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CDSM E-learning Insights Learning Pedagogy Software

E-Learning Design Part 6: CDSM’s Active Learning Model™

Throughout this series on e-learning design, we have looked at some of the learning theories that help to form the method and practice behind our award-winning e-learning. This is known as our ‘pedagogy’. In this final post in the series, we’re going to reveal how we ensure that sound theory is turned into exemplary practice, by giving you an insight into the formula we use for producing successful e-learning content for our customers – a formula we call our Active Learning Model™

What is CDSM’s Active Learning Model™?

CDSM’s Active Learning Model™

CDSM is a commercial e-learning company. This means that we are one of a number of national brands that claim expertise and excellence in designing and developing e-learning courses. So it’s important for us to distinguish our skills, expertise and service from other providers in the marketplace. One of the ways we do this is through the use of CDSM’s Active Learning Model™ – our formula for producing successful e-learning content derived from many years of professional teaching and learning experience.

At CDSM, we draw from a wide range of classical learning and contemporary memory theories – as varied as behaviourism, constructivism and social constructivism. With fundamentally differing views on how people learn, no one would blame you for assuming that these theories are mutually exclusive. However, in order to achieve the best-fit pedagogic approach, we carefully select the bits that work and can be practically applied for the relevant context, always using the best strategies to help people embed and recall knowledge or skills. We also consider learning styles and how we can cater for different learners, constructing an experience that will interest and challenge each and every user.

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How CDSM’s Active Learning Model™ Works for Everyone

Making sure that e-learning suits the circumstances of the end user it is intended for is very important if an e-learning course is to be a success. That’s why our Active Learning Model™ subscribes to leading thought on user experience, accessibility and usability, and why we spurn off-the-shelf products in favour of bespoke solutions that exactly fit our customers’ needs.  

Let’s take Bloom’s taxonomy as an example of a theory we utilise differently depending on circumstances. Learners working entirely independently may benefit from structured outcomes using Bloom’s taxonomy (i.e. outcomes that indicate precisely what is expected of them). In instances where this is the case, we may focus on outcomes that ensure that learners are able to understand and retain knowledge. However, for learners who benefit from having the scaffolding provided by a teacher, trainer or a community of peers, we may advise flipping Bloom’s, loosening the outcomes and offering a solution that enables learners to discover, create and share knowledge.

In order to ensure that our Active Learning Model™ achieves the results required, we give careful consideration to the nature and frequency of activities and assessments, choosing effective formative activities that help learners to check their own progress as they work their way through a unit of study. We also employ summative assessments at the end of a section or unit of study that others can use to assess learners’ achievements.

CDSM’s Active Learning Model™

The Future of CDSM’s Active Learning Model™

Our Active Learning Model™ has been expertly constructed, but it is not something that we consider to be sealed shut. It is a model that is interested and open to new ideas, research and fresh impetus from learning professionals from all over the world. Whatever solution we agree on, rest assured that we’ve considered the options and will deliver e-learning that not only engages your learners, but that responds to everyone’s needs based on our extensive knowledge and experience.

If you’ve enjoyed this series on e-learning design, or if you want to open a discussion about any of the points raised, then please do not hesitate to get in touch with us via our website, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or Google+. We’d love to hear from you. And to make sure you don’t miss out on further news, blog posts and insights from CDSM, follow us and subscribe.

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CDSM E-learning Insights Learning Pedagogy Software

E-Learning Design Part 5: Learning through Creating (Blooms 21)

At CDSM, we draw on a range of theories – from the past and the present – to form the method and practice behind our award-winning e-learning. This is known as our ‘pedagogy’. In an earlier post in this series (E-Learning Design Part 2: Observable and Measurable Outcomes), we looked at the influence of Bloom’s taxonomy (1956) on our e-learning. This time, we’re going to take a look at how this taxonomy can be ‘flipped’, so that learners are actively involved in knowledge construction from the outset.

What is Blooms 21?

Conceived between 1949 and 1953 by a committee of educators, the original Bloom’s taxonomy identified a number of cognitive levels at which humans can function. These levels range from the basic function of understanding and recalling new information, to the more complex function of evaluating new information and connecting it with other knowledge. They are commonly displayed as a step pyramid, with the lower-level functions located at the bottom.

step-pyramid structure - Blooms 21

The step-pyramid structure is often interpreted as suggesting that the higher-level functions can only be reached if the levels below them have been achieved, and that not all learners will be able to reach the top level. Some educators strongly disagree with this structure, most notably Shelley Wright of the Buck Institute for Education (BIE):

“The presentation of the taxonomy as a pyramid suggests that one cannot effectively begin to address higher levels of thinking until those below them have been thoroughly addressed. Consequently, Blooms becomes a ‘step pyramid’ that one must arduously try to climb with your learners. Only the most academically adept are likely to reach the pinnacle.”

– Shelley Wright

5-2-aThough this taxonomy of the cognitive domain was revised by Anderson and Krathwohl in 2001, the visual metaphor of the step pyramid was still prevalent. In 2012, Wright suggested that the revised taxonomy should be flipped on its head, so that learners begin with an introduction to a subject through creating, rather than being bombarded with facts they need to remember.

Blooms 21

We would suggest that this flipped taxonomy, also referred to as ‘Blooms 21′, is more in keeping with a constructivist approach to learning due to its emphasis on learner contribution to the building of knowledge.

How CDSM’s Users Learn Through Creating

When used in the context of learning, the word ‘creating’ often conjures up images of early-years students fingerpainting, pritt-sticking and making lopsided ceramic bowls that only a parent or guardian could love. This is because ‘creating’ (alongside words like ‘create’, ‘creative’, ‘creativity’, etc.) has come to be more associated with producing something physical – like a painting or a piece of writing – than it has with the equally correct definition of “evolving from one’s own thought or imagination.”

Like Shelly Wright, CDSM believe that learners of any age can benefit from ‘getting creative’. We particularly like activities that ask the user to contribute their own ideas – ‘starter activities’ at the beginning of a unit of study, for example, enable the user to consider an idea before being told more about it.

Starter Activities

‘Suggested response’ activities are very useful in this context too, getting users to respond to a question or idea with the opportunity to see some of our suggestions if they wish (i.e. offering scaffolding when required). Open-ended questions are also a useful device, enabling users to reflect upon what they have just learnt.

As Wright asserts, “the more churn a brain experiences, the more likely it’s going to retain information,” and so asking a learner to begin with creating is a really effective way of getting those cerebral juices flowing. Learners are engaged with the process of learning from the start and therefore, by the time they reach the end of the unit of study, are more likely to have understood, interpreted and curated the essential knowledge they need.

Next time, in the concluding part of this series on e-learning design, we’ll be introducing CDSM’s Active Learning Model™ – our trademark formula for producing successful e-learning for our customers, based on our extensive knowledge, experience and application of the learning theories we have explored throughout this series.

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E-learning Learning Pedagogy

E-Learning Design Part 4: Learning through Collaboration

At CDSM, we draw on a range of theories – from the past and the present – to form the method and practice behind our award-winning e-learning. This is known as our ‘pedagogy’. In our last post (E-Learning Design Part 3: The Learner as an Active Participant), we gave you an insight into how we use some of the essential aspects of the theory of ‘constructivism’ in our digital learning solutions. Now, let’s take a closer look at an important branch of this learning theory: Social Constructivism.

What is Social Constructivism?

As learning theories, constructivism and social constructivism have much in common. In fact, as we alluded to above, some educators see them as being one and the same. However, the difference between the two is that social constructivism places an emphasis on the collaborative nature of learning, highlighting the importance of cultural and social influences.

Social Constructivism - Learning through collaboration

Initially developed by a cognitivist named Lev Vygotsky, social constructivism sees learning as being an ‘active process’ (that is, more than just the passive absorption of new information) in which a person’s interactions with others (including peers, family, and – in a formal context – teachers or trainers) have a significant impact on their learning. These interactions – along with the influence of the learner’s cultural and social environments – shape the way that the learner’s knowledge and understanding is constructed.   

How Social Constructivism Informs CDSM’s Pedagogy

Our subscription to social constructivism is reflected in our e-learning tool set. The challenge of independent e-learning is isolation, so our learning platform technology gives its users access to a community of learners, enabling them to share, reflect and discuss using communication tools such as forums, comment threads and real-time chat facilities.

However, this doesn’t mean that content doesn’t play an important part. In the context of an online community of learners, content is presented in the form of a repository of open resources, designed to be discovered and added to by the learner through searching and sharing. They feed into the learning conversation and provide scaffolding to support new understanding of a subject.

The benefits of being part of an online community of learners are clearly seen in our platform’s ‘Networks’ function, where users can collaborate with other learners, regardless of geographical location. In Networks, users share resources and discuss their relevance and impact. They are also able to share any ‘Playlists’ they have created or found that are relevant to the Network.

Playlist

Playlists are a way for users to bring content from different sources together quickly and easily, combining them into a single piece of learning content. This is achieved through an easy-to-use search function and a simple drag and drop tool, meaning that anyone can become a curator of their own knowledge.

At CDSM, we think it’s essential to practice what you preach. That’s why the community model is one that we routinely use for our own learning and development, with many of us subscribed to multiple MOOCs (pronounced ‘mooks’) – ‘Massive Open Online Courses’ with open access and unlimited participation. To find out more about MOOCs, you might like to watch educational activist Dave Cormier’s informative video – What is a MOOC? – or perhaps even find a MOOC to join yourself using MOOC List – a complete list of Massive Open Online Courses.

In an earlier post in this series (E-Learning Design Part 2: Observable and Measurable Outcomes), we gave an overview of Bloom’s Taxonomy and its influence on our pedagogy. In our next post, we’ll take a look at how that taxonomy can be ‘flipped’, so that learners are actively involved in knowledge construction from the outset. This flipped taxonomy, also referred to as ‘Blooms 21′, is more in keeping with constructivist and social constructivist approaches to learning.

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E-Learning Design Part 3: The Learner as an Active Participant

At CDSM, we draw on a range of theories – from the past and the present – to form the method and practice behind our award-winning e-learning. This is known as our ‘pedagogy’. In our first two posts in this series, we gave you an insight into how we use some of the essential aspects of ‘behaviourism’ in our digital learning solutions. Now, we’re going to introduce you to a theory which plays an even bigger part in our thinking: Constructivism.

What Does It Mean to Be an Active Participant in Learning?

When we encounter something new, we process it by measuring it against our existing ideas and experiences. When we meet a dog in the street, for example, we very quickly recognise it as belonging to the class of objects that we identify as ‘animals’, and then further classify it as being a ‘dog’.

Constructivists believe that this is how we learn, by being an active participant in the learning process, and constructing our own understanding and knowledge of the subject matter through experience and reflection.

Constructivism

For something as simple as adding a new breed of dog to an existing class of objects, all we need to do is to tap into our existing understanding of the concept of ‘dogs’. For most people, the association between an object (the dog) and such a simple concept (‘dogs’) happens within milliseconds – but constructivists believe that the same process of using experience to construct meaning applies to all concepts, even though some more difficult concepts may take longer for the learner to evaluate and assess.    

However, although constructivism places an emphasis on learner autonomy, this doesn’t mean that learners should be simply left to their own devices. The theory also identifies the need for support in learning, something which is known as ‘scaffolding’.

To continue with the theme of classifying animals, when early European settlers – who had no prior experience of marsupials – first saw koalas in Australia, they incorrectly classified the tree-climbing animals as bears, a misnomer which is still widely used to this day. Making sure that scaffolding is in place for constructivist learning prevents incorrect conclusions from becoming accepted classifications for the learner, whilst still allowing the learner the freedom to find things out for themselves.

How CDSM’s E-Learning Creates Active Participants

As we’ve already mentioned, the constructivist method of learning encourages students to use their existing experience and ideas to create new knowledge. This might be through experimenting, thinking about what they already know and/or applying real-world skills. The key is to then have students reflect upon what they have done and how their understanding of a subject has changed.

At CDSM, our subscription to constructivist learning theory is reflected in the tools and techniques we use to create e-learning content. We particularly like activities that ask the user to contribute their own ideas – ‘starter activities’ at the beginning of a unit of study, for example, enable the user to consider an idea before being told more about it. ‘Suggested response’ activities are very useful in this context too, getting users to respond to a question or idea with the opportunity to see some of our suggestions if they wish (i.e. offering scaffolding when required). Open-ended questions are also a useful device, enabling users to reflect upon what they have just learnt.

Our learning platform technology enables users to actively engage in their learning. We have features that facilitate inquiry and discovery, such as shared spaces and a content repository. These features allow users to be active curators of their own knowledge, by letting them explore existing user-created resources, and even create and add their own.

Constructivism

We want our users to have access to a community of learners, and this is something we achieve by providing them with communication tools – such as forums and chat facilities – that promote discussion and critical thinking. These are actually innovations that lean towards a more ‘social constructivist’ way of thinking, a branch of constructivism that we’ll be covering in Part 4 of this series.

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E-Learning Design Part 2: Observable and Measurable Outcomes

At CDSM, we draw on a range of theories – from the past and the present – to form the method and practice behind our award-winning e-learning. This is known as our ‘pedagogy’. In our last post (E-Learning Design Part 1: Structure, Repetition and Reinforcement), we gave you an insight into how we use some of the essential aspects of the theory of ‘behaviourism’ in our digital learning solutions. This time, we’re going to take a closer look at the behaviourist approach of having observable and measurable outcomes, and explain why it’s an important aspect of our e-learning.

What are Observable and Measurable Outcomes?

The use of observable and measurable outcomes in learning is linked to something called ‘Bloom’s Taxonomy’. Between 1949 and 1953, a committee of educators – chaired by Benjamin Bloom – met for a series of conferences designed to improve curricula and examinations. As a result of these conferences, the committee came up with a taxonomy that classified skills from least complex to most complex.

Since the taxonomy’s first volume (Handbook I: Cognitive) was published in 1956, Bloom’s name has been synonymous with lesson planning for teachers across the world. In Handbook I, Bloom and his committee identified a number of cognitive levels at which humans can function. These range from the basic function of understanding and recalling new information, to the more complex function of evaluating new information and connecting it with other knowledge.

Bloom's Taxonomy Cognitive Domain

Bloom’s cognitive levels are commonly displayed as a step pyramid, with the lower-level functions located at the bottom. This taxonomy of the cognitive domain was revised by Anderson and Krathwohl in 2001:

Bloom's Taxonomy Cognitive Domain

The step-pyramid structure is often interpreted as suggesting that the higher-level functions can only be reached if the levels below them have been achieved, and that not all learners will be able to reach the top level. Some educators strongly disagree with this structure, especially when it is applied to Anderson and Krathwohl’s revised taxonomy. Shelley Wright of the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) goes as far to suggest that the revised taxonomy should be flipped on its head, so that learners begin with an introduction to a subject through creating, rather than being bombarded with facts they need to remember (but that’s for another blog post).

How CDSM Use Observable and Measurable Outcomes

At CDSM, we often use observable and measurable outcomes – or ‘learning outcomes’ – in our e-learning modules. These appear at the start of the module, allowing our users to recognise exactly what they should expect to learn.

Learning Outcomes

Each learning outcome begins with an ‘action verb’, indicating something that the user should be able to do once they have completed the module. Our learning outcomes use action verbs – words such as ‘evaluate’, ‘discuss’, ‘construct’ or ‘classify’ – rather than more general verbs, such as ‘understand’, which are much harder to observe or check and measure a user’s progress against.

We often use action verbs in the context of independent e-learning, where users receive little to no face-to-face interaction with a teacher, trainer or peers. We believe that independent users need a clear indication of what they will be expected to achieve from the outset, as this allows them to ensure that they have chosen the correct course and can commit to completing it. They also inform the design of the ongoing and final assessment activities that are critical to checking learners’ understanding and progress.

To find out what other theories inform our pedagogy, keep an eye out for Part 3 of this series, where we’ll be introducing ‘constructivism’ – an approach which believes the learner should be an active participant in the learning process, constructing their own understanding and knowledge of the subject matter through experience and reflection.

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E-Learning Design Part 1: Structure, Repetition and Reinforcement

In the competitive market of digital learning solutions, it’s easy for providers to fall into the trap of ignoring the sound theories of the past and only give their users a taste of the flavour of the month. Here at CDSM, however, we draw on a range of theories – from the past and the present – to form the method and practice behind our e-learning. In the coming weeks, we’ll be publishing a series of posts looking at the various learning theories that make up our ‘pedagogy’. First up: Behaviourism.

What is Behaviourism?

Have you ever heard of Pavlov’s Dogs, Skinner’s Rats or Thorndike’s Cats? All of these theorists focused on how animals learned to behave in certain ways as a result of changes to their environments.

Behaviourism

Emerging in the early part of the 20th century, behaviourism quickly became the main theory relating to how learning takes place. The theory is largely based on the results of experiments in which animals (including humans) learnt to display new behaviour patterns encouraged by repetition, reward and/or punishment.

For behaviourists, repetition is very important. John Watson, the father of behaviourism, suggested that the “more frequent a stimulus and response occur in association with each other, the stronger the habit will become.”

So how do reward and punishment reinforce behaviour, and motivate people to learn? Think back to when you were in school and the teacher set you homework. Your motivation to complete this work was probably influenced by at least one of the following:

  • To achieve a good mark or praise from the teacher
  • To avoid being shouted at by the teacher
  • To avoid receiving detention
  • To avoid having privileges taken away

These are all examples of reinforcement and punishment.

How Behaviourism Informs CDSM’s Pedagogy

Punishment is less helpful when it comes to adult learning – although it is still possible to use it effectively, you must be careful not to make your learner feel frustrated or undermined. However, reinforcement – in the form of positive feedback – can be just as rewarding for adult learners as it is for children. In our e-learning, we use reinforcement in the form of frequent feedback and praise:

Learning Assessment

Behaviourists place an emphasis on structured learning with observable and measurable outcomes, and this is something which is particularly important for users who complete e-learning in insolation. At CDSM, we add ‘signposts’ at regular intervals to help our users to find their way. These signposts take the form of learning outcomes, easily-accessible menus and section introductions. We also structure content into small, bite-sized chunks to help with this. Repetition then comes in the form of regular activities and summaries, reinforcing what the user has covered so far.

Learning Outcomes

Almost a century after it first emerged, the theory of behaviourism may seem a little ‘old school’ by today’s standards. At CDSM, we don’t believe that our users are simply empty vessels, ready to be filled to the brim with knowledge (as behaviourists do). But we also recognise that it’s important not to throw out the baby with the bathwater – which is why you’ll find some of the essential aspects of behaviourism in our pedagogy.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll take a closer look at the behaviourist approach of having observable and measurable outcomes for learning, and explain why we ask our learners to ‘identify’, ‘summarise’ or ‘recognise’, rather than to simply ‘understand’.

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