October 4, 2010

Learning and Knowledge in the 21st Century

Chapter 3: Learning and Knowledge in the Twenty-first Century

To be completely honest, I thought the article was just short of a textbook. I remember reading about different perspectives of educational psychology in another course, and much of the article was information that could have been left out. A few of the topics deviated from (what I understood to be) the original thesis of the article, which was about how technology is changing learning and teaching in this day and age.

I enjoyed the introduction of the article because it compared different beliefs and views on learning from very different time periods, while relating back to the theme of technology. It seemed as if educators of the late 19th century were preparing their students for the specific jobs they thought they would have. Whereas now, students seem to be more well-rounded. In the past, school was seen as a means to an end, but now, school is seen as preparation for more learning in the future. One thing that prepares young learners today is that they really do learn how to learn with technology. Views on learning nowadays emphasize cognitive processes like critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making over lower arithmetic and computational skills.

A few big questions did come across my mind while I was reading about this. At what point do we draw the line? Students don't need to be able to take the cube root or write the prime factorization of very large numbers anymore, so why should they need to be able to compute the limit of a rational function or find the general solution of a first order non-linear differential equation? At what point do we say, “That's enough, the calculator can do the rest.”? Why are we, as educators, so selective about what we decide students ‘should’ know?

Aside from discussing the differences due to technology of learning beliefs across time, the article also discussed different perspectives on learning. The Behavioral perspective (Skinner) focuses on external, observable responses. Drill and practice are reinforcements for learning, and educational technology can be highly effective (unless it is excessive or premature, etc.). Behaviorists state that learning is sequential and hierarchical, such as an axiomatic system.

Cognitive psychologists (Piaget) accept that learning is a result of adaptation motivated by disequilibrium. Learners apply existing schema to change what they know about new information, but also alter existing schema to fit new information. This push-and-pull balance of assimilation and accommodation is required when transferring from disequilibrium to equilibrium, thus satisfying the learner's drive. Cognitivists also support scaffolding, which requires teachers to guide and assist learners. Through scaffolding, teachers can determine what type of help to offer and when and how to offer it. Discourse is encouraged so that teachers will be able to recognize students' Zones of Proximal Development, the zone in which the transfer from disequilibrium to equilibrium is most effective, and keep them right in that zone to maximize learning. Before the ZPD, students are unchallenged and bored, while after the ZPD, students are intimidated and discouraged.

Constructivists say that teachers should create complex and realistic learning environments, encourage social interaction and communication, present multiple and diverse perspectives and representations, and facilitate student ownership in learning. Researchers today are emphasizing learning environments that take a mix of all three perspectives. Instruction should be student-centered, multisensory and multimedia-involved, collaborative as well as competitive, active and exploratory, critical, logical, and both theoretical as well as practical.


  • Niess, M. L., Lee, J. K., & Kajder, S. B. (). Guiding learning with technology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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