What Is Learner-Centered?

Originally posted by Rochelle Diogenes on Acrobatiq.

While there doesn’t seem to be one definition for the student or learner-centered approach in higher education, Barbara McCombs, author of two books on learner-centered teaching, provides a comprehensive definition including three features (in italics) discussed below:

The core of the LCM [Learner-Centered Model] is that all instructional decisions begin with knowing who the learners are – individually and collectively.

Instructors need to take into account who they are teaching. Each student comes to class with their own past—academically and experientially. They also come with their own goals. Not everyone will succeed in the same way and with the same type of instruction. Personalized learning data is key to understanding and supporting this aspect of the student-centered approach. Instructors can obtain this data by analyzing each student’s work and engaging with them.

Courseware that incorporates personalized learning (see previous post, One Size Fits All…Not) makes this process easier and more productive. The data that instructors obtain from courseware helps instructors reach individuals and the class as a whole in real time. This allows instructors to use their time in a more focused way to move the whole class forward.

This [the first tenet] is followed by thoroughly understanding learning and how best to support learning for all people in the system.

Approaches to student-centered learning are innovative, and varied. They usually fall into these categories:

  • Activity-based learning such as discovery exercises, exchange of ideas (in person or online), simulations, problem-based learning, and project-based learning
  • Choice such as students choosing assignments, when and where they study, how they want to approach a topic, and deadlines
  • Collaboration such as team-based learning and peer exchanges
  • Real-world challenges such as problem-solving and community outreach
  • Metacognition such as transparency of progress and learning pathways, reflection on learning, and self-motivation

Quality courseware includes most if not all of these types of support for learner-centered programs.

Decisions about what practices should be in place at the school and classroom levels depend upon what we want learners to know and be able to do.

Learning outcomes based on instructor-determined teaching goals are integral to the success of student-centered learning. The student-centered approach changes but doesn’t eliminate the role of the instructor in the learning equation. While the instructor’s role is no longer mainly about transferring knowledge, it’s still about determining what students should learn and how they learn it.

At the institutional level, faculty coming together on how to implement the student-centered approach strengthens the success potential of the approach. Creating learning outcomes across departments and connected to institutional outcomes is important. Faculty have also begun to value using personalized courseware that works across subject matter areas so that students are engaged in a consistent method of learning.

What we see as innovative for instructors is also innovative for students, particularly those in higher education today who are used to more traditional methods of learning. The more practice learners get at student-centered learning, the more impactful the approach will be. And that applies to those implementing it as well.

#edtech #learner-centered

Cell Phones, a New Form of Birth Control?

In the informative Coursera MOOC on social marketing that I’m presently taking, a number of stats were thrown at us. My favorite: “More people own a mobile device than a toothbrush.”

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I’m not going to accept this kind of statement at face value (see previous blog, Or Would You Rather Be a Fish?). So I had to dig deeper to find out if it’s true.

60 Second Marketer Nicole Hall traced the origins and accuracy of this statistic in 2011. She looked at statistics on subscriptions to cell phone services and deduced the number of mobile phones owned worldwide.

Then Hall unpacked the statistic from Oral-B that yearly global toothbrush sales were about $5 billion. She concluded that, yes, “more people own a mobile phone on the planet than own a toothbrush.”

Jumping on this conclusion, I was all ready to discuss the oral hygiene of mobile phone users without toothbushes—poor oral hygiene leads to rotting teeth, leads to less romantic relationships, leads to less sex and less children. Could mobile phones be a new form of birth control? (Is that so much more far-fetched than many of the dire predictions people are making about the impact of mobile phones?)

But, my friend Lindsay reminded me that not everyone uses a plastic toothbrush to ward off tooth decay. As a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia, she observed Ethiopians using roots or twigs to clean their teeth. Apparently, I was thinking about this in a culturally biased way. Shame on me.

So I had to find out how the rest of the world takes care of their oral health. Not only do Ethiopians and their West African neighbors brush with and chew twigs to clean their teeth and freshen their breath, but according to researchers these twigs are very effective at fighting bacteria.

Protection from gum disease and other ailments is associated with the use of chewing sticks from the Neem tree in India and twigs called Miswaks that have been used by Muslims for centuries. (You can buy Neem toothpaste and Miswaks on Amazon.) In other words, most people in the world are brushing their teeth.

Now that data is part of our everyday lives and shaping our lives online, we need to be very careful about how we interpret it. Comparing unrelated variables is particularly tricky. Despite Hall’s excellent research, the statement should be: More people own a mobile device than a Western style toothbrush. Putting it that way makes it less intriguing and even more trivial.

For those of you who are thinking about how mobile phones are changing our lives and the potential impact of social marketing, here are a couple of examples of more relevant comparison data:

More than 50% of US adults aged 18-44 have cellphones rather than telephone landlines in their homes.

Americans now spend more time accessing digital media on mobile devices than they do on desktop or laptop computers.

Now these stats are worth thinking about next time you brush your teeth.

Thumbs Up for Blended Learning

Originally posted by Rochelle Diogenes on Acrobatiq.

Blended or hybrid learning has come a long way from its original concept of brick (classroom) and click (e-learning) in 1999. Just using some media with students doesn’t make it a blended approach anymore.

Now, blended learning is usually described as the integration of adaptive courseware yielding learning analytics and face-to-face learning situations such as class lecture, tutoring, or discussion groups to advance learning. Penn State professor Ike Shibley advocates for blended learning:

“When you see how well blended learning fits with established pedagogical paradigms, creating a synergistic blend of what works best in face-to-face and online, the question becomes why wouldn’t you want to at least try it?”

Maybe because we still have to dispel some myths about blended learning:

Myth#1 Blended learning isn’t as good as traditional approaches.

On the contrary, research confirms that blended learning is more effective than on-line learning alone or class learning without technology. A 2010 US Department of Education meta-analysis of 84 studies  (79 with higher education or adult learners) concluded that blended learning is much more effective in achieving learning outcomes than face-to-face instruction alone.

Myth #2 Blended learning requires less faculty.

Not true. The 2010 study cited above found that students using courseware received more “learning time and instructional elements” than those who didn’t use courseware.

When instructors use courseware learning analytics on individual and group progress to inform teaching, they spend less time in front of the classroom, but they spend more time in targeted communication with students.

This aspect of quality blended learning became clear in a recent pilot program with courseware in math at New Jersey’s Essex Community College.

In the one-year pilot, less students passed in the blended course than in the traditional course. Lack of legitimate faculty involvement was cited as one of the major contributing factors to the pilot’s shortcomings. Essex CC thought they could just use graduate students to teach segments of the blended course. According to Douglas Walcerz, a  program consultant, “We underestimated the skill that you would need as a teacher to deliver that content.”

Myth #3 Blended learning creates more ongoing work for instructors.

As happens with most changes, startup takes time. Once instructors take the plunge, however, teaching a blended course is no more time-consuming than teaching a traditional course.

How much time it takes to make the transformation also depends on which approach you take. Instructors who create all of their online materials will do the most work.

That’s why in her insightful post, Blended Learning on the Ground: Advice from College Educators, Jennifer Spohrer advises against starting from scratch. She suggests instructors new to blended learning “stand on the shoulders of giants” and use pretested online products from education technology companies as the foundation for their courses.

Finally, there are added benefits to blended learning (see previous blog, What’s a Seventeen-Year-Old to Do?) including those articulated by learning and development professionals in a 2013 survey:

 …it’s critical to foster lasting learning. It helps ideas stick and creates an air of accountability that is critical to learner success.” “Blended solutions deliver customization and focus on individual needs which traditional methods just can’t match.

MOOCs and Innovation

Originally posted by Rochelle Diogenes on Acrobatiq.

Last week, MIT announced they’re making Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) part of their admissions process–candidates for their one-year Supply Chain Management master’s program will enhance their chances of acceptance into the program if they successfully complete relevant MOOCs before application. If they are accepted into the program, they will get credit for their online work and only have to complete one semester on campus to get their degree.

Why is this exciting? Like adaptive courseware, MOOCs are fairly new. The University of Manitoba’s Stephen Downes and George Siemens built the first online course called a MOOC in 2008 to see just how learning might be accomplished using the internet. Since then there’s been a lot of speculation about how MOOCs fit into the broad spectrum of education.

Initially, many hailed MOOCs as the wave of the future. Others saw them as a disruptive, revolutionary force that would replace colleges. When early reports showed that retention or course completion in MOOCs was less than 10%, many education stakeholders breathed a sigh of relief—MOOCs would not replace or even really compete with institutions of higher education.

Others, like Koller, Ng, Do and Chen in Retention and Intention in Massive Open Online Courses: In Depth aren’t ready to write off MOOCs. Retention should be understood in context. MOOCs have large enrollments, many with over 100,000 students. Where 10% would be a ridiculously low retention rate for a college class of 100, for a MOOC, 10% represents more students than some faculty reach in a decade. Koller et al. suggest we change the way we evaluate MOOCs:

…one can relate the act of enrolling in a free online class to that of checking out a book from a public library…Some people might read a few chapters of a nonfiction book and stop after getting enough information to suit their needs. Others might read more deliberately and renew the book a few times before finishing. In both cases, few would consider the lack of completion or the extra time taken to be a waste or a failure of the book.

MIT’s new policy is also asking us to look at MOOCs in a different way–as a “test” for admission. The shortcomings of standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT are well-known. Wouldn’t seeing how a student learns in an online program be a more accurate picture of their abilities? And completing relevant learning activities would give students a taste of what’s to come, helping them make more informed decisions about how they want to further their education.

MIT’s policy, which could be the first step towards unseating a decades-old admissions policy in all areas, is a reminder that we are far from harnessing the full power of digital learning programs. Because the major shareholders–students, faculty, institutions, and education technology companies–are learning by doing, we can’t even foresee all of the possibilities.

If we’re open-minded rather than judgmental about innovations, if we’re willing to take some risks and even fail at points in the process without ditching the whole framework, we’ll make great strides in education.

One Size Fits All…Not

Originally posted by Rochelle Diogenes on Acrobatiq.

Adaptive learning is a key strategy in higher education today (see previous blog, What’s A Seventeen-Year-Old to Do?). Research shows that online courseware based on personal learning data has increased success for diverse students. It’s clear that in education one “size” does not fit all.

While this research and practice has made an impression on me, others continue to debate the pros and cons of tailoring programs to individual learner needs.  Looking for more confirmation, I found a study that underscores the need for a non-uniform approach from a source outside of education.

A recent BuzzFeed article, This Is What “One Size Fits All” Actually Looks Like on All Body Types, describes the results of a test on consumer reaction to the trend towards replacing delineated sizing such as 10, 12, 18, with clothing in one size that companies advertise will fit everyone or as one company says, “most.’

In Buzzfeed’s experiment, they asked five young women, sized 0-18, to try on samples of the same outfit produced as “one size” to compare how they fit. BuzzFeed showed their results through photos and the participants’ comments.

The outcomes of the fittings in terms of physical appearance could be anticipated. A skirt only fit on one leg of half the women. One shirt looked like a dress on others. Clearly, to fit physically, the clothes had to be altered to individual characteristics.

What was surprising was the women’s comments on how the general experience affected them psychologically. It wasn’t just about how they looked. They all talked about how the experience made them feel. I took the liberty of substituting education phrases in a representative response [original wording appears in brackets]:

Allison [size 0]: “There’s clearly no such thing as one size fits all! Everyone has a different way of learning [shape], and higher education [clothing stores] should embrace that instead of making people feel shitty for not being able to succeed [fit] following what they deem to be a universal learning pathway [size]. ‘One size fits all’ sends a message that if you don’t  learn successfully in their programs,[fit into the clothing], whether it’s too advanced [big] or too slow-paced [small], you’re not ‘normal,’ and leads to all sorts of feelings of [body] dissatisfaction with how smart you are and how successful you can be.” 

Kind of eerie that the message for clothing and education can be the same. Yes, education is more complicated; you can’t look in a mirror to see how a course fits you, but over time you will feel the psychological effects of the right or wrong fit in a course.

Which brings us back to why we should continue to move towards adaptive and personalized learning online and in the classroom: these strategies put learning in a context that supports all students without stigmatizing them for starting at different levels or coming from diverse backgrounds. And, a positive environment motivates learning.

As Lara [size 4/6] says: “We’re all different, so the idea of ‘one size’ for all of us is just absurd. Different minds [bodies], unite!”