Instructional Experience


I wanted to take the opportunity to try to identify and explain some of the elements of this course using learning theories and complex learning methods. This being my first comprehensive online instructional experience I would like to take some time to understand it a bit better.

It is often difficult to reverse-engineer a learning experience (especially one as complex as this) and to identify cleanly the ways in which theory has played a role in informing design decisions. However, I would like to make an attempt at identifying elements from learning theory as I have come to understand them.


There are a few instances of behaviourist concepts included in this learning experience. The ones I could identify were the requirement to post and respond to peers’s posts each week. By placing a requirement on the students to participate in the discussions a certain behaviour is brought about and learning is facilitated. What I find interesting is how this behaviourist tactic leads to learning as defined under other learning theories namely constructivism. Other than these elements, the course doesn’t make heavy use of behaviourist concepts.


With humanism’s conception of learning aside, there are definitely some elements of humanism included. The course staff and especially Edward held the students with positive regard and helped provided direction and support for students who were largely seeking out instructional goals they defined for themselves.


There seem to be many elements of constructivism included in this course. Under constructivism learners are presented with learning environments where they construct their own knowledge (rather than being transmitted knowledge to store in the mind). This certainly seems to be an underlying basis for the weekly reflections where students are encouraged to draw connections between what they already knew and what they have just learned and are encouraged to apply what they have learned in the context of their own problems.


There are a few elements of the course that draw on connectivist elements. Throughout the course a learning network developed between the students who searched for and shared digital resources and build connections between initially disparate information sources. And these were connections that were enabled by the digital nature of this course.

Problem Based Learning

Although, strictly speaking the course does not use PBL as defined in the literature, it does make use of many PBL elements.  Students solving an instructional problem is one of the central elements in the course. In contrast to the way PBL was presented in the literature where the problem is defined by the course leaders, in this course the problem was sought out by the students. After defining the problem that was to be tackled, students were left to largely rely on their own and their peers’s ingenuity (though not entirely) to find the necessary information and to come up with a solution for their problem. The course leaders also took on a facilitative and supportive role in helping to guide and direct students to relevant sources of information and ideas that could possibly help students in their endeavour to find a solution to the problem.

Practice and Feedback

As students practice applying concepts from learning theory and research to real world contexts the course staff provides the students with encouraging and supportive feedback to facilitate learning.

Authentic Assessment

The main mode of assessment in this course seems to be authentic assessment. Students are encouraged to tackle a real-world instructional problem and then are required to create a portfolio documenting their progress. It is this portfolio that is then assessed to judge the learner’s ability in identifying and solving instructional problems. The portfolio seems to be the central aspect of the course. This mode of assessment is opposed to a written test and provides direct evidence of the learner’s to handle the targeted task.


The main take-away from this analysis seems to be that designing a successful learning experience will most likely incorporate many different elements from various learning theories. The key is not mastery and application of one particular theory but in the adept application of diverse elements to create a cohesive and effective learning experience.






Defining the Problem

The problem I would like to address is student engagement and course success in online elearning courses.

I want to broadly explore and summarize various topics from learning theory and learning science that may prove useful in bringing light to issues that are relevant to student engagement and provinding tools to assess and improve elearning engagement and course success.

  • Content Comprehension
  • Motivation
  • Course Design

The goal here is to achieve an overview of situations where engagement issues can arise, to identify potential causes of lack of engagement, and to explore strategies which are based in learning theory and research to address these issues and improve student engagement.




Instructional Project

I don’t currently have an instructinoal design project that I am working on. However, throughout the course I plan to gather information and sort through the research to develop sound threoretical competency for building a modularized, interactive e-learning course for adults.

I would like for the course to deliver the course content in a manner that is effective and based on learning science and would like for it to provide interactive assessment/feedback opportunities for students and course leaders.

As I am still learning the ropes when it comes to instructional design there will probably be many things which I realize need to be incorporated into the course design as the course progresses. So this project and it’s objectives will be a work in progress as the course moves on.


—UPDATE 1.7.2017—-

Since week four in the course I have chosen to take up the issue of learner motivation and goal orientation in online courses. I will first look for a theoretical framework from which to assess and categorize motivation then for ways to optimize instrucional design to account for and cater to differing motivational orientations to facilitate course completion, success and engagement rates.

Defining the Problem

The problem I would like to address is student engagement and course success in online e-learning courses.

I want to broadly explore and summarize various topics from learning theory and learning science that may prove useful in bringing light to issues that are relevant to student engagement and provinding tools to assess and improve elearning engagement and course success.

  • Course Design
  • Motivation

The goal here is to achieve an overview of situations where engagement issues can arise, to identify potential causes of lack of engagement, and to explore strategies which are based in learning theory and research to address these issues and improve student engagement.

Course Design

In this section I will provide a summary of teaching methods and course design elements which can be seen as relevant to student engagement.

Learning theories can provide proofed instructinoal strategies on which to base design decisions and strategies. Here, I want to briefly summarize the underlying assumptions of cognitivism, constructivism and connectivism as aspects of each theory that are relevant to student engagement.

Cognitivism (relevant ideas)

In contrast to behaviorism which defines learning as an observable change in the learner’s behavior disregarding any mental processes that may be taking place, cognitivism concerns itself with the structure of the learner’s knowledge and the mental processes associated with it.

According to cognitivist theories, learning involves changes in states of knowledge in the mind of the learner. Cognitive theories are concerned with the mental processes that take place leading up to a behavior including recieving, storing, processing, and retrieving knowledge.

Cognitive Load Theory

With respect to learner engagement, one very useful theory to come out of the cognitivist arena is Cognitive Load Theory (CLT). The main concern of CLT with respect to instructinoal design is how to ensure that the limits of the learner’s working memory are not overloaded. Although I haven’t found any research linking cognitive overload to engagement or persistance levels, I know from personal experience and anecdotal evidence that cognitive overload can lead to furstration and disengagement with instructional materials. For this reason I wanted to summarize some important ideas from cognitive load theory with the hypothesis that organizing material for optimal cognitive uptake can contribute to learner engagement and endurance.

In CLT there are three different types of cognitive load.

Intrinsic Cognitive Load

Has to do with the inherent comlexity of the material. This type of cognitive load cannot be influenced by the instructional designer.

Extraneous Cognitive Load

This  refers to effort that must be expended to process information units that do not contribute to understanding of the materials. This can be the result of poorly designed materials or poorly organized instruction. Extraneous cognitive load can also have to do with the inclusion of extraneous/irrelevant information or animations, pictures etc.

Germane Cognitive Load

This refers to the cognitive effort that arises out of the attempt of the learner to process the information. It is the part of cognitive load that is involved with the construction of new schemas.

Because germane cognitive load is used in the construction of schemas which aid in developing expertise and long term retention, it is recommended that insurctional designers design materials to direct more of the learner’s attention to the cognitive processes that aid in the construction of schemas.

In order to illustrate the relevance of Cognitive Load Theory to engagement it is necessary to explore a few related concepts.

Working Menory

Working memory is the processes that control the processing and temporary storage of task-relevant information. Working memory is used for all conscious activities and for the average person is limited to holding about seven pieces of distinct information at a time. Because working memory is used to process the information stored in it (i.e. compare, contrast or organize it) it is limited even further to being able to effectively hold 3 or 4 elements of information.

This is an important concept for instructinoal design because when working memory is full new bits of information cannot be processed and so are ignored by cognition. So it is important to work with in the limits of working memory and to deliver information in manageable portions.


Chunking means breaking down information into manageable “digestable” pieces so that they can be easily processed. It is based on the idea mentioned above that working memory can only manage a limited amount of informationa at any one time.

Here is an article from the anout chunking information for elearning.

Some important tips from the article

  1. Organize content heierarchically starting at the highest level. This creates a series of chunks and chunks within chunks in a branching down logically successive structure. From Modules (big chunks), lessons (medium chunks), and topics (small chunks). The chunks can be organized using various strategies for example, simple to complex, cause and effect and according to sequence.
  2. The goal is to organize and divide the information into chunks in module-lesson-topic division in such a way that the all of chunks regardless of level fit into a logical structure.
  3. As a result it is important to avoid introducing more than one chunk at a time and a good strategy is to chunk information so that an entire chunk (posisbly a sub-topic chunk) is able to fit on a single screen.
  4. Think in terms of working memory and its capacity. If a chunk demanding loading too much information into working considering resizing and reorganizing the chunk.

Practical Instructional Design Tips Based On CLT

The general aplication of CLT for designing instruction has been to try to identify and reduce extraneous information and so reduce the demand on working memory by reducing extraneous cognitive load. This led to the imperative that all non-essential elements of information be eliminated from instruction as they place a demand on limited cognitive resources taking away processing resources from information relevant to learning.

Recently, however, there has been a growing amount of attention given to the idea that not only should extraneous cognitive load be reduced but germane cognitive load should be increased to aid in information uptake and retention and schema creation.

Following is a list of instructional design tips based in Cognitive Load Theory. Most of the following tips are based on the following assumptions about human cognition. The dual channel assumption: that humans have distinct systems for processing audio and visual material. The limited capacity assumption: that each of these channels is limited in the amount of information. Finally the active processing assumption: that meaningful learning requires active cognitive participation on the side of the learner.

  1. Research shows that learners process information better when information is split and presented to the two channels (verbal and visual) simultaneously. It was found that information was best processed when it was presented as words and graphics rather than just words alone. This can be seen as splitting the cognitive load beween the two channels.
  2. Remove non-essential content. Background music, non-essential graphics and animations as well as “seductive” non-essential but interesting information shuold be eliminated from instruction because they place a demand on limited congnitive processing resources and detract from achievement of learning goals.
  3. Learners learn more deeply when information is presented in smaller learner-paced segments rather than as a large continuous block. This may be because it gives the learner a chance to self-manage their cognitive load through self-pacing.
  4. Presenting the same information through two channels (that is repeating the exact same information rather than splitting the load) leads to increased cognitive load. This may be because the information must be processed twice and compared for discrepancy which places an undue strain on cognitive load.

One difficulty facing Cognitive Load Theory is that cognitive load is difficult to measure directly in authentic learning situations and is difficult to objectively measure. This does not, however, prevent instructinoal designers from making sound and effective design decisions based in Cognitive Load Theory. Making overarching design decisions based on Cognitive Load Theory is still possible as it is still possible to organize and structure material in such a way that it is easier for the learner to process and take in. Even if cognitive load of the learners cannot be directly measured.

I would like to conclude this section by saying that I think it is important to organize material in such a way that it is understandable and processable by the learner. This can prevent circumstnaces where learners become disengaged from instructional material because it is too difficult to process. Cognitive Load Theory provides some unseful tools to identify and correct situations where information may be presented in a manner that leads to learner overload.


Miller, George A. “The magical number seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information.” Psychological review 63.2 (1956): 81.

Mayer, Richard “Research Based Principles for Multimedia Design”

Mayer, R. E. & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Educational Psychologist. 38, (1), 43-52.

Paas, Fred, Alexander Renkl, and John Sweller. “Cognitive load theory and instructional design: Recent developments.” Educational psychologist 38.1 (2003): 1-4.

Sweller, John, Jeroen JG Van Merrienboer, and Fred GWC Paas. “Cognitive architecture and instructional design.” Educational psychology review 10.3 (1998): 251-296.

Guyan, Matthew. “Five Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in eLearning” (1993)

Constructivism (relevant ideas)

According to a number of constructivist theories of learning knowledge must be created in the mind of the learner (does not exist externally to it) and is constructed by the individual processing his or her own experiences. Unlike behaviorist and cognitivist theories, which are rooted in the assumption that there is an objective reality independent of any one person’s experience of it and that knowledge exists “mind-independently” in the external world, constructivist theories begin to undermine this assumption and tend toward a conception of reality that is more subjectivistic (that knowledge of reality exists only as a collection of a person’s perceptions and experiences of it).

This leads to a conception of learning wherein knowledge is not transferred into the mind of the learner from the external world but rather personal interpretations of reality are constructed by the learner from their personal interactions and experiences with it. These interpretations are what constructivism views as knowledge. Under this conception of learning, knowledge is never complete and is always under revision as new experiences are encountered and processed.

With these assumptions in mind, designing instruction takes on a different dynamic from cognitivist or behaviorist standpoints. As knowledge is not thought of as something that can be conveyed to the learners, designing situations where learners can discover and creeate their own learning becomes of central importance.

This conception of learning leads naturally to learning situations where students must take on a more active role and thus be more engaged. As such it is important to condiser factors that contribute to active student engagement so that learning outcomes can be achieved in such situations. A beginning approach to finding solutions to this problem can be found in the post on Motivation.

Problem-Based Learning

One important instructinoal method to arise out of constructivist theories is Problem Based Learning. Rooted in the constructivist assumption that knowledge must be constructed from personal interactions with reality, problem based learning concieves of instruction as providing learners an opportunity to construct their own knowledge in a domain by letting learners face and grapple with solving a problem themselves.

Problem Based Learning was originally concieved to help improve medical student’s clinical performance. The traditional mode of instruction involved acquisition of theoretical knowledge in lecture format. The student’s subsequent performance in clinical settings was unsatisfactory and problem based learning was introduced with the rationale that by working on clinical problems themselves students would gain the knowledge needed all the while gaining practical experience and developing clinical problem solving skills as the students are presented with a problem and expected to solve it on their own. While research has shown both PBL and traditional format students perform comparably on short term retention tests, students who undergo problem based learning programs consistently outperform students of traditional teaching methods on long-term retention assessments(Hung, jonassen, Liu 2008).

In problem based learning students are more self-directed and the teacher takes on the role of a facilitator. It is up to the students to take charge of their learning, to define their knowledge gaps, determine their course of action, and to successfully solve their problem. The teacher then beomes a supportive figure and helps direct and guide the student while solving the problem though never providing the solution themselves. One of the main goals and outcomes of problem based learning is to help students become aware of and in charge of their own learning process and to become life-long learners.

Practical Instructional Design Tips Based On Constructivism

  • Face real world problmes experiment
  • Ask learners to reflect on or discuss how their understandings are evolving
  • Encourage learners to question their strategies
  • Encourage learners to reflect on current knowledge
  • Have learners restate the question


Chistopheros Pappas, “Instructional Design Models and Theories: Problem Based Learning,” (2014),

Hung, Woei, David H. Jonassen, and Rude Liu. “Problem-based learning.” Handbook of research on educational communications and technology 3 (2008): 485-506.

Savin-Baden, Maggi, and Kay Wilkie. Problem-based learning online. McGraw-Hill Education (UK), 2006.

Connectivism (relevant ideas)

Self Directed Learning


In this section I will summarize various concepts and theories from the literature on motivation in educational settings with the hopes that identifying different types of motivation may help to identify the various motivational situations as they pertain to individual instructional contexts. This may shed light on particular approaches or strategies that can be implemented to best achieve desired learning outcome in ways that work synergistically with the motivational type present. In being able to identify different types of motivational situations steps can be taken to move from the present motivational type to one that is more beneficial to achieving leraning outcomes. Though researching effective methods for influencing motivational types will not be addressed here.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions (Outline)

by Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci (2000)

Important Terms

Intrinsic motivation – being motivated to perform an activity because the activity is inherently interesting or rewarding. In education intrinsic motivation leads to high quality learning and creativity.
The authors of the paper understand undertaking of intrinsically motivation tasks as fulfilling some psychological need; competence, autonomy and relatedness.
Extrinsic motivation – being motivated to perform an activity becasue it leads to a separable outcome. According to SDT there are varied types of extrinsic motivation differing in the extent to which an external goal has been internalized.
“Our concern here is with how teachers, parents and other socializers can lead students to internalize the responsibility and sense of value for extrinsic goals or, alternatively, how they can foster the more typically depicted ‘alienated’ type of extrinsic motivation that is associated with low student persistance, interest, and involvement.” (Ryan and Deci, 1990, 56)
  • Motivation is not a singular phenomenon  – there are different type or qualities of motivation.  There is intrinsic motivation and the various types or stages of extrinsic motivation.
  • For a  high level of intrinsic motivation people must experience satisfaction of the needs for both competence and autonomy.
  • Research has shown that positive performance feedback increases intrinsic motivation.
  • Increased self-direction has been shown to increase intrinsic motivation.
  • Research has also shown that extrinsic rewards can undermine intrinsic motivation.
  • Threats such as deadlines, directives, and competition pressure have all been shown to undermine intrinsic motivation.
  • Autonomous environments foster more intrinsic motivation than do controlling ones.

External motivation can be categorized in the degree to which internalization and integration of the goal/values occurs. Internalization is the process of taking in a value or regulation and integration is the process of incorporating that value or goal into the person’s sense ofself – making it their own.

The Spectrum of Motivation According to Self Determination Theory

Internal Motivation – when an activity is performed because it is inherently interesting, rewarding, or pleasurable.
Amotivation or Unwillingness –  Under this condition actions lack a sense of intentinality and a sense of personal causation and can result form the following:
  • not valuing an activity
  • not feeling competent to do it
  • not believing it will yield a desired outcome.
External Regulation – under external regulation actions are performed in order to be in compliance with an external demand or to obtain externally imposed reward contingency. Actions have a percieved external locus of causality.
Introjected Regulation  – is one step above external regulation and although the goal is still experienced as controlling there is a sense of personal involvement. This type of regulated behavior typically involves a desire to avoid failure, to protect ego, or to gain the apporoval of others.
Identified Regulation – is when the person has attached personal importance of an goal or activity, recognzes the value of it, and recognizes it as their own.
Integrated Regulation – the most autonomous form of extrinsic motivaiton. This happens when a person fully integrates an external goal and it’s value or importance into their own sense of self. Even though these actions are autonomous and largely self-determined, they are still extrinsically motiavted because they are performed to obtain a separable outcome from the activity itself.

With respect to learner engagement research has shown that more autonomous extrinsic motivation is accociated with:

  • Greater engagement (Connell & Wellborn, 1990)
  • Less dropping out (Miserandino, 1996)
  • Better engagement (Vallerand & Bissonnette, 1992)
  • Higher quality learning and(Gronlnick & Ryan, 1987)
  • Greater psychological well-being (Sheldon & Kasser, 1995)


Connell, James P., and James G. Wellborn. “Competence, autonomy, and relatedness: A motivational analysis of self-system processes.” (1991).

Grolnick, Wendy S., and Richard M. Ryan. “Autonomy in children’s learning: An experimental and individual difference investigation.” Journal of personality and social psychology 52.5 (1987): 890.

Miserandino, Marianne. “Children who do well in school: Individual differences in perceived competence and autonomy in above-average children.” Journal of educational psychology 88.2 (1996): 203.

Ryan, Richard M., and Edward L. Deci. “Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions.” Contemporary educational psychology 25.1 (2000): 54-67.

Sheldon, Kennon M., and Tim Kasser. “Coherence and congruence: two aspects of personality integration.” Journal of personality and social psychology 68.3 (1995): 531.

Skinner, Ellen A., James G. Wellborn, and James P. Connell. “What it takes to do well in school and whether I’ve got it: A process model of perceived control and children’s engagement and achievement in school.” Journal of educational psychology 82.1 (1990): 22.

Vallerand, Robert J., and Robert Blssonnette. “Intrinsic, extrinsic, and amotivational styles as predictors of behavior: A prospective study.” Journal of personality 60.3 (1992): 599-620.

The Adult Learner

From the perspective of learner engagement I thought it pertinent to have an accurate profile of learners and their particular positions with regards to learning. Although this is probably best done on an individual basis for the specific audience for an instructional project I thought a general profile would also be useful. Since I plan on creating elearning courses for adults in various contexts I decided to consult various resources to develop a general profile of adult learners. Below, I have compiled a list of assumptions and best practices when it comes to designing instruction for adult learners.

Malcolm Knowles Andragogical Assumptions

Andragogy was originally a european concept that was made popular in the United States by Malcolm Knowles. Andragogy is the art and science of teaching adults/facilitating adult learning. It often contrasted with pedagogy which is the art and science of teaching children.

Malcolm Knowles’s 5 Assumptions about the Adult Learner

Self Concept – Adults are self directed, can direct their own learning  and benefit from instruction that allows for more autonomy.

Life Experience – In contrast to children, adult learners have extensive and varied life experiences which means that they have a wider knowledge base to work with and with which to build new knowledge.

Readiness to Learn – Adult learners are motivated to learn by the need/opportunity to develop skills, knowledge and competency which will allow them to perform better in their social roles.

Orientation to Learning – Adult learners view learning as an opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills that will help them solve problems that they are currently facing and so expect learning to have an immediate application. This differes from learning in childhood when the application of what is learned is expected to come at a much later date. Learning, therefore, should be problem centered not curriculum centered.

Internal Motivation to Learn – Adult learners are more internally motivated to learn and so are assumed to rely less on external motivators to promote participation in learning activities.

*It has been argued that these assumptions do not necessarily apply to all adults (some adults may prefer a teacher to lead the learning activities) and that many of them do not apply only to adults (self directed children learners).

The andragogical assumptions also have a humanistic philosophical underpinning which sets a human reaching their full potential and fulfillment as human beings as a goal of learning. This is a noble goal and in my opinion should be the ultimate underlying goal of learning in most circumstances.

So a best practice drawn from these assumptions would be to be aware of the needs and characteristics of the specific learner population for whom the instruction is being designed and the specific goals that the instruction must fulfil.

Having realized that the andragogical assumptions could just as well apply to many child learners and that the pedagogical assumptions of learner characteristics could apply to some adult learning situations Knowles abandoned setting andragogy opposed to pedagogy and positioned them as two ends on a single continuum from student directed learning to more teacher directed learning.



Evaluation and Application of Andragogical Assumptions to the Adult Online Learning Environment

Principles of Adult Learning

The Modern Practice of Adult Education (Excerpt)

Androgogy and Self-Directed Learning: Pillars of Adult Learning Theory