Instructional Design, Week Three: Learning Theories & Motivation

Learning Theories

Discuss which theory/ies might be most applicable to your instruction and outline a specific activity/assignment/exercise that would facilitate learning according to that theory.

I tend to use all three learning theories (behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism) in my teaching to some degree. I’m drawn to constructivism, but have found it more difficult to implement when dealing with both the professor’s expectations and the short amount of time allotted to meet those expectations.

I have mostly resorted to cognitivism with small amounts of behaviorism used to get student participation. I generally start out using a hook such as a graphic or by presenting a scenario that most students can relate too (“Have you ever searched for information on your topic and then found NOTHING??”, etc.). Chunking and sequencing is used to structure the lesson to make it easier for students to build on prior understanding and have greater recall. Students are motivated to participate in class discussion by handing out small prizes (candy, pens, sticky notes, etc.).

As I mentioned above, I think the constructivist approach works well. Students need to be faced with what they don’t know and get to the point where they are more intrinsically motivated to learn. One exercise that I use that fits this approach is to have students search a library database using a loose topic rather than a carefully written topic statement. I ask them to search for video games (they all think this is a great topic) and pick out three articles on video games that are similar in their focus on this topic. After just a few minutes I start seeing hands go up because they want further explanation about “similar focus.” This is where we stop and look at the results list together; I ask them to tell me what the first five to ten articles on the search results list are about (looking at titles and article synopses). I write these on the whiteboard. Then I ask them what the theoretical five page paper would be about based on these results. The students almost always realize that they need to focus the topic and point this out to me by telling me:

  • “the articles are all so different” and …
  • “there are 50,000 more on the list” and …
  • “the paper is only five pages so they couldn’t possibly include EVERYTHING covered.”

Point made.

I then give them a focused topic statement/research question such as: “Are students who play video games more prone to violent behavior?” This leads to activities about keywords and synonyms with a resultant search for scholarly articles that is much more successful to the goal of using those articles to write a five page paper.


Next, consider what you learned from Small’s article on motivation and address how you are going to motivate your learners/students.

There is a fair amount of external motivation built into the course section I am working on for this class project. The professor of record is present and takes roll, students are expected to attend and participate, students are required to do the in class exercises and turn in their worksheets to me for feedback, and there is a 50 point quiz on IL concepts the following week. Students are also expected to use what they learn in the following weeks to research a topic for a short paper.

What I try to do is to pique students’ Curiosity and use Flow Theory. Activities are designed to get students to WANT to solve a problem that relates to both their immediate class need (a required paper or presentation) and to future needs (papers and presentations for future classes). The activities are very focused and the goal is clear (i.e. understand why a good topic statement is important and what does one look like, how to identify useful keywords and synonyms, how to use keywords/synonyms in a library database to run a search (AND/OR), how to limit a search to retrieve scholarly articles, etc.). Students work on these activities in class and submit their worksheets to me for feedback. I explain to them that these worksheets are a safe space to practice their research skills since I do not assign a grade but I DO provide extensive feedback because I want them to succeed; that these skills are only learned through practice and this is their chance to practice.

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