EDIT 535: Learning Approach Review

By: Jared Goruk - March 13, 2006

Well, I must admit that it was a little surprising to know that the course I am taking was modeled on an entirely new learning theory, but after reading Dr. Harapniuk’s paper on Inquisitivism, the structure and design of this course makes sense to me now, and I can appreciate it further.  The spell-check on my word processor is still red-flagging the very word itself, highlighting the paper’s conclusion that the approach still requires more formal study before it will completely enter into the mainstream world of learning theorems.  The Inquisitivist approach is essentially an adaptation of minimalism and constructivism (already covered by the spell-check), which further maintains that the removal of fear towards learning, along with the development of an inquisitive attitude are paramount, thereby setting it apart from its theoretical relatives.  The approach was created as a means of providing effective web-based instruction to adult students on how to understand and harness the power of the Internet, making another unique feature of the approach its focus towards adults rather than children.  This becomes quite evident in Inquisitivism’s hidden assumption that children already possess the inclination to learn through inquisitive discovery and that this capacity generally becomes lost as we mature and pass out of that “discovery phase” in our lives.  As Harapniuk explains, under the inquisitivist approach “adults can be encouraged to learn in a similar fashion that children learn.”  Furthermore, the paper asserts that Inquisitivism is relevant to technology-related and web-based courses “because technology is dynamic and is rapidly changing, forcing learners to continually adapt to these changes.”   Acknowledging the constructivist validation that knowledge is constructed and not merely transmitted, Dr. Harapniuk describes how the approach was defined and then further refined through the “Nethowto” course here at the University of Alberta, the graduate version of which I am currently taking.  As a result, this course has become very learner-centred and openly encourages the students to define and engage in their own approaches towards meeting the course outcomes.  Yet another feature which separates the Inquisitivist approach from its minimalist forebearer is the acknowledgement of the importance, as well as making an active attempt, to reincorporate the social aspect of learning into the course design.  Thus, part of the final Nethowto grade is determined through online class participation using the “Discussions” feature of WebCT Vista along with the instructor and the other students in the class.  Aside from those aforementioned distinctions, there also are many similarities between inquisitivism and minimalism, which include “getting started fast” (eliminating those unnecessary prefaces that add nothing to the course experience), “discovery learning” (allowing self-directed learning strategies), the support of error recognition and recovery, and it also makes use of “Real World” assignments that have relevant applications to the student’s professional interests.  By engaging in a research study that used both students taking the inquisitivist-based Nethowto course and a control group of students taking the course using more traditional (“face-to-face”) learning methods, Harapniuk was able to conclude that some of the evidence gathered from the utilization of the Inquisitivist approach demonstrates it was much more effective in promoting success in Web-based courses, both through an analysis of the final project grades (a 16% increase) and also by monitoring levels of student satisfaction (which remained essentially equal).

It’s funny, because much of my own personal success in learning and (sometimes) mastering technological applications is itself largely rooted in my ability to employ the “HMMM… What does this button do?” approach to computers and software when I was growing up.  Having the advantage of growing up at the same time as Windows 3.x, then 95, 98, and ME, allowed me the benefit of learning both early-PC conventions (DOS, the 80x86 chip set, the C language), as well as newer methods (Windows XP, HTML, XML (eventually), Visual C++, and so forth).  Therefore, I certainly cannot reject the Inquisitivist approach as an excellent means of transmitting technological knowledge and skills to less-than-savvy adult learners who likely had the misfortune of growing up before PC’s became fashionable, (which ironically happened only after the release of the Mac).  The approach seems to fit very well, especially when it is placed in the context of its target audience (inexperienced adult learners), although it may or may not be effective with the newer, and more technologically-oriented generations of students who will have undergone their own inquisitive explorations of technology at much younger ages.  Still, I am always in favour of more constructivism in the classroom, and inquisitivism gets the thumbs-up from this educator.  As for adapting a minimalist/inquisitivist approach “across the board” in public education, I already do feel that high-school study (grades 9+) needs to have a lot more focus on a student’s individual strengths and interests, and needs to have more real-world application.  I fully believe that secondary-level students should have more control not only of the learning processes they employ, but also of the material and concepts themselves, so that they can fit them within their own personal interests and talents.  Furthermore, I feel this approach is especially relevant for those students who are not academically proficient, and are not very likely to pursue higher levels of academic study.  If inquisitive approaches can be adapted towards making teenagers more effective learners, and also be able to provide them with useful and relevant skills, then I am all for it.  To be frank about it, why should we force a student to struggle in interpreting Shakespeare, when they plan to learn how to be a heavy-duty mechanic?  In my opinion, our public education system has a fundamental responsibility to fulfill the academic desires of the students themselves, as well as what those students wish to accomplish as they become adult citizens.  Instead of making our schools a “prison” in the eyes of many teenagers, they could instead become places which foster one’s inquisitive nature and personal creativity.  Constructivist-based minimalist and inquisitivist approaches do seem to be important factors in creating the kind of public education system that I envision, and therefore I find any such approaches to be excellent learning theories, and not just for adult web-based instruction.  However, as Harapniuk himself stresses, broader research will still need to be conducted before any solid conclusions can be reached about inquisitivism and the true extent of its effectiveness on all learners.  The full analysis is not yet complete.

Factors:

Behaviourism

Inquisitivism

 

 

 

 

Role of the Teacher

· Focus on the observable and the recordable behaviours.

· Focus on the environmental factors that are in play.

· Set the goals and standards for learning, along with the means to satisfy them.

· Become a facilitator for learning, focusing on the development of skills in students for acquiring and processing knowledge.

· Allow students to have control over the environmental factors and their own learning goals.

 

 

 

Role of the Student

· Passive absorption of the lesson material and knowledge.

· Regurgitation of the information learned in the form it was presented in.  Receive benefits or punishments based on that regurgitation.

· Active control of how to meet the prescribed goals.

· The creation of projects which put into focus the application of the information being learned.

 

 

Fundamental Assumptions

· Mental functioning in of itself is hidden and should be ignored.

· Behaviour is lawful, determined, and can modeled through conditioning.

· Fear and other barriers to learning are important and must first be eased or removed.

· A child-like inquisitive nature for discovery can be instilled in learners of all aGEs.

 

 

 

Primary Methods for the Transmission of Knowledge

· A “lecture” or other teacher-centred approach.

· Presentation of knowledge that is presumed to be static in its existence.

· Well-sequenced and incremental learning structures, each with clearly articulated and set goals. Teachers direct all learning and transmission of knowledge.

· A modular approach with more generalized goals and outcomes for each part of the course.

· Discussion forums that involve not just the instructor, but also all the other students to disseminate knowledge and understanding to each other.

· No set order in which to learn the material, students choose the direction that they want to learn.

 

 

 

Types of Activities Done to Reinforce Understanding

· Feedback/reward assignments, crafted solely by the teacher.

· Examinations designed to test the accumulated knowledge on the particular concept.

· “Regurgitation” activities that do not necessarily promote higher-order learning outcomes.

· Real-world assignments and projects that students can tie into their own interests or professional development.

· Activities encourage discovery learning, error recognition and recovery, and always use “the system” to learn “the system.”

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