...design training programs based on appropriate learning principles and theories
Meaning and Importance of Competency
Librarianship and teaching go hand in hand. For as long as libraries have existed, librarians have been in a position to teach people how to use libraries and information resources to effectively retrieve information. This process has come to be known by the term information literacy instruction (ILI).Grassian and Kaplowitz (2009) report that the term “information literacy” was coined by Zurkowski in 1974; he described an information literate individual as “anyone who has learned to use a wide range of information sources in order to solve problems at work and in his or her daily life” (quoted in Grassian & Kaplowitz, 2009, p. 3). Some classic components of ILI include library orientation, library instruction, and bibliographic instruction. In recent decades, with the explosive growth of computing and changes in the ways we use and access information throughout society, the need for ILI in libraries has grown; ILI now encompasses instruction in basic computer skills, online searching, social networking, blogging, and even in the use of digital media hardware (such as e-readers, tablets, smart phones, and MP3 players) and software (such as OverDrive Media Console, iTunes, and Adobe Digital Editions).
Familiarity with learning principles and theories is an important component of providing effective ILI. By knowing the theories behind the practice of teaching, we can improve not only our instructional materials but also our techniques. Many teaching techniques find their basis in the various learning theories, and familiarity with a wide array of theories and techniques allows us, as teachers, to respond to our students’ unique needs and to each situation appropriately and effectively. Theories of learning have been discussed throughout the centuries, and several theories have emerged from this ongoing debate. These theories are commonly discussed within the frameworks of behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, and humanism (Learning Theories Knowledgebase, 2012, March). Grassian and Kaplowitz (2009) separate the various learning theories into three major categories or schools of thought: doing (the behaviorist model), thinking (the cognitive model—including the constructivist approach), and feeling (the humanist model) (pp. 27-39), asserting that “if we look at the theories this way, we not only have a way to organize them, but we can see what each category of theories has to contribute to the instructional endeavor” (p. 27).
Behaviorism, the oldest of the theories, falls into the doing school of thought. As a theory of learning, Grassian and Kaplowitz explain, behaviorism “[relies] on the links or associations between stimulus and response” (p. 28). The individual who is known for linking behaviorist theory and practical classroom applications is B. F. Skinner, whose “emphases on teaching to individual differences and allowing learners to progress at their own pace…have had great implications for the study of learning styles” (Grassian & Kaplowitz, 2009, pp. 28-29). Some educational applications of behaviorism include active participation, programmed instruction, modeling, and behavior modification (pp. 29-30).
Cognitivism developed at least in part as a reaction to behaviorism and its theories, which were viewed by early cognitive psychologists as “the mechanistic or simplistic view of learning” (Grassian & Kaplowitz, 2009, p. 30). This set of theories falls into the thinking school of thought. Early cognitivists focused on the ways in which people “perceive, organize, interact with, and respond to elements in their environment by determining how elements, ideas, concepts, and topics relate to one another” (p. 30). One approach which Grassian and Kaplowitz discuss within the cognitive framework is the constructivist approach: “To the constructivist … change occurs solely as a result of interactions with the environment and can happen at any age or level of development. Knowledge is not viewed as simply passing from teacher to learner; knowledge is actually constructed in the learner’s mind” (2009, p. 32). Some educational applications of cognitivism include Bruner’s discovery method, expository teaching, and advance organizers (pp. 34-36).
Finally, the humanist model of learning falls within the feeling school of thought. Humanism emphasizes the affective side of learning: “The humanist emphasized that we must teach to the whole person and stressed the importance of recognizing that our learners’ emotional, affective, or feeling states influence their educational successes” (Grassian & Kaplowitz, 2009, p. 36). What motivates people to learn is a key concern of humanist theories. Important contributors to the humanist school of thought include Maslow, Bandura, and Rogers. Some educational applications of humanism include self-directed or self-regulated learning and learner-centered teaching (Grassian & Kaplowitz, 2009, pp. 37-39).
As librarians charged with providing instruction, familiarity with these various theories and the teaching techniques they are associated with can make us more effective in facilitating learning for each and every student. Students approach learning from diverse backgrounds and viewpoints, and their preferred learning styles, mental models, and critical thinking skills can vary widely as well. In addition, many students experience anxiety and feelings of uncertainty as they approach learning about new subject areas. Therefore, the more flexible we are as instructors in drawing from the various learning theories and teaching techniques at our disposal, the more successful we and our students will be.
Preparation and Evidence
To demonstrate my ability to design training programs based on appropriate learning principles and theories, I present coursework from LIBR 250, Design and Implementation of Instructional Strategies for Information Professionals, a course I took in the online School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) at San Jose State University (SJSU). My first piece of evidence is a collection of discussion posts on learning and teaching, in which I discuss instructional design, learning styles, motivation, learning objects, different types of courses, and online learning. My second piece of evidence is a complete instructional design plan I created using a formal, iterative planning process.
First Piece of Evidence: Discussion of Learning and Instructional Design, LIBR 250
In Summer 2011, I took the course “Design and Implementation of Instructional Strategies for Information Professionals” with Diane Kovacs. The goal of the course was “for information professionals to learn how to design and develop learner-centered instruction within a library or other information organization context” (Kovacs, 2011b). Because the scope of the course included “all library types and instructional types from one-on-one tutoring to large group presentation and everything in between and online and in-person” (Kovacs, 2011b), the knowledge and skills that students gained in the course are applicable to a variety of physical and virtual settings. Using a project-based approach, students were introduced to learning theories, formal instructional design processes, the development of instructional materials and learning objects, and related concepts.
Each week, students were assigned background readings and engaged in discussion about ideas from the readings and questions posed by our instructor; we also engaged in a series of learning activities which guided us through a formal instructional design process, culminating in a complete instructional design plan. Each week’s readings were centered upon a particular topic, such as instructional design and information literacy, learning theories and learning styles, instructional strategies, planning for instructional materials and learning objects, formative evaluation, teaching in different types of libraries, and teaching and learning online. Each week’s discussion topic drew on ideas from the readings and challenged students to reflect and share our thoughts and experiences. Taken together, these six discussion posts demonstrate my understanding of appropriate learning principles and theories and how they influence the instructional design process. I am therefore submitting them here as evidence of my mastery of this competency.
In Discussion Post 1, I discuss the topic of instructional design. I acknowledge that, prior to taking LIBR 250, I had no experience using a formal instructional design process to create a unit of instruction. I go on to describe my teaching experience, which includes serving as a Teaching Assistant in an undergraduate course, working as a Peer Writing Advisor in my college writing center, and training new employees on policies and procedures in the workplace. I share the processes I followed in carrying out these instructional duties, which included meeting with and following the model of the course instructor, going through writing conference training and education, and using training tools provided by my employer. I conclude this post by articulating my own understanding of the value of instructional design, which in my view lies in “the facilitation of student learning and in students’ achievement of specific outcomes” and in “[helping] the instructor to spend his or her time more efficiently and effectively” (p. 1).
In Discussion Post 2, I discuss the topic of learning styles. The readings associated with this class discussion included several learning style inventories. For discussion, students were instructed to complete two of the inventories and report our results. We were also asked to reflect upon the accuracy of the results and how our knowledge of our own learning styles could help us as teachers and as learners. In my response, I describe my results based on the Multiple Intelligence Inventory and the NCSU Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire, concluding that while “the results of these exercises pretty accurately reflect my learning style…I think I am adept at navigating different learning environments and adapting to different instructional styles” (p. 2). I end Discussion Post 2 by discussing the ways in which thinking about my own preferred learning modes helps me as a teacher and learner: as a student, it “gives me strategies for using my study time more effectively and efficiently and…for enhancing learning,” while as a teacher, “it is valuable to realize that each individual has his or her own preferences and tendencies and that we need to make sure we try to present materials in ways that will facilitate learning for each and every student” (p. 3).
In Discussion Post 3, I discuss the topic of motivation. I begin by discussing various ways in which I myself have been motivated to learn throughout my life. Some examples include the desire to please my parents, the desire to earn more money, the desire to create, and the desire to formulate a sense of personal identity, and I provide descriptions of a few scenarios in which these various desires motivated me to learn. I assert that “any of these can be strong motivations for all sorts of learners, and depending on the context, any of them could be used to motivate learners in lieu of grading or fulfilling the requirements for a grade or a degree or a certificate” (p. 4). I conclude Discussion Post 3 by acknowledging that while marketing and promotion “can draw attention to an instructional unit and perhaps even stimulate enrollment,” self-motivation is crucial to successful learning and completion of such a unit.
In Discussion Post 4, I discuss learning objects. I begin by reflecting upon classes, workshops, training sessions, and other learning experiences where I have been the student. I describe a variety of learning objects that I have encountered in my experiences, including “Elluminate sessions, recorded lectures, written lectures, electronic journal articles, Web pages, blogs, printed texts, online tutorials, screencasts, video, discussion forums, and electronic documents” (p. 4). I describe how the materials that have most enhanced my learning have been those with interactive components, such as Elluminate sessions and discussion forums, as the interaction with other students or instructors has helped the information to take on a deeper meaning. I also describe how hands-on activities can help to enhance learning. I conclude Discussion Post 4 by generalizing the types of learning objects I prefer to learn from and describing how, as an instructor, “I would aim to provide [a] balance of static learning objects, analysis, and interaction in order to help students learn effectively” (p. 5).
In Discussion Post 5, I discuss teaching and learning in different types of libraries, responding to a series of questions posed by our course instructor in the discussion prompt. I begin by describing library instruction I received as a middle school student in the school library. Considering the usefulness and value of the experience, I assert that “this instruction was very useful to me, as it increased my information literacy and my ability to retrieve relevant information” and “made me comfortable with using library resources” (p. 6). I then consider the types of library settings in which I would be interested in working and offering instructional services. I conclude by describing the different factors that influence instructional design depending upon the setting; these include variations in entry behavior and learner characteristics and the goals of the instruction.
Finally, in Discussion Post 6, I discuss online learning and teaching. For this discussion topic, students were asked to share an article on learning and teaching in the online environment and share why we found it interesting and useful. In my post, I share an article from The Independent entitled “Going the Distance: Why Online Learning is Gaining Ground” (Moore, 2011) and discuss how the article seems “to capture some aspects of online learning which were significant factors for me when I was deciding which program to choose for pursuing my MLIS: cost, the efficiency of my personal time investment in school, and the flexibility to study from practically anywhere” (p. 7). I point out how the article’s examination of the surging popularity of online learning emphasizes the flexibility of online learning, which reinforces my own experience as an online learner. I also describe how online learning appeals to my own learning style, as “I can do my coursework according to my own schedule and…do not have to spend time driving to campus or sitting in class discussions where one student dominates while many others never have a chance to speak” (p. 7).
In this collection of discussion posts, I demonstrate understanding of and engagement with various learning principles and theories, including the value of formal instructional design, differences in learning styles and sources of motivation among individuals, the strengths and weaknesses of different types of learning objects, and similarities and differences between different instructional environments, including different types of libraries and the online realm. Not only was I able to apply the knowledge that I gained through my studies in this area to my formal instructional design plan, but I will be able to draw on it throughout my professional career. I therefore submit this collection of discussion posts as evidence of my ability to design training programs based on appropriate learning principles and theories.
Second Piece of Evidence: Instructional Design Plan, LIBR 250
The culminating project of Diane Kovacs’ LIBR 250 course on Design and Implementation of Instructional Strategies for Information Professionals in Summer 2011 was a formal instructional design plan. Students worked on the project over the course of the summer session by completing a series of learning activities, each of which consisted of a number of components of the final plan. Students turned in their work each week for instructor feedback and had the opportunity to revise the various components in an iterative process up to the end of the term.
At the outset of the course, in Learning Activity 1, students were assigned to “choose a short information literacy related skill or concept that [we] would be interested in teaching or learning about and that…could be designed in the time we [had] in the course” (Kovacs, 2011a). I proposed to do my unit of instruction on the topic of how to create and develop high quality content for a professional blog hosted on WordPress.com. Over the course of the summer session, I developed my plan by writing a brief description of the unit of instruction, developing a needs assessment statement and instructional goals statement, outlining an instructional analysis, describing entry behavior, learner characteristics and performance objectives, detailing an instructional strategy, developing instructional materials and learning objects, developing a formative evaluation component, and considering how to implement the instructional design plan.
The assignment that I submit here as evidence of my mastery of this competency, Learning Activity 7, represents the complete instructional design plan I created using the formal planning process. My plan begins with a brief description of the unit of instruction. In this section, I describe the various topics to be covered, including “how to choose a blog name, how to secure a domain on WordPress.com, how to choose a template for layout, how to customize layout, how to post content, and how to develop high quality professional content” (p. 1). I also describe the timeline for the course, its online and face-to-face components, and the means by which students will submit their work.
In the “Needs Assessment Statement” section of my plan (pp. 1-2), I describe the characteristics of potential learners, including who they are, what they already know, what they need to know, why they need to know it, and how much time they will need to learn it. The potential audience for my unit of instruction includes “adult public library patrons with an interest in using blogs to enhance their professional reputations or to promote their businesses or professional services” (p. 1). I describe how they will need basic computer skills and a “professional niche or area of expertise” (p. 1). I propose a combination of in-person and online training taking place over a two-week period to allow them to develop the necessary knowledge and skills. I also describe the kinds of materials and learning objects that already exist to support the instruction, including blogs, videos, and books. I conclude this section by addressing what type of person would be best to design and deliver the instruction: “someone who has previously created one or more successful professional blogs on WordPress.com—in other words, someone with subject matter expertise” (p. 2).
My “Instructional Goals Statement” (p. 2) addresses why potential learners need this training and what a successful outcome would look like; I also address the measures by which learning will be judged. I begin by providing context for why potential learners would be interested in such a course, arguing that blogs provide the target audience with “a means of enhancing their professional reputations, building their personal brands, establishing their authority, credibility, and expertise, and building relationships with their peers, their customers, and potential employers” (p. 2). The unit of instruction is presented as “a means of empowering people to utilize blogs to achieve their professional goals” (p. 2). I conclude this section by briefly discussing how to measure whether the goals have been achieved by the students. The criteria I propose include submission of a blog URL with “at least three published posts developed using the content development strategies presented in the course” (p. 2) and completion of an online evaluation.
The next section of my plan, the “Instructional Analysis” (pp. 2-3), outlines what is involved in teaching specific skills and concepts. My analysis focuses primarily on the technical steps involved in creating and customizing a new blog hosted on WordPress.com, including choosing and registering a blog address, selecting a theme, installing widgets, and creating and publishing a new post. The Instructional Analysis section concludes with an overview of subsequent topics related to developing high quality blog content, “including linking to authoritative sources, using images, generating discussion in the comments, developing a readership, etc.” (p. 3).
The “Entry Behavior and Learner Characteristics” section of my plan (p. 3) addresses the question of how to evaluate whether potential learners have the minimal level of knowledge and skills needed to begin my unit of instruction. Potential learners are assumed to possess basic computer and Internet skills and “a professional niche or area of expertise, which will allow them to focus their blog content on a particular topic or relatively narrow range of topics” (p. 3). The means by which I propose to evaluate their possession of the minimal level of knowledge and skills needed is the requirement that they self-enroll in the course online, succinctly stating their professional niche or area of expertise.
The “Performance Objectives” section of my plan (p. 3) addresses the question of what learners will be expected to do and how they will demonstrate that they have met the instructional goals. I provide several specific and measurable tasks that they will need to complete within specified timeframes. These include blog registration and introductory posting at the initial in-person session, additional posting in the two weeks following the in-person session, submission of the blog URL via email at the end of the two-week period, and completion of an online formative evaluation.
The “Instructional Strategy” section of my plan (pp. 3-5) covers five topics: 1) preinstructional activities, 2) information presentation, 3) learner participation, 4) testing/assessment, and 5) follow-through activities. The preinstructional activities section reiterates some earlier points about motivation, objectives, and entry behaviors in terms of the instructional design and delivery. The information presentation section reiterates the instructional analysis. In some instructional design plans, the instructional analysis may require revision in light of later decisions, but in my case, I found no need for revision, so it is repeated here without changes. The learner participation section addresses the questions of what learners will do and how they will participate in the instruction. I describe both the in-person and online components of my proposed unit, explaining how learners will attend the in-person course in a computer lab, working at their own stations throughout the session and interacting with the instructor and with other students, and how they will “have the opportunity to participate in an online discussion forum and synchronous online class meeting during the two-week period following the in-person class meeting” (p. 5). The means I propose for testing/assessment are simple: “by the end of the two-hour in-person class meeting, learners will be expected to show that they have registered a blog on WordPress.com and posted an introductory post” (p. 5). The follow-through activities I describe include publishing additional blog posts in the two weeks following the in-person meeting, sending a blog link via email to the course instructor, and completing an online formative evaluation. I explain that “an indicator of successful learning will be the ongoing maintenance and development of the learners’ blogs in the future” (p. 5).
The next section of my instructional design plan covers the topic of “Developing Instructional Materials or Learning Objects” (pp. 5-6). I reiterate that the course will include both in-person and online components and I discuss the specific materials or learning objects I will develop or utilize. For the in-person component of the course, materials include computer screenshots and screencasts, Web-based activities, online readings, videos, sample blogs, tutorials, and printed handouts. For the online component of the course, materials include an online discussion forum and a non-mandatory, synchronous online class meeting.
In the next section of my instructional design plan, I consider “Formative Evaluation” (p. 6). I address how I will deliver the evaluation, the questions I will ask, and how I will respond to the formative evaluation outcomes. I propose delivering the evaluation via a Web form and asking questions related to student expectations, learning, usefulness of knowledge gained, the quality of instruction and instructor feedback, the quality and usefulness of instructional materials, and course delivery mechanisms; I also propose providing students with “the opportunity to provide any additional feedback that they wish” (p. 6). I describe possible modifications or revisions to the course that could result from the feedback gained through the formative evaluation.
My instructional design plan concludes with the section, “How I Will Implement My Instructional Design Plan” (pp. 6-7). I address implementation from both an ideal and a practical standpoint. I describe how in an ideal situation, I would implement my instructional design plan exactly as I have described it, in a public library setting and incorporating both classroom-based and online components. I assert that this implementation would be ideal because “learners would have face-to-face interaction with the instructor during the period of initial blog set-up, allowing them to ask questions and receive immediate feedback, and would also receive ongoing support as they complete subsequent activities that draw on the knowledge and skills gained during the in-person meeting” (p. 6). I go on to acknowledge that in reality, due to practical considerations around budget, technology, and facilities, “many public libraries may not be able to offer the instruction as outlined in my plan” (p. 6). I describe several factors, such as inability to secure an appropriate instructor, the lack of a computer lab in which to hold the face-to-face class meeting, and possible lack of demand from the user community for such a course, which may prevent a public library from implementing such a course. I conclude by suggesting that the course might be offered instead “through a local business or professional association or in a continuing education program through a community college or university” (p. 7).
For this assignment, I received a perfect score. Because my instructional design plan was created using a formal, iterative process that was informed by my studies and ideas about instructional design and information literacy, learning theories and learning styles, instructional strategies, planning for instructional materials and learning objects, formative evaluation, and teaching in different settings, it demonstrates my ability to design training programs based on appropriate learning principles and theories. I therefore submit it as evidence of my mastery of this competency.
When I first began working in libraries as an entry-level paraprofessional in 2001, my view of what libraries and librarians do was very limited. While I myself had benefited from library instruction throughout my public school education and even as an undergraduate, I had yet to learn the term “information literacy instruction” or realize how much time, effort, planning, and personal commitment librarians invest in teaching their users about how to effectively find and use information. As I progressed through the SLIS program and learned more about this area of our field, I began to understand the connections between librarianship and teaching. And in recent months, since being promoted into a role in which I provide one-on-one computer instruction and basic reference services, the role of instruction in libraries has become a central focus for me. I know that I still have much to learn about being effective as a teacher and designer of instruction, but I know that I now have a strong foundation to build upon. I look forward to learning and gaining more experience in this area in my future career as a library professional.
Grassian, E. S., & Kaplowitz, J. R. (2009). Information literacy instruction: Theory and practice (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.
Kovacs, D. K. (2011a). Learning activity 1. Instructional design: Step 1. Needs assessment and instructional goals. Unpublished assignment sheet, San Jose State University.
Kovacs, D. K. (2011b). LIBR 250-10 Design and Implementation of Instructional Strategies for Information Professionals Summer 2011 Greensheet. Retrieved from http://slisapps.sjsu.edu/gss/ajax/showSheet.php?id=3482.
Learning Theories Knowledgebase (2012, March). At Learning-Theories.com. Retrieved March 24th, 2012 from http://www.learning-theories.com/.
Moore, J. (2011, March 10). Going the distance: Why online learning is gaining ground. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/higher/going-the-distance-why-online-learning-is-gaining-ground-2237534.html.