Thinking About Instructional Theories (Blog 4)

Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism

When I first started reading about the three instructional theories–behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism–I initially assumed that constructivism was the “best” and that we would be aiming to use constructivist techniques in all our instruction. I was surprised when all three were considered valid and useful theories for teaching. In hindsight, this makes a lot of sense. Behaviorist techniques work best when a learner is studying something that has a lot of facts and clear right and wrong answers. Matching the instructional theory and accompanying techniques to the objectives of the class makes for much more effective instruction!

My default approach to teaching is cognitivism. I tend to focus on teaching processes. In the Intro to Library Research (ITLR) sessions I teach to freshmen writing students, I focus on a series of processes–narrowing a topic, choosing and combining keywords, filtering and altering search results, etc. I tend to use what I believe is called learner scaffolding: I explain the process, demo the process (with the students following along on their own computers), and then have the students try the skill independently while I wander and help where needed. The focus is on modeling behaviors and teaching so that the students can internalize the lesson in a way that makes sense to them.

I’m interested to explore how constructivist techniques can be used more often in teaching information literacy. When I read about them, I feel like they have a lot of potential, but the type of activities don’t naturally occur to me.

And thinking of theories that push me as an instructor, a few weeks ago we read an article about connectivism. Connectivism is a theory of learning, not of instruction. But if it had an accompanying instructional theory, what would that look like?

“Learn more about” vs. “finding sources”

My “aha moment” of the week happened while reading one of the sources listed under further reading for the week: “Talking About Information Literacy: The Mediating Role of Discourse in a College Writing Classroom” by Holliday and Rogers. I had never realized how focused on finding sources both librarians and instructors/professors really are. When I teach ITLR, I start off by telling the class that one of my goals is for them to leave with at least one really good source they can use in their papers for their writing class. The purpose of this is to help make the class relevant by connecting it to a term paper they are working on.

However, when we focus so narrowly on sources and not the information inside, the process becomes like a treasure hunt with the sources as the end goal. Find 5 “scholarly” sources to meet your assignment requirements and, voila, you have a research paper! I will definitely have to think more about how to make the lesson seem relevant to students’ concerns (usually finding those 5 scholarly sources for their paper) while focusing more on the process of learning more about their topics and asking questions instead of just finding the information.

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2 thoughts on “Thinking About Instructional Theories (Blog 4)

  1. Great insights, Kaia! I’m glad you talked about how all three work together even though constructivism seems like the end goal. I also agree with you about defaulting to cognitivism. Especially for ITLR, which is such a fast paced single meeting, it seems like it would be challenging to include constrctivist techniques and still get through enough material.

  2. All three of us like Cognitivism!

    I wonder if it’s because it’s the safe, happy-medium choice.

    I felt the same way about Constructivist and information theory! I wrote about it a bit on my blog. My thought is–the librarian is already struggling to fit all of their content into their one-shot 30 minute session…. and constructivist works best with active learners… is is possible?

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