dan lasota's masters in education portfolio for online innovation and design


Philosophy of Learning and Teaching

3 June 2012

The idea of teachers and learners had me thinking about our first assignment in online pedagogy. The assignment was to reflect upon the phrase “experts negotiate the learning space differently from novices” (Benander, 2009). The point of that assignment was to think about varying skills associated with being a learner and how a teacher can sometimes be out of touch with the struggles that learners face. Another important aspect of that reading assignment was contemplating the idea that once one becomes an expert learner in one subject, he has a huge advantage in learning other knowledge areas as well.

Expert Learning

Learning about pedagogy as I did in this class has changed my outlook on being a learner. In addition to listening to the direct message of future lessons, in any subject, I’ll also be recognizing and evaluating the methods of instructional delivery and assessment. I’ll wonder why things are being done a certain way, and why not another? This kind of metacognitive thinking about education will stick with me and allow me to augment my own education. If I’m not getting enough material from some manner of delivery, I’ll get it in another way.

Minimalism and Prioritization

My thoughts on instructional design at this point are to look at the entire course and rethink the purpose of the component parts. Put it all in a crucible and put the fiery question of Will this help students meet the course objectives? to the contents. Within the parameters of the situational factors at hand the only things left in that crucible would be those activities that advance student learning.

Learning Theories as Models

I think it is extremely helpful to be fluent with a wide range of learning theories. From my perspective these ideas are more like models. A model is a representation of a system that helps explain current conditions and predict outcomes in that system. Some models work in certain environments better than others. If the situation is changed another model may very well be more apt for the circumstances. If one is fluent in a wide range of learning theories then a wider set of learning theory best practices is available for use in the given situation. It’s been my intent to learn which kind of learning environments and learning activities (and learners) are best modeled by which particular learning theory.

Below are some examples of different learning activities that are best modeled by different learning theories:

  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation: behaviorism – especially as it relates to the proper physical activities, posture and actions
  • TSA airport screener training: cognitivism – trainees are taught to internally process and recognize hundreds of images per minute and remember correct procedures for any one of several scenarios of dealing with potential threats
  • Summer interns at an institution: constructivism – the modern day equivalent of journeyman (in software engineering fields) spend time at government labs or companies working on small projects acclimatizing to team work, regular schedules, the business environment, etc. The interns are assigned increasingly more complex tasks with less direct oversight as they gain more confidence and skills.
  • Political Science majors take a class in lobbying: connectivism – much of the topical learning of subject matter takes place studying legal, business and Federal register journal databases. Critical knowledge is obtained through personal connections on a day to day basis. Knowledge of issues important to one person (node) may be a tradable commodity which can garner more knowledge from a different person in the same social network.

Differentiated Learning Activities

When faced with a diverse group of students its often best to meet them cognitively where they are and help them learn new content, assisting them along the way. (Vygotsky would agree). The key to this line of thinking and Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development is that you must engage learners in that region that is neither too difficult or to easy. In each case the learner will lose interest in the learning activity. If a course is designed with differentiated learning exercises, students will be able to find activities that are in their ZPD. A course can be designed with differentiated activities in an overt manner so students can select one or more different activities in the fulfillment of an assignment, or singular more open ended (divergent) assignments can be part of the lesson.

Formative Assessments

I am strongly in favor of allowing students to learn from all assessment activities. Whenever possible I think that time should be built into the course to allow students to resubmit work and exam material.

The challenge is to find a balance between providing a wide range of new learning opportunities for students and enabling them to complete the feedback loop enough times for them to gain the confidence that their achievements are secure and can really demonstrate the desired outcomes (Boud, 2000, p. 158).

Of course there is always some challenge in course design, but determining a philosophy and thus an outcome is the first step towards creating this balance in learning activities and assessment cycles.

Philosophy Reassessment

I feel like continual testing of my ideas against real world outcomes is a good way to see if my philosophy of teaching and learning continues to be adequate if not helpful. I want to keep learning new ideas on pedagogy and various subject matter. I want to see what my colleagues and industry are using for new tools. I want to have some idea what is cutting edge and what is just over the tech horizon. I think the best way to maintain quality course design is be adaptive to new environments, student and institutional demands and continue to be a learner myself.


Benander, R. (2009). Experiential learning in the scholarship of teaching and learning, Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 9(2), 36–41.

Boud, D. (2000). Sustainable assessment: Rethinking assessment for the learning society. Studies in Continuing Education, 22(2), 151-167. doi:10.1080/0158037995017731

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