Competency K: design instructional programs based on learning principles and theories.
Meaning and Importance
Every librarian, whether they are a teacher-librarian or not, has to teach something at some point. It may be a formal technology class for patrons learning how to use a computer program. It may be an informal craft program for children. It may be creating a LibGuide for the library website. Whatever it may be, it is an instructional program, and it should be created deliberately using the best learning principles and theories available.
The two major learning theories are Cognitivism and Constructivism. Cognitivism is the theory that students build new knowledge upon prior learned knowledge, connecting both in order to retain long-term memories. Metacognition, the awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes, promotes those connections and motivates students to retain the new information. This means that teachers (librarians) must support students in connecting new knowledge to older knowledge, guide them to make new connections, and provide multiple practice opportunities for students to engage with the new information.
Constructivism, meanwhile, puts the student first and the lesson content second. The emphasis is on the student, their peers and community members, and the social interaction surrounding the lesson. This has developed into student-driven learning, where knowledge is built through experience and collaborative, hands-on engagement. Teachers still build upon the knowledge that students already have, but they should provide more opportunities for modeling skills, language, and thinking.
Learning is a process, and every learning style is dynamic. Some people learn best on their own, some learn best in groups, some need an audio and visual component, some are okay with just text. A librarian must be able to accommodate every learner’s needs, and the best way to do that is to design a lesson intentionally including multiple elements. This could mean having an oral lecture, with a written version available and a Powerpoint projected up behind the teacher at the same time. Hands-on elements will appeal to students who prefer to learn by experiencing, and creating a group or partner project will appeal to students who are social learners.
A good way to incorporate multiple learning styles into a lesson is by building collaborate elements. This promotes student-led learning, which promotes active learning, which means students are more invested in building those connections and learning the new material.
One of the last classes I took during my time at SJSU was INFO 254 Information Literacy and Learning. All of our assignments were centered on designing instructional programs or elements based on specific learning theories. For one assignment, we had to create a lesson and present it using the Guide on the Side website.
This assignment was a partnered project; however, my part was to build the Guide on the Side (GotS) and edit the analytical paper. We selected a topic: searching the FamilySearch Catalog using surnames and keywords, and how to refine that search using various filters. There were several parts to our group project. First, we needed to create a Guide on the Side, which would make an interactive lesson of actually using the FamilySearch website. Then, we needed to write an analytical paper talking about our reasoning behind the learning principles and theories that we chose to highlight in our lesson.
To build the Guide, we brainstormed which topics we wanted to cover in the lesson. Then, we refined that brainstorming session into an outline. I then took the basic outline and created a more formal lesson to use in the Guide. This involved writing step-by-step instructions of what the user needed to click on each page, creating screenshots, and developing interactive quizzes and questions for the user to complete. Once the full outline was written, I then created the Guide using the interface provided on the GotS website. Meanwhile, my partner wrote the majority of the analytical paper. Then, once we were done with each of our parts, we switched: she tweaked the Guide, and I edited the paper. In this way, we both got a chance to be involved in every aspect of the group project.
Our intended audience was history students, so we modeled our GotS after the appropriate learning framework. More specifically, we chose to incorporate elements from the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, specifically the “Searching as Strategic Exploration” frame and its related Knowledge Practices. By guiding students through FamilySearch’s different search methods and filter options, we could help them realize that “information sources vary greatly in content and format and have varying relevance and value, depending on the needs and nature of the search” (ACRL, 2015). Furthermore, by including multiple questions and quizzes, we were able to use some of the principles of Universal Design, which suggests “focus[ing] attention internally by asking many questions of the students,” as well as using simpler, less wordy instructions (Chodock, Dolinger, & O’Connor, 2009).
This was a wonderful learning experience! It was extremely useful to think more deeply about specific learning theories and principles and tie them into a lesson, as it meant that those lessons would be more effective. It’s better for both students and instructors to have lessons designed after learning theories, rather than just created willy-nilly, as it’s easier to make a lesson and LEARN a lesson if there’s a specific goal in mind. Having taken this class, I now understand the purpose and usefulness of learning principles and theories.
Here is a link to a video going through the Guide on the Side: http://youtu.be/r_yp1qCLvIw?hd=1
Though I don’t anticipate making teaching a huge chunk of my future library career, every librarian has to teach something sometime. Whether it’s a class on technology, or showing children how to do a craft, or creating a LibGuide on the library website, every librarian has to know how to best create a lesson. Through my time at SJSU, I understand the best principles and theories to use for lesson creation, and I can take that with me into my future career.
ACRL. (2015) Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework
Chodock, T., Dolinger, E., & O’Connor, L. (2009). Applying Universal Design to Information Literacy: Teaching students who learn differently at Landmark College. Reference and user services quarterly, 49(1), 24-32. Retrieved from https://journals.ala.org/index.php/rusq/article/viewFile/4059/4627