Defining learning in the context of SL research.
Leonie Ramondt, Inspire – Anglia Ruskin University

What type of learning befitting the 21st Century? In a world where peak oil and global warming are increasingly influencing our daily experience; it is no longer possible to ignore that conventional, passive, instructivist modes of delivery are useful only for learning rote information. Many people today are engaging in activities at levels of complexity unknown even a decade ago due to digital technologies. With so many colourful diversions, the task of challenging young people to be skilful and discerning in traditional disciplines such as Science, Maths and English will be significantly easier if the learning is embedded in dynamic and relevant contexts. Webquests (1997) and action inquiry provide participative methodologies that are already well advanced. They can only encourage learners to be more creative and effective.

1. So how do we know learning when we see it?
What is the learning we are valuing? Times past, learning was assessed by examination and most of those exams were not designed to test higher order thinking. Thankfully, learning is increasingly becoming project based with learning evaluated against a matrix of specific outcomes-linked criteria.

Jonassen’s web of constructivism is a useful tool for considering participative learning.

Web of Constructivism

Jonassen, D. 1994, the Web of Constructivism

2. Does learning only count when we can measure it?
Most educators have evolved beyond only valuing enumerative answers. Blooms taxonomy ensured that they knew that learning extends beyond Knowledge, to Comprehension, Application and the higher skills required by Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation. The task of designing begins at synthesis, suggesting that designing something in SL is a higher skills task. Methods for evaluating this learning are becoming more sophisticated as staff become more experienced.

Potentially, MUVE’s will provide teachers more transparency onto their colleagues’ practices, allowing them to gain confidence with incorporating the higher-level participative tasks afforded by MUVE’s into their lessons. These include;
Designing
Programming
Role play, scenarios, dramatisation,
Performance
Simulation and data visualisation
Researching
Problem solving
Cultural Immersion and Cultural Exchange
Building learning community

3. Is there life beyond ‘assessment-based’ models of learning?
Assessment remains the tail that wags the dog. Students are smart enough to focus on what will get them through the exams. They know that the 2:1 is used as a filter by employers. If you don’t have one, you’re out the door.

Although the Burgess report (2007) recommends a more comprehensive approach to assessment that documents evidence of higher order learning, it stops short at suggesting the adoption of portfolios. This is a pity because portfolios can be very useful for motivating learners to evidence collaboration, communication, enterprise and innovation alongside the more traditional skills.

Assessment is of itself another word for feedback, which should after all be at the heart of learning. It is only problematical when it is one-dimensional and entirely summative. Flow (Csikszentmihalyi, M., 1992). is experienced when a person is challenged by a task slightly above their skill level, receiving feedback as they go. Hopefully we’ll become better at embedding mechanisms for feedback and self-evaluation within learning environments, thereby also extending the richness of our assessment.

Bloom, B.S (1984) Taxonomy of educational objectives, Pearson Education, Allyn and Bacon, Boston, MA.
Burgess, (2007) The Burgess report available at http://bookshop.universitiesuk.ac.uk/downloads/Burgess_final.pdf
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1992). Flow: The psychology of happiness. London: Rider.
Dodge, B., (1997) Building blocks of a webquest available at http://www.internet4classrooms.com/buildingblocks.htm
Jonassen, D. (1994) Thinking technology: towards a constructivist design model, Educational Technology, 34(4), 34-37.