Learning Orientation Research


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Recent advances in the neurosciences in the last ten years have revealed the extraordinary complexities and fundamental effects of emotions on brain plasticity, learning, and living. These theories highlight more than the cognitive element, they explore the DOMINANT power of emotions and intentions on learning.

The Learning Orientation research integrates the biology of learning with the more traditional psychological and educational aspects. It discusses the theoretical foundations for understanding sources for individual differences in learning. It specifically explores the important impact of emotions, values, intentions, and social factors on measuring and improving learning skills.

This research provides a foundation for multiple purposes, including personalizing or adapting learning, providing a blueprint for sequencing learning objects, predicting, monitoring, and assessing progress, and developing social relationships. It contributes to rules, guidelines, and templates for organizing content to accomplish particular instructional and performance objective--with more individualized instruction.

Additionally, working within the current (and future) SCORM specification for adaptive learning, this research captures psychological and biologic influences to contribute greater pedagogical value for improved technology use -- between learning objects, content presentation, and relevant learning relationships. The current cognitive emphasis is not enough.

The Whole-Person Perspective Uses Psychological & Neurological Foundations

In contrast to most traditional approaches that focus primarily on the behavioral aspects, technology or on the cognitive (how people process information, use skills, etc.), this research proposes a higher-order theoretical foundation for designing personalized or adaptive learning and learning objects. Most of the previous years of unsuccessful adaptive learning and artificial intelligence research failed to consider the biological aspects of learning; it focused primarily on cognitive aspects.

This research uses the study of the brain to explain individual learning differences and personalized learning from a highly conative and affective perspective. In fact, it flips most traditional cognitive and instructional technology models upside down (e.g., learning styles or other models based on primarily cognitive perspectives) and highlights the dominant power of emotions and intentions on learning--cognitive ability plays a secondary (albeit still important) role, and technology an even lesser role.

Dominant Power of Emotions and Intentions

Multidisciplinary research (neuroscience, child development, sport psychology, advertising etc.) shows the importance (dominant power) of emotions and intentions on learning, thinking, and related responses. James E. Zull's latest book, entitled "Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the Practice of Teaching By Exploring the Biology of Learning", exemplies the important direction of this research. A review of this highly recommended book appears at this URL: click here.

Why don't we consider important aspects, such as affective (emotions), conative (intentions), and social adequately in Education? In the eighties, Snow and Cronbach suggested "an understanding of cognitive abilities considered alone would not be sufficient" to explain learning, individual learning differences and aptitude treatment interactions." Yet twenty-five year later the cognitive hegemony continues. We still subjugate or overlook emotions and intentions as a key learning factor and then we wonder why our learning solutions are inadequate or why learners are resistant or unmotivated to learn, especially online.

Learning Orientations

Learning orientations research considers human learning variability more comprehensively by exploring the fundamental role of emotions and intentions. Learning orientations explore the comprehensive set of psychological factors (conative, affective, cognitive, and social) that influence how individuals approach learning and manage the learning process. Learning orientations describe learning ability and provide information about areas for improvement. This perspective is more robust than primarily cognitive explanations (learning styles and strategies) because it highlights and considers the developing, guiding, and managing influence of emotions and intentions on cognitive and social processes. It suggests that personalization WITHOUT a whole-person, biological foundation is incomplete and unsatisfactory.

Changing Learning Landscapes

The reality is that many learners moving online from classrooms are simply not adequately prepared for online learning. Until the advent of online learning, it was enough to deliver cognitive-based (how people process information) solutions and rely on the instructor to deliver the personal approach. As a result, too many online learners lack the self-motivation, learning efficacy, and learning management skills to stay online, finish the instruction, or learn. User motivation is something that has to be intrinsically earned and maintained throughout the learning experience. Keeping learners engaged is a tough challenge.

As learners move to e-learning and full-time instructors and classroom disappear from the training landscape, we need to be (a lot) more sophisticated in addressing the whole-set of learning needs, not just cognitive or behavioral issues. The old design methodologies relied on good instructors in the classroom who intuitively addressed emotions and intentions to learn and created relationships with the learners. Most evidence shows that learning outcomes are better when the instructor's presentation and interaction adapt to the student's aptitude and personality. Realistically we seldom have the resources for truly one-on-one instruction, but we do have the evolving understanding to move closer towards more individualized solutions. The old methods are becoming obsolete for online solutions.

We see evidence everywhere of well-designed online training products that are an anachronism for today's online learners. We're desperate for more sophisticated standards and methodologies to meet the demands of less available human intervention, continual learning, and rapid change in the new century. Learning objects are a particular challenge, especially since much of the pedagogy is stripped from the presentation.


In summary, to make adaptive or more personalized learning, e-learning, and design of learning objects really work, we need to consider how to support the dominant power of emotions and intentions on cognitive processing--leading to new standards and pedagogical models that incorporate emotions and intentions.

We need to identify and better understand emotions, learning dynamics, relationships, and instructional strategies that worked in the classroom and offered learners more personalized, supportive solutions, and active learning opportunities. Tapping into emotions will help individuals make the connections that translate into movement, testing, action, progress, and achievement.

Traditionally, teaching has underestimated or ignored affective, conative, and social aspects of learning. More successful solutions will begin to transition activities, strategies, and relationships that previously worked in the classroom to outcome-based solutions (e.g., students working together on real-life projects, practicing on increasingly difficult tasks, or sharing experiences) that support increasing powerful accomplishments and relationships. This is a transition from passive to more active learning. For some, (e.g., those who rely heavily on instructors), this is more difficult than others.

Educators who can expertly tap into the audience's emotions and intentions on a one-to-one basis have a powerful advantage, especially in addressing the fundamental needs of the learner, improved learning outcomes, and more successful learning experiences.


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