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In education, people face important decisions regarding the education of their children that affect their lives. The members of diverse groups evaluate these decisions in different ways. These issues are filtered through the screens of divergent experiences, group histories, educational problems, and present situations (Thomas et.al., 2005). So far Nepalese context is considered, the nation is undergoing social, political, economic and cultural changes. Such progressive changes demand improvement in instructional design and delivery approaches. Similarly, advances in technology have also dramatically changed the learning and teaching process and have provided new learning opportunities and access to educational resources beyond those traditionally available (Seimers, 2007). The debates over which direction the society should go in education are not likely to be meaningful or even mutually intelligible without some understanding of the complex learning needs of socio-culturally and linguistically diverse learners in Nepal today. Can the present educational system successfully meet the growing needs of socio-culturally and linguistically diverse students? Because of traditional teacher centered approach, students may not understand what the teacher is trying to convey to them.
On the other hand, according to Shih et al. (1998), identifying learners' learning styles help educators to understand how information is perceived and processed in different ways. A key to motivating learners to become involved in the learning process lies in understanding and using learning style preferences which can positively or negatively influence a learner's performance (Blackmore, 1996). Edyburn (1997) observed that technology integration involves the purposeful selection and implementation of technology tools for the single purpose of enhancing instruction.
This brings to mind an enduring question of educational research: To what extent do individual differences affect the efficacy of learning? These individual differences present a profound challenge to learning designers. Research has shown that the quality of learning materials can be enhanced if the material is designed taking learners' individual learning styles into account (Riding & Grimley, 1999). It is also believed that adjusting teaching materials to meet the needs a variety of learning styles benefits all students (Agogino & Hsi, 1995).
Draude and Brace (1999) confirmed that there is substantial increase of using instructional technology in school education over the past few years. Computer technology provides educators and learners with lots of opportunities to transform the teaching and learning process by the adoption of a wide range of features, from the most common and simple uses to the most sophisticated. Advances in technology have also dramatically changed the learning and teaching process and provided new learning opportunities and access to educational resources beyond those traditionally available in Nepal. Nepal Government is currently looking at the reform in education through the use of information and communication technology (ICT) specifically with regard to the role of collaboration between the public, the private and donor sectors (OLPC, 2006). In this regard, Shrestha (2007) observed the following:
The introduction of ICT in Nepal, particularly in the educational institutions, has created new possibilities for learners and teachers to engage in new ways of information selection, gathering, storing and analysis (pp167).
In order to integrate and take optimal advantage of ICT capabilities, educational institutions need to solve a number of problems. The lack of theoretical frameworks in the development and implementation of a particular tool or approach (Milheim & Martin, 1991) and learning packages produced without pedagogical foundation (Greening, 1998) or sound instructional design principles (Siragusa, 2000) are examples of such problems. Additionally, Stones (2004) sounds a warning that if educators lack training in learning about and learning with modern technology, these become white elephants. Nobody has the skills or confidence to use them.
Science content alone can create significant barriers for all students and they may not understand what the teacher is trying to convey to them. Adding a language barrier to that in an English medium classroom, the students may have a difficult time interpreting what the teacher is teaching. However, it might be possible to help students understand science in English language by providing constructivist-based instruction (Paparozzi, 1998). Therefore, this study attempted to investigate the impact of constructivist teaching on students' ability to understand science in English medium science classrooms. Constructivist-based teaching might prepare teachers to help students understand science.
Many researchers in science education, educational psychology, and instructional technology accept constructivism as description of human cognition often associated with pedagogic approaches that promote active learning by doing (Santrok, 2001). In this approach guided by the teacher, students construct their knowledge actively through engagement in the learning process rather than just unconsciously ingesting knowledge from the teacher or from the textbook. The major areas to be focused are content covered, process under which students think and learn, and learning strategies used by teachers (Mestre, 1991).
Constructivist researchers (Santrok, 2001) have claimed that information and technology could facilitate in implementing constructivist learning approaches. Constructivist teachers pose questions and problems, and then guide students to help them find their own answers. They use many techniques in the teaching learning process. They may prompt students to formulate their own questions (inquiry), allow multiple interpretations and expressions of learning (multiple intelligences), and encourage group work and the use of peers as resources (collaborative learning). Constructivist approach borrows from many other learning practices such as behaviorist approach, cognitivist approach, etc. in the pursuit of its primary goal: helping students learn how to learn.
At the secondary level, science teachers have integrated classrooms, and the teacher must develop teaching strategies to help all students understand science. Neither all students have language barriers, nor every student struggles with science curriculum nor are students with empty vessels. In order to find that connection between learners and learning activities, a teacher needs to incorporate a style of learning preferences that relates to each and every student in the classroom.
Mestre (1991) argues science education in school needs restructuring. The issues that must be addressed are complicated. Basic or short-term solutions are not likely to succeed because teachers must upgrade their science knowledge in three important content areas: science content, how students think and learn, and learning strategies. All three areas should be addressed together (Mestre, 1991). As the size of student population increases, there are varieties of ways teachers can meet the educational needs in English medium science classrooms. Instruction should provide students the opportunity to interact with other students, interact with the content, learn to understand the viewpoint of others, think critically, test and question ideas, and form their own points of views (Miramontes, 1997). Constructivist-based teaching encourages these instructional approaches. Every child interprets content in a different way. They may have special needs, language barriers, social distractions and issues inside and outside the school. Each student, therefore, needs the opportunity to construct his or her own ideas.
Many different perspectives exist on constructivist pedagogical principles and on how to apply them to learning design. It is thus not only difficult to evaluate the conformity of existing learning systems with constructivist principles but also quite hard to ensure that a new learning system being designed ultimately facilitate and stimulate constructivist learning. The researcher was interested to pursue the models developed on the basis of constructivism describing how people learn, and how to design the constructivist learning environments with special reference to science education.
The Statement of the Problem
Academicians and practitioners are addressing the theories of learning and instruction with the aim of understanding learning. Increased understanding of learning should, in turn, enhance the capability to design instruction and lead to more effective instructional practice. An extensive body of literature exists on theories of learning and the design of instructional resources and learning environments. Modern technology and self learning materials have not yet been integrated with the design and development of the science curriculum for secondary level students. The learning styles have been neither identified nor accommodated within the framework of instructional design based on constructivist learning perspective. There is, therefore, a need for the analysis of the current thinking in cognitive learning theory, learning style preferences and learning design theory from the perspective of constructivism to facilitate the task of
identifying learning style preferences and the learning resource preferences,
designing instruction and learning environments for learning science,
investigating existing systems from the viewpoint of constructivism, and
learning more about the implication of constructivism in different dimensions of pedagogic processes with reference to Nepal.
The statement of the problem was devised to govern the total research study. The statement was stated as - how can a concise framework of learning be designed and developed that accommodates learning style principles, constructivist perspectives on learning, and learning design principles?
Objectives of the Study
The prime objective of the study was to analyze the current thinking of constructivist perspective of learning theory, learning style principles, learning design theory and practice, so as to
explore existing environments, operational modalities, learning products and events of current classroom learning designs,
suggest classroom learning design framework relevant to the present context of the learning systems in Nepal, and
derive the implications of constructivist learning approach to educational setting.
Learning styles of the students have been neither identified nor accommodated within the framework of learning design based on constructivism as a learning perspective.
Within this context, the following research questions guided the inquiry:
How is the constructivist learning theories and the instructional design principles incorporated in classroom instruction of Nepalese schools?
In the context of an extensive literature survey of learning theories, approaches and models for the design and practice of learning, the following were investigated:
What attributes consist in the current learning theories and learning design?
How has the current learning design practices been put into operation?
What evidences are there that the current learning designs include constructivist approach?
What experiential learning style preferences are prevalent in current classroom learning environments that correspond to learning design?
Based on learning style principles to comprise the experiential learning style preferences, in what ways and to what extent, are they found to be perceived and manifested in learning events that is, how has learning style preference been perceived by teachers and students for learning and instructional design?
In the current context, what framework of learning design would be relevant in the classroom instructional systems of Nepal?
Having selected theoretical and practical elements to comprise the framework of learning design as a tool, how does the learning and instruction reveal about the elements of the framework?
What relationships occur in between the constructivist principles, learning design and experiential learning style principles that account for a framework?
What are the implications of constructivist approach in formulating educational policies, curriculum development, classroom instruction, teacher training and learning assessment systems?
Significance of the Study
The large body of literature on current learning and instructional theories from the cognitive family can be overwhelming to designers and practitioners of instruction. The framework of learning design that has been generated in this study, suggest an interrelated set of cognitive learning theories and learning design approaches to serve as an aid in the design, development and investigation of learning events and environments.
Little evidence has been found in the literature about the impact of different learning styles and constructivist learning principles on the design of technology backed process of learning. The first contribution of this research study is in that regard. Secondly, the study seeks to make a contribution to the field of science education, in the design and development of technology based learning materials, and the assessment and evaluation of those learning materials.
This study supports designers and practitioners in the field of facilitating effective learning. It contributes to an understanding the constructivist perspective of learning and instructional theories, and inform practice on their relationship to the design, development and delivery of instructions and learning environments. The set of criteria and framework for learning design can be used to devise and evaluate learning conditions easily in different instructional situations like traditional instruction, technology based instruction, and open learning. It can be reused for the other facets of constructivism.
This study has explored the field to select, integrate, and extend knowledge on constructivist perspective of learning theories. It helps to obtain further knowledge about constructivist perspective of learning theories and characteristics in practice. The ultimate significance is thus to help designing constructivist and adaptive learning environment for similar contexts within the broader Nepalese context.
Scopes/ Limitations of the Study
Before the development of this study, the researcher had set out the researcher's various limitations on the field. They included -
the view in this study of learning design and learning systems which were based on constructivist perspective,
the domain of the study and its literature resources that were related particularly to current learning theories and approaches to the design of instruction, as well as contemporary learning practices,
the view of learning style preference focusing on experiential learning which is based on Kolb's Learning Style Inventory (KLSI),
the view of technology which were limited to computer technology, computers in their roles as presentation and practice tools, communication and productivity tools. Other technologies like television, video, radio, satellite, and cellular/digital telephones were excluded, and
Delimitations of the Study
The study primarily represents the thinking of the past 17 years, in particular, resources that published since the major debate on constructivism commenced in 1991. Behaviorist tendencies dominated instruction till the influence of cognitive psychology in the 1980s, and this in turn was followed by the advent of constructivism. The realm of current thinking in cognitive-based learning theory, learning design theory, and effective practice was a broad and inter-related field, which the researcher had to delimit, since it was difficult to cover all relevant sources. Within the cognitive family, the researcher positioned constructivism at one extreme as an experiential form of the cognitive science and pragmatic instructionism at the other. The literature survey was delimited to a selection of classical works on the various instructional paradigms and philosophies of learning. The main context of literature was instruction and learning that use technology and locally available resources.
Operational Definitions of the Key Terms
The terms used in this report are generally accepted, traditional meanings in the domain of instruction and instructional design. These terms set the background for this study and form the context out of which the newer approaches like constructivist learning environments exist.
Instructional Design Theory: it is design oriented focusing on how to attain goals for learning rather than description oriented focusing on the effects of given events. It identifies methods of instruction - the ways to support and facilitate human learning and development, and situations in which those methods should and should not be used.
Learning Theory: It describes how learning occurs but do not identify or prescribe methods for promoting learning. By contrast, instructional design theories are applied in practice and are theories that identify methods for use in practical situations as well as comprise methods and situations and also relates to events external to learners rather than describing what takes place within learners when learning occurs.
Learning Design: It comprises prescriptive instructional design theories and models which set out methods for developing instruction, along with the conditions under which each should be used to produce a desired learning outcome. It is a technology for the development of learning experiences and environments which promote the acquisition of specific knowledge and skill by student. The classical model of design and development of instruction incorporates evaluation - both formative evaluation within workplace and summative evaluation on the final product.
Learning Design Process: It is what a teacher or designer does to plan and prepare for the instruction, also called learning systems development. Learning Systems Development is a set of procedures for systematically designing and developing learning materials learning systems development process to represent the actual process and procedures of designing instruction which are closely related to underlying theories.
Instruction: It involves guiding students to appropriate learning activities, helping them to construct appropriate knowledge, encode, and process information, monitoring student performance, providing feedback to their learning activities and practice. It is an organized set of methods, materials, and assessments designed to promote competence in defined outcomes (Dick, 1991).
Learning Events: The learning events considered in this research are technology based practice environment, open learning environment, problem based learning and a field work project which are based on researcher's close involvement with each intervention.
The compacted and integrated framework of learning design and learning theory generated in this study is not the prescription. It is a framework suggesting an interrelated set of constructivist learning theories, learning style principles, and instructional design approaches to serve as an aid in the design, development and investigation of learning events and environments. The integrated framework comprises synthesis of theoretical concepts of constructivism, learning style and learning design in current learning system followed by constructivist learning design intervention within the experiential learning style preferences. The figure presented below illustrates the conceptual framework of the present study.
The framework consists of the three major components of the research strategy. The first component explains about the analysis of the learning theories, instructional design theories and learning style principles. The second component of the conceptual frame incorporated the existing practice of learning design, constructivist learning design and learning style preferences. The third component of the research frame analyzed the practice of learning design in classrooms of Nepalese schools including Technology Based Interactive Practice Environment (TBIPE), Open Learning Environment (OLE), Problem Based Learning (PBL) and Project Based Learning Environment (PBLE). Figure 1.1 illustrates the composite framework of the research study including reflection/ findings for the restructuring of the Classroom Learning Design.
Figure 1.1: Conceptual Framework of the Study
The reflections and findings about the practice of consructivist learning after the intervention of TBIPE, OLE, PBL and PBLE would assist to restructure the classroom learning design framework.
Organization of Report
The thesis report has been developed in seven chapters. The first chapter deals with the introduction of the thematic study. The second chapter concerns with literature study including learning and instructional theory, and instructional systems design in practice. This section also explains synthesis of instructional theories and systems from the perspective of constructivism. The research methodology has been mentioned in the third chapter including study milieu selection, information collection techniques, design experimentation and instrumentation. The fourth chapter deals with the physical setting of the research milieu, the data analysis and the findings on the basis of study results describing how the secondary level learner learn science. Similarly the chapter five describes the learning styles of the learners perceiving learning design and constructing knowledge. Chapter six focuses on the discussion of the findings deriving the congruencies within learning design framework. The final chapter seven presents summary, conclusion, and implication on the basis of the study results. Table 1.1 provides the precise summary of the organization of the study report.
Organization of the Research Report
Brief introduction of thematic study of the research
Extensive literature surveys including
Section I: Theoretical perspectives on Learning and Instruction,
Section II: Learning focused paradigm of instructional theory,
Section III: Constructivist epistemology of science education,
Section IV: Learning Styles
Section V: Evidences from the contemporary related research studies
Section VI: Synthesis towards an integrated theoretical framework
Research Methodology including study milieu selection, methods of information collection, techniques of data analysis and validation
How Secondary Level Learners Learn Science
Learning from own styles: Perceiving learning design and constructing knowledge
The Congruencies within learning design framework
Summary, New Grounded Settings, Contribution of the Research, and Implications on the basis of the study results
The main purpose of this chapter was to build up a case of Nepal to show the significance of the present study to assess the guidelines and frameworks of the instructional design from the perspective of constructivism of cognitive domain of learning. A statement of the problem was devised to facilitate the research study. The statement of the problem was diffused into a set of three major research questions for the detailed analysis of learning design based on constructivism. Significance, assumptions, limitations and delimitations of the study were presented before the presentation of the operational definitions of key terms and the organization of the study.
The next chapter presents the selected literature review related to the principles and practices of learning design and learning theories from the perspective of constructivism and experiential learning style principles.