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What is a Learning Experience?

posted Jan 5, 2011, 4:37 AM by Shane Gallagher
When I think about “Learning Experiences,” I think of every situation someone finds themselves in as a learning experience. People have not traditionally used that phrase in relating to more formal learning interventions – i.e. classroom, but from a learner’s perspective, both formally and informally, that’s exactly what is happening: learners are experiencing something that, hopefully, results in a change in thinking, understanding, or behavior afterwards.

Learning experiences are a way to think about what a learning intervention might be (i.e. – its design) in the context of desired end goals and outcomes. This can then inform our choices about how communication channels and modes, learning activities, and resources come together to best support the end goals and outcomes, and also how these channels and activities may evolve over time.  Certainly in this context, a learning intervention is something that is much more than what has traditionally been thought of as “content.”

In thinking about what is currently thought of as learning content, I think of something akin to a page from a textbook (that has its doppelganger in web-based training) with which one “reads” and then “interacts” with in some way.  That definition of learning content and learner interaction represents a very narrow and limited view of what a learning experience can be and usually limits the type of learning to that of recognizing or memorizing specific facts, procedures, and concepts exemplified in the deployment of web-based, self-directed individual learning experiences commonly called e-learning.      

Learning content can be thought of much more broadly and inclusively. This could mean that learning content could actually include not only the “whats” but the “hows” of learning. For example, learning content in the context of learning experiences could contain a collection of specific content resources, content pointers, functional tools or tool pointers, activity descriptions, and assessments that, when brought together, embody a particular pedagogical model. In fact, the reverse could also be learning content – a pedagogical model describing the types of learning resources, tools, and activities needed to achieve learning outcomes. So you could think of learning content as collections of pedagogical models and collections of resources that participate in shaping an individual’s learning experience that are aligned with learning outcomes and positive actions that stem from the experience.

Another facet of learning content is the artifacts produced during the learning experience.  Besides the description above, learning content models should also be collaborative or cooperative with resources and activities supporting the learners working together to produce a learning artifact. A learning artifact could be anything based on an authentic learning activity or experience such as a model, computer code, diagram or even the ubiquitous PowerPoint presentation. As these artifacts are created and evaluated during the learning process, they then become learning resources that can be used iteratively for others in similar or more advanced experiences. These ideas allow us to merge  knowledge management and single/double loop organizational learning into our concept of learning content.

Conceptually, this represents a shift from the typical view of content managed by a typical content management system, with the assumption that when content is simply presented to a learner that he or she will just “learn” from it – that somehow learning (and especially learning to do or understand) is transmitted from the content to the learner.  With that view of content and of the learner’s experience, then it’s no surprise that critics of the pedagogical merits of SCORM view it as being “limited.”

When I think about learning experiences in the context of this effort by ADL, I define them as a model that will allow higher order learning outcomes to be realized.  This can occur by expanding on our understanding of learning content to include specific collections of learning resources, tools, and activities guided by pedagogical models. This is sometimes conceived as a problem-based, collaborative-based approach shaped and tailored to meet specific learning goals but I believe it is even much more than that. Learning experiences as currently being thought of by ADL will be able to provide an interoperable and reusable means  for design and/or self organization of learning activities that are pedagogically sound, allowing the attainment, assessment, and tracking of  higher order learning outcomes.