best described as knowledge construction and meaning through a process of gleaning information while interacting with the teachers, the instructional materials they peruse, their classmates and schoolmates.

Shifting instruction from the perspective of the learner instead of from the perspective of the instructor is what we term learner-centered instruction. Instructors now focus on what the students need to learn in the course rather than on what we need to cover in the course.

Instead of asking ourselves as instructors how we will teach the topic, we now ask ourselves what the students need to do and what cognitive and technical support they will need to learn the topic.

The shift is toward the "Learner-centered paradigm" of instruction away from the "teacher centered paradigm." Knowledge is constructed by the students themselves through gathering and synthesizing information and integrating it with the skills such as inquiry, communication, and critical and creative thinking.

The emphasis is on effectively using and communicating knowledge to address problems identical to those learners will undergo in real life.

What the instructor needs to do is to coach and facilitate and then both students and teacher assess and evaluate the learning performance together. Here teaching and assessment are entertained. We employ assessment to analyze learning problems and promote continuous learning while at the same time evaluating learning outcomes. In the process, asking better phrased questions are emphasized and the students learn from their mistakes. The culture fostered is cooperative and the students benefit from the learning process.

In the teacher-center paradigm, knowledge is acknowledged as transmitted from instructors to students in a manner by which what the teacher says is automatically internalized and learned by the students.

Emphasis is placed on the acquisition of knowledge (very often done by memorizing information) outside the context.

The instructor's role is primarily giver of information and assessor of performance.

Teaching and learning are separate and assessment is utilized for purposes of evaluating outcomes.

Only right answers are emphasized. (There is only one right answer).

Most of all, the learning culture is competitive.

Given these differences between roles of teachers and students, pre-service and in-service professional development will necessary need to be revamped to suit the new instructional needs of the times, to adjust to the new and possibly more complicated learning situations and the infusion of revised instructional materials and tools of instruction.

Design and Implementation of Learner-Centered Instruction

Ways and means of designing and implementing learner-centered instruction are legion. The learning environment is colossal, learning situations arise which need to be addressed and assimilated but it is the student-learner who is the main actor.

Learners do not "absorb" meaning rather, they "construct" it. The meaning that they construct depends not only upon the knowledge and experience they bring to the learning situation but also upon the way they interact with the subject matter during the learning process. The learning activities designed for the instruction are as vitally important as the content that is the focus of learning.

Knowledge acquired in situations that do not resemble real life situations are passive and insert and hold virtually little practical value. In learner-centered instruction, learning activities mimic real life situations and consist of complicated situations which are capable of more than one possible viable solution.

Learning in the new paradigm is socially mediated, meanings are established, decisions are made, norms are defined through social interpretation and negotiation. Peers discuss meanings of research results even in scientific activities. Learner-centered instruction gives importance to multiple perspectives and offers students varied ideas and new insights are proffered by teachers and experts as well as peers. The circle of knowledge and information grows wider as more ideas are incorporated into the sphere. Moreover, the paradigm shift is also a shift towards the needs of individual students.

Redesigning instruction towards the student-learner orientation and focus suggests that the key challenge in the implementation of a learning-driven system is a complete overhaul or reform of the entire structure including the measurement of units of learning based on knowledge instead of time spent in class, reconceptualization of instruction beyond the traditional classroom model, the redirection of administration away from matters or items of resources and reputation and toward issues of students success and attainment of goals and the redefining of the very ideas of efficiency and production themselves in higher education from cost per hour of instruction to cost per unit of learning.

According to supporters, the paradigm shift in instruction includes promoting instructional and computer technology. They too are advocates of reform and are aware how these innovations play an integral role in the curriculum and instruction under the new learning paradigm. Even those in the private technology industry realize the vast implications that the learning paradigm would play in the incorporation of innovations in instructional technologies. Industry and college associations are being forced into partnership to be able to address the issue of technological change as learning catalyst (Johnson & Lobello, 1996). With the continued effort to promote reforms and since colleges see the need to change their methods of instruction and learning, it is most likely that new approaches to teaching and learning will see successful implementation. (A Paradigm Shift from Instruction to Learning, ERIC Digest)

There is a paucity of information in learning psychology. Nevertheless theories have been formulated to guide the design of instruction and inevitably the world's learning experience.

We need to strongly support the instructional design theory because of its synthesizing goal. It is a sense-making effort that is integrative in nature, bringing together support from researches conducted, innovation in practice and integrating them with core perceptions regarding the nature of learning and the psychology of motivation. This is basically a highly creative process. The great challenge confronting instructional design is that it shows the characteristics of fullness; comprehensiveness (coverage of all domains-cognitive, psychomotor and affective: thinking, doing and feeling) all these integrated. There is also the element of abstractness (which means encompassing all processes); utility (its practical usefulness and effectiveness; validity (based on psychology). All these seem to be the outlines of a dream but it is a doable dream - an inspiration that will guide the process of theorizing and challenging the minds of those in the field with theoretical learnings.

Learning and instruction are scientifically viable and tractable and therefore capable of attainment. They are described in terms beyond human stances regarding educational values. This belief is fundamental in the hope for a complete theory of instructional design, that is why it is capable of fulfillment.

How can these provocative consequences of specified perspectives help matters in the instructional field? Theorists hope they may help in defining more clearly what we may be dealing with in instruction. For example, translating curricula decisions from instructional designs gives it a different slant. Reframing motivation within a content perspective rather than an artificial process helps in redefining instruction to a certain extent and so with instructional design. The biggest challenge is how to define learning - this is the core of the huge problem of instructional redesign.

The new paradigm of Instructional Theory brings to the fore other major issues which need to be aired if only to emphasize its importance.

According to Reigeluth, the new paradigm of instructional theory focuses on customized learning that fosters learner empowerment, initiative, and responsibility, as well as teamwork, thinking skills, metacognitive skills and diversity.

Instructional theories, Reigeluth continues, in a variety of different areas - not only in the cognitive domain when we need theories fostering understanding, building higher order thinking skills, developing metacognitive skills, designing problem-based and interdisciplinary or thematic learning environments and tailoring instructional guidance to specific content area echosyncracies but also in the affective domain where guidance is called for to develop what Daniel Goleman calls "emotional intelligence" and what Thomas Lickona terms "character education" as well as how to develop attitudes and values and…[continue]

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