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CDSM E-learning Learning Pedagogy

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.

Take Me To Part 3 >

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CDSM E-learning Insights Learning Pedagogy

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’.

Take Me To Part 2 >

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