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A Note about Teaching and Learning

What teaching and learning functions can the WWW provide for what educational setups? Before we answer that question let's have a closer look at ``learning'' and ``teaching'':

What is learning? In short:

  1. One learns by doing something (psychology)

  2. One learns by pursuing an instructional goal (education)

For the Psychologist, learning is a complex phenomenon AND there are several types of learning. Learning needs external ``conditioning'' (behaviorism); it is related to active problem solving; it involves integration, construction and compilation of new content (cognitivism) is constrained by human cognitive capacities (e.g. how much hypertext can we handle?). There are several kinds of learning: e.g. Factual information, Concepts, Reasoning, Procedures, Problem Solving,...) One does not learn by browsing, we need a variety of learning tasks, not just exploration (see [Kearsley et al., 1993]).

Teaching can be characterized by 2 aspects:

(1) Teaching ``setups'': e.g. Distance Teaching, Open Learning, Semi-Distance Teaching, Traditional Class room teaching, etc. Each of those setups needs different instructional strategies and tactics.

(2) Instructional processes that can be looked at from many points of view. Let's have a short look at normative instructional design theory: What is the optimal sequencing of course-ware and how is it related to various types of learning? Gagné suggests nine universal steps of instruction (cf. [Gagné, 1985] or [Aronson et Briggs, 1983]) which should be found in any instructional context:

  1. Gain attention: e.g. present a good problem, a new situation, use a multimedia advertisement.

  2. Describe the goal: e.g. describe the goal of a lesson (task,...), state what students will be able to accomplish and how they will be able to use the knowledge, give a demonstration if appropriate.

  3. Stimulate recall of prior knowledge: e.g. remind the student of prior knowledge relevant to the current lesson (facts, rules, procedures or skills). Show how knowledge is connected, provide the student with a framework that helps learning and remembering. Tests can be included.

  4. Present the material to be learned: e.g. text, graphics, simulations, figures, pictures, sound, etc. e.g. follow a consistent presentation style, chunking of information (avoid memory overload, recall information)

  5. Provide guidance for learning: e.g. presentation of content is different from instructions on how to learn. Should be simpler and easier than content. Use of different channel.

  6. Elicit performance: ``practice'', let the learner do something with the newly acquired behavior, practice skills or apply knowledge

  7. Provide informative feedback: show correctness of the trainee's response, analyze learner's behavior (or let him do it), maybe present a good (step-by-step) solution of the problem

  8. Assess performance: test, if the lesson has been learned. Also give information on general progress

  9. Enhance retention and transfer: inform the learner about similar problem situations, provide additional practice. Put the learner in a transfer situation. Maybe let the learner review the lesson.

Instructional Design Theory provides a detailed prescription on how to organize teaching and learning at the global (curricula), lesson and task level. Most work is also grounded in some learning theory. The practical use of those approaches (despite or maybe because their level of detail) is often debated. Some argument against reading much instructional design theory is that a good teacher with good practice intuitively knows and uses things like Gagné's steps. Most people agree that instruction needs principles, however some researchers feel that instructional theory should not just be grounded in learning theory but BE applied learning theory and implement optimal learning conditions according to what we know about learning. This is the way most research in Advanced Learning Systems operates.

next up previous contents
Next: The Learning and Up: The World-Wide Web in Previous: Technical Aspects of

Daniel K. Schneider
Mon Jun 12 18:25:21 MET DST 1995