Learner-centered learning and blogging
- Memorial University of Newfoundland
2 Learning-centered learning
Learner-centered learning advocates a student-focused teaching and learning environment (Bosch et al., 2008). Developed by the American Psychological Association in the 1990s, the learner-centered framework is based on 14 principles about learners and learning that “provide an integrated perspective on factors influencing learning for all learners” (McCombs, 2005, p.5). The 14 principles are grouped into four domains or dimensions as follows;
- cognitive and metacognitive;
- motivational and affective;
- developmental and social;
- individual differences (APA, 1997, Learner Centered Psychological Principles section, ¶2).
McCombs,(2005) proposes that the learner-centered framework implies active involvement by the student in addition to the integration of academics within the student’s total development. She argues that this view of learner-centered learning “is a research-validated paradigm shift that transforms education - including how to best use technology to support the new vision” (p.7).
3 Social software and blogging
Social software can potentially support this vision, as Bryant (2006) explains, by providing new ways for students to collaborate in communicate, both in class and around the world (p.61). Social software tools are “increasingly a part of the fabric of an e-learning environment” (Dron, 2006, Introduction section, ¶1). McLoughlin and Lee (2008), found that social software tools facilitate user-controlled, peer-to-peer knowledge creation, and network-based enquiry (p. 19). With respect to social software, these authors also found that by working cooperatively and sharing ideas, communities can be much more productive than individuals working in isolation (p.10). Blogging is among the most popular of the social software tools (Bryant, 2006, p.61).
4 Blogging and learner-centeredness
The first principle in the learner-centered framework addresses the nature of the learning process. It states that learning is most effective “when it is an intentional process of constructing meaning from information and experience” (APA, 1997, Cognitive and Metacognitive Factors section, ¶1). As Farmer (2008) argues, using blogging as an educational tool assists in the process of learning by vitally contributing to a re-conceptualization of students as critical, collaborative, and creative participants in the social construction of knowledge (Literature Review section, ¶3). Personal reflections are also a vital part of blogs. As the first principle suggests, constructing meaning from the learner's own beliefs and experiences is an essential part of the learner-centered framework. As Oravec (2003)explains, constructing meaning through one's own experiences provides a “human-scale perspective on the problem of information acquisition and analysis” (The Growing Value of Simplicity section, ¶4).
A central theme of the APA’s learner-centered framework is that students should be active participants in their own learning. This theme is most specifically reiterated in the third principle, the construction of knowledge. “The successful learner can link new information with existing knowledge in meaningful ways” (APA, 1997, Cognitive and Metacognitive Factors section, ¶3). This principal is supported by blogging in that keeping a blog requires students to actively construct meaning and organize their thoughts (Du & Wagner, 2007, p.4). Also, blogging allows them to build their knowledge over time (Godwin-Jones, 2005, p.13). Blogging can help motivate students to write and do research over an extended period of time (as well as share their efforts), and can give them a platform from which to analyze various Internet materials (Oravec, 2003, Introduction section, ¶2).
As the sixth principle of learner-centered learning states, “Technologies and instructional practices must be appropriate for learners' level of prior knowledge, cognitive abilities, and their learning and thinking strategies” (APA, 1997, Cognitive and Metacognitive Factors section, ¶6). The fact that, as Godwin-Jones (2005) observed, blogging requires no knowledge of HTML (or web-authoring in general) means that blogging can potentially be appropriate for students regardless of their technology level. Additionally, content in a blog is usually fairly short. Therefore, as Mosel (2005) argues, blogs can be more focused than longer, more complex articles because “small units of knowledge are much easier to discuss and deconstruct on a peer-to-peer basis” (Personal Publishing section, ¶ 4). For both teacher and student, blogs have great potential to be accessible, affordable and learner-centered (McGee & Diaz, 2005, p.31).
The eighth principle of learner-centeredness concerns the learner’s intrinsic motivation to learn. Intrinsic motivation is facilitated by tasks that learners perceive as interesting and personally relevant and meaningful (APA, 1997, Motivational and Affective Factors, ¶4). Blogs can motivate by increasing student interest and ownership in learning. Kadjer and Bull (2004) assert that blogs have led to a resurgence in journaling, through their accessibility, their audience, and their immediacy (p.33). As Farmer (2008) argues, the use of blogging helps restore a vital sense of individual empowerment and valorization, lost in many other tools such as discussion boards and wikis where the focus is often on the abstract shared communication space rather than the individual (p.127). Blogs, Farmer asserts, foster 'centered communication' in which the individual is recognized and valued as part of a more equitable community of empowered learners (p. 129). Likewise, Glogoff (2005) notes that because learners are able to advance their own perspectives and experiences, they make an investment in what they post to their blogs (Blogging as an E-learning Tool section, ¶4).
E-learning advocates have long argued that the pedagogical impact of technology goes beyond the delivery of information and lies instead in the power to create collaborative, learner-centered educational spaces (Dietering,2005, Introduction section, ¶ 1). Blogging facilitates collaboration as both learners and educators can comment on each others’ blogs, or collectively contribute to a shared blog, and acknowledges the important attributes of learners as individuals and as a group ([ Glogoff, 2005, Blogging as an E-learning Tool section, ¶ 3). The collaborative aspect of blogging relates to the eleventh principle of the learner-centered framework which states that “Learning is influenced by social interactions, interpersonal relations, and communication with others” (APA, 1997, Developmental and Social Factors, ¶2). This principle also emphasizes that learning can be enhanced when the learner has an opportunity to interact and to collaborate with others on instructional tasks. Conversation and discourse foster collaboration and support social negotiation in learning (Dickey, 2004, p.281). Dietering (2005) describes blogs as a “middle space” between fully online and traditional courses. This “middle space” encourages student-to-student interaction, provides a dynamic context for dialogue and feedback, and is particularly exciting in its potential for teaching with writing (Introduction section, ¶ 1). Additionally, through blogging, students may feel more confident about contributing, and establishing stronger relationships with other students and faculty through dialogue and feedback (Godwin-Jones, 2003, p.12), and, as a result, developing their understanding of class material collaboratively and collectively.
Blogs offer educators promising opportunities to employ an adaptive instructional approach, and to facilitate student-centered active learning through continuous practice and reinforcement (Du & Wagner, 2007, p.12). All learning must include strategies that support diverse learner needs and perspectives, provide time for critical reflection, and opportunities for teachers to co-create practices with their students that enhance learning, motivation and achievement (McCombs, 2005, p.7). As McCombs (2005) states, "When power is shared by students and teachers, teaching technologies are a means to an end rather than an end in themselves” (p.5).
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