Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Domains of Learning - ocTEL Week 7

One of the Week 7 Tasks for http://octel.alt.ac.uk/ was: 

·       How you would you implement one or more kinds of support in some learning provision in which you are involved?
·       How would these meet the needs of your learners (you may find it useful to refer to any work you did on Week 2),
·       The challenges you think they might experience.

For this task I’ve been taking a look at George Siemens’ article on what he calls the Learning Development Cycle. As I often find with his work, it’s extremely dense (the look of it, font, line spacing etc doesn’t make it an easy article to get to grips with…) but on closer inspection I find thought-provoking nuggets which I’d like to explore further. For me, the concept of the four learning domains  which he describes (see below) is more interesting and useful than the actual Learning Development Cycle which he outlines later in the paper. I’ll try to relate these domains to my own context and describe how I think they overlap.

George Siemens: 

I sometimes teach on a Pre-Sessional Academic English programme for international students. The aim of the course is to give these students the necessary language and academic skills to be able to participate in a course of under- or postgraduate study.

There is no escaping the Transmission domain for this course. There is a tried and tested syllabus, materials, timetable and assessment framework which needs to be adhered to. This is, of course, not perfect, but it has the advantage of giving structure to the course and providing a degree of familiarity/comfort for international students with an extremely wide and diverse range of educational experiences. This is not something that is likely to change in the near future, so I think the important question is: 

How can Instructors on the course begin to integrate elements of the other 3 domains of learning into this existing framework? 

Siemens outlines the role of the designer (Instructor in this case…) in each of the domains:

Transmission: Create courses, workshops
Accretion: Create networks, ecologies, environments
Acquistion: Ensure availability of resources
Emergence: Foster and encourage reflection

He also categorises how each domain is indicative of a particular type of learning theory or view of learning:

Transmission: Behaviourism / Cognitivism
Accretion: Connectivism
Acquistion: Connectivism / Constructivism
Emergence: Constructivism / Cognitivism

For me this is useful as it highlights the fact that no one learning theory fits all, and that good learning and teaching practice cannot generally be described by one over-arching learning theory, but instead will have elements of a variety of learning theories.

So, in terms of my course, how would I bring these other elements in? Here are some examples:

Transmission: As an Instructor on this course, most of the course material and the syllabus has already been created. In the transmission domain, my role would be to ‘deliver’ these during face to face sessions, manage the assessed components of the course and so on.

Accretion: The aim here would be to help learners build their own learning networks so that they have the skills to find what they need as they progress into their full degree programmes. For example, I might create a Diigo (social bookmarking) group and encourage students to find and add relevant sites for academic or language skills. A Twitter feed embedded in their course site (currently Blackboard Learn) could highlight useful information and articles, or even better, they could create their own Twitter lists of practitioners in their particular subject area. Use of some of the social communication tools (e.g. blogs, discussion boards) within the course could begin to build up a community of learners and, once some confidence had been developed in this (relatively safe) environment, this could be extended out into a wider network (using Nancy White’sideas of Community and Network - great webinar by the way, well worth a look if you haven't already).

Acquisition: The idea here would be to provide a variety of resources in different media to try to meet the different needs of learners. For example, rather than links to lots of dense PDF documents, I’d also try to include some OERs in various formats e.g. a video, podcast, prezi, slideshare etc. It’s relatively straightforward to provide a good variety of different resources. The challenging part is persuading learners to engage with these resources. Self-directed learning does not come naturally to many learners – certain educational cultures are prone to spoon-feeding content, and some learners may see this as the norm and find it difficult to adopt different learning behaviours. So acquisition also requires good scaffolding in my view.

Emergence: To encourage reflection and meta-cognition, a personal journal can be used to encourage students to reflect in writing on their own learning. Again, it’s fairly simple to build elements of reflection and self-assessment into a course, although it is sometimes necessary to make these a part of assessment in order to encourage participation. This may be outside learners’ experience of education and therefore needs to be done with care. It always helps to explain exactly why we are doing it and what can be gained by it. Having students accompany any piece of written work with a short description of what they found difficult about the task and how well they think they achieved it can also be an interesting exercise.

In my view, these are all things which an Instructor can do to help learners reach their particular learning goals. The challenges inherent in trying to enable learning in all of these domains often relates to student expectations/experience (particularly when your cohort is international students with an extremely diverse range of educational backgrounds). In a sense, we look to encourage a cultural change among learners, to help them become more self-directed, reflective, networked and risk-taking learners. 

(If you're a Diigo user, I've made a few highlights and comments on the Siemens Learning Development Cycle article which you can access at https://groups.diigo.com/group/alt-octel   - depending on browser you're using you might need to hit Annotate in Diigo toolbar or widget to allow you to see highlights / comments)


  1. Absolutely agree about the aesthetic issues Jim... George Siemens has some great ideas that are very influential but wow they can be hard to extract as he takes no prisoners with regard to design! I wish someone would do a makeover on his learning analytics stuff for ordinary mortals... :) Thanks for your summary here, I found it very useful.

  2. exactly! If you ever find someone to do that makeover, let me know.... ;-)