Instructional Design

Applying Constructivisim: Asana Example


In this example, I’ll be adding onto my behaviorism learning scenario and add an additional learning objective in which Constructivism is the primary learning theory that drives the activity. Constructivism focuses on students taking an active role in learning and developing new knowledge related to their existing knowledge, often through collaboration. I will also be describing the skills in the Zone of Proximal Development. Finally, I’ll discuss a scaffolding strategy and a social constructivist strategy to help learners take an active role in constructing their own knowledge.

In the initial scenario, students were taught a sequence of exercises, presumably through video or written instruction, and demonstrated understanding through an online quiz. Automated verbal feedback was provided with each answer and in the final evaluation. However, there was no social interaction or reflection on the student’s own experiences and was devoid of any constructivist approach.

A Change in Key Assumptions

A key assumption of constructivism is that what the student currently believes, whether correct or incorrect, is important. As a yoga teacher, I know that a student’s understanding of their own body is just as, if not more important than the poses and sequences I teach. Therefore, I would want to add to my asana example with a way for the student to reflect on their own experiences with the poses and sequence, where they can challenge and even reject the new information if it challenges their prior knowledge. In turn, I would respond to and have a dialog with the student regarding their approach. I have undergone yoga training where the word of the teacher was not to be questioned; they were the “expert” and I was supposed to be an empty vessel to pour knowledge into. However, I have seen over the years that there every body is different, and to teach and practice safely, we ought to provide an environment where a student feels safe to challenge the status quo. In constructivism, both the teacher and student should think of knowledge as a dynamic, ever-changing view of the world we live in and the ability to successfully stretch and explore that view, not as inert facts to be memorized.

Utilizing Scaffolding

In this scenario, I will not refer to the Zone of Proximal Development with a metric of age, as we see in Vygotsky’s papers. Instead, let’s think of the student’s ability to enter a pose the way it was originally taught. There may be a number of reasons why they cannot enter the pose: they do not fully understand the cues or the transitions, their range of motion does not have access to the pose, or their skeletal structure cannot replicate the pose, to name a few. I can use a scaffolding with a social constructivist strategy to help the learner take an active role in constructing their own knowledge.

Processes that aid effective scaffolding:

  • Gain and maintain the learner’s interest in the task: Engage the student in a verbal dialog with their own evaluation of the practice.
  • Make the task simple: Understand the student’s range of motion and how far they can go in the pose or sequence.
  • Emphasize certain aspects that will help with the solution: Supply modifications within the pose or sequence.
  • Control the student’s level of frustration: Make it abundantly clear that modifications are normal and necessary for most practitioner’s of yoga.
  • Demonstrate the task: Provide the same visual references for the modifications as I did in the curriculum that demonstrated the original poses and sequence.

Equity-Focused Design

While this approach is effective, it has not been designed inclusively. Rather, the original curriculum should have included a reference to modifications. Inclusive design thinks about benefiting everyone from the beginning, not as an afterthought. Therefore, modifications to the poses and sequence should be presented with the original curriculum. This does not change the scaffolding exercise. The dialog can still be included because there are as many bodies as there are people, and a modification for one person may still need to be adjusted for another.

Social Constructivist Strategy

To apply this learning experience with a social constructivist strategy, the students could break out into groups of 2 and teach each other what they have learned. They can take turns leading, applying four cognitive strategies:

  1. Questioning: Start by asking or evaluating if the other student needs adjustments.
  2. Summarizing: Teaching the sequence as the student follows their instruction.
  3. Clarifying: Adjusting their teaching based on cues they may notice in the other student.
  4. Predicting: Based on the feedback they have received from the other student, either in the initial questioning phase or by noticing their depth of range in their practice, adjust the sequence as appropriate.

This creates a zone of proximal development where students gradually assume more responsibility for material through collaboration, forging group expectations for high-level thinking and acquiring knowledge that is vital for their learning and success in everyday life and the practice.

Learning Method Overview: Behaviorism

It was suggested by J.B. Watson that psychology be studied through objective, observable behaviors rather than subjective, internal thoughts and consciousness. This was in opposition to the historical development of psychology. In the late-19th and early-20th century, introspective psychologists like Wilhelm Wundt maintained that the study of consciousness was the primary object of psychology. Their methodology was primarily introspective, relying heavily on first-person reports of sensations and the constituents of immediate experiences. Watson proffered that experience and environment (rather than internal motivations or inherited traits) dictate who or what a person becomes (how he behaves).

Watson was expanding upon Ivan Pavlov’s findings of classical conditioning. Pavlov discovered classical conditioning or stimulus-response when he noticed that after presenting food and a normally neutral stimulus (ringing a bell) together repeatedly created the response to the stimulus (salivating for food) as a result of the neutral stimulus alone. Two separate conditions create new synaptic relationships to occur between the stimulus and response.

Behaviorism was popularized by B.F. Skinner in the 60s or 70s. Skinner had discovered operant conditioning, where the subject learns from the consequences (reinforcer or punishment) of its own behavior. Behaviorism supposes that psychology is more aptly studied through observing behaviors of individuals and making connections between their behaviors and their environments or prior stimuli.

As a learning method, behaviorism relies on “skill and drill” exercises to provide the consistent repetition necessary for effective reinforcement of response patterns. Other methods include question (stimulus) and answer (response) frameworks with gradually increasing difficulty, guided practice, and regular reviews of material. It relies heavily on positive reinforcement such as verbal praise, good grades, and prizes. Exam performance can assess the degree of learning because it measures the observable behavior. Behaviorism proves most successful in areas where there is a “correct” response or easily memorized material, like teaching facts or formulae, scientific concepts, and foreign language vocabulary. It however has questionable effectiveness in teaching comprehension, composition, and analytical abilities.

Methods of learning when there is one correct response to reinforce includes:

  • Discrimination: Identify whether a concept belongs to a specific category. Drag-and-drop exercises.
  • Generalization: After identifying the attributes of an item belonging to one category, assign attributes to all items within a category. Teaching through example.
  • Association: Link a specific stimulus to a specific response. Matching exercises.
  • Chaining: Sequence ordering exercises with a predefined and unique correct sequence that users must form. Very common to find through trial and error.

Feedback is important not just at the end of the eLearning course, but each time the learner interacts with the system. Positive comments, punishment, negative criticism (not quite acceptable today nor appropriate for adult learning), and negative scores are all examples. In gamification, examples include assigning points, grades, badges, leaderboards, removal of benefits like points, lives, etc.

Behaviorism has received a lot of criticism over the last few decades because it does not take into account other aspects of learning such as the mental processes involved or the environment in which learning takes place. However, I can still see behaviorism under a UX lens, for example, in the testing phase while using analytic tools that report on user behavior. The introspective methods prior to behaviorism could alternatively be seen while using surveys or interviews during user research.

Behaviorism as a learning methodology could be seen as showing a notification when a user receives a message. When the user sees the notification, their physical response begins to connect to that social connection, and we see a dopamine response begin to associate with the notification. When removing notifications, the response can become extinct and the user may no longer be addicted to their phone.

Applying Behaviorism: Asana Example

Teaching yoga asana, the physical postures (such as downward dog and child’s pose) that are sequenced together to create a practice that strengthens and stretches the body, can be taught in asynchronous online learning through the learning theory of behaviorism. Take, for example, a sequence of poses that are meant to be practiced in a specific sequence: from the head to the toes. Each section of the body, for example, the shoulders, has its own group of exercises, such as shoulder rolls and shoulder flossing. Because this sequence follows a particular order, and includes groups of sequences that can be classified by sections of the body, it qualifies as knowledge that can be learned through behaviorism because behaviorism proves most successful where there is a “correct” response or easily memorized material.

We could create a mini eLearning module that teaches the correct sequence and the exercises for each section of the body. Then, we test the learner in a quiz with the following methods of learning:

  • Discrimination. Using a drag-and-drop exercise, have the user drag the exercises listed to the correct section of the body.
  • Chaining. Sequence ordering exercise with a predefined and correct sequence of exercise that the users must form. Supply a list of exercises and have the user order these correctly.
  • Feedback. Supplement positive comments each time the learner provides a correct answer. Reward the user with a video showing the full sequence after successfully completing the quiz.

The stimulus is the learning material and its subsequent reinforcement via the discrimination and chaining exercises. The response is the feedback and reward when successfully answering and completing the quiz. The negative reinforcement is the absence of positive feedback when unsuccessfully answering the questions, because negative criticism is not acceptable in this learning context.

Behaviorism is focused on observable behavior, and a quiz is a common method of assessing the degree of learning in behaviorism as it can measure observable behavior by the user’s score.

Positives using this approach is the ability to teach a physical practice using methods alternative to physically demonstrating. Perhaps the user is unable to demonstrate a particular exercise, but can still demonstrate comprehension. It also reinforces the correct information through language rather than strictly through physical demonstration.

Negatives using this approach include the inability for the user to question alternatives. For the user who may be unable to demonstrate a particular exercise, this approach lacks information to help them make modifications or adjustments in their practice. Similarly, while a successfully completed quiz demonstrates comprehension of the correct sequences and classifications in the practice, the instructor cannot determine if the user can actually physically perform the yoga asana practice. Supplementing with a field where the user can ask questions or upload videos of their practice that a teacher could review would not fit within the bounds of a behaviorist learning theory, but could prove to be a better experience.