L&D Best Practices

Learning must occur in an ecosystem where each individual can both learn and teach

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Learning ecosystem

Traditional formal learning environments have long placed an expert on a podium, who in turn tend to consider learners as sponges needing to absorb his/her expertise. It is no surprise then that e-learning has traditionally reproduced this trend, pushing content to learners who view modules and then are quizzed to measure knowledge retention.

However, this primarily top-down learning philosophy can create a lack of motivation from the learner. But perhaps more importantly, traditional top-down learning environment tend to neglect the specificity and importance of context in learning and can lack relevance to each individual’s diverse needs.

The constructivist response to this problem relies precisely on context and learner-centricity to create learning experiences, in which learners form or construct much of what they learn and understand as a function of their experiences in situation (Schunk 2000). For Duffy and Cunningham, learning is seen as an active process of constructing rather than acquiring knowledge. When looked at through a constructivist lens, the role of video evolves from a traditional ‘presentational paradigm’ whose goal is primarily to transmit knowledge to a tool that opens up a whole new range of strategies that engage the learner in the construction of their own knowledge (Burden & Atkinson 2011). The emphasis thus turns away from the instructor and the content, and towards the learner (Gamoran, Secada, & Marrett 1998).

In order to generate such constructivist experiences, instructors have to adapt to the role of facilitators and not teachers (Bauersfeld 1995) with increased importance of mentoring in the process of learning (Archee and Duin 1995; Brown et al. 1989). In addition, the learning environment should also be designed to support and challenge the learner’s thinking (Di Vesta, 1987). The “teacher” becomes a facilitator who is in continuous dialogue with the learners (Rhodes & Bellamy 1999), who should also be able to adapt the learning experience ‘in mid-air’ by taking the initiative to steer the learning experience to where the learners want to create value.

However, learning does not only occur from an expert or mentor: the power to learn from others is also an essential force in constructivism. The world is complex, and the ability to take into account various viewpoints is crucial to gain knowledge and skills. As such, learners with different skills and backgrounds should collaborate in tasks and discussions to arrive at a shared understanding of the truth in a specific field (Duffy and Jonassen 1992). In addition, contemporary organizations often struggle to retain knowledge when staff leave or retire, as traditional Learning & Development programs are often piloted as top-down initiatives. Social constructivism provides a welcome response that allows learners them to more easily share knowledge with others and become teachers themselves. Learners should be given ownership of the problem and solution process as the critical goal is to support the learner in becoming an effective thinker. This can be achieved by assuming multiple roles, such as consultant and coach. In such situations, cooperative learning allows people within a cohort to alternate roles as teacher and learner (Krych, March, Bryan, Peake, Wojciech, & Carmichael 2005). The utilization of Reciprocal Peer Teaching (RPT) has been effective in the development of teamwork, leadership, and communication skills in addition to improving learners’ understanding of course content.

Technology, according to Jonassen, Peck, and Wilson (1999), refers to the designs and environments that engage learners. The focus of both constructivism and technology are then on the creation of learning environments. Likewise, Hannfin and Hill (2002) depict these learning environments as contexts: in which knowledge-building tools (affordances) and the means to create and manipulate artifacts of understanding are provided, not one in which concepts are explicitly taught… a place where learners work together and support each other as they use a variety of tools and learning resources in their pursuit of learning goals and problem-solving activities.

Knowledge then, should not be divided into different subjects or compartments, but should be discovered as an integrated whole (McMahon 1997; Di Vesta 1987). It is important for instructors to realize that although a curriculum may be set down for them, it inevitably becomes shaped by them into something personal that reflects their own belief systems, their thoughts and feelings about both the content of their instruction and their learners.