Constructivist Strategies to Optimize Four Levels of Interaction in a Distributed Learning Environment: A Case Study

Constructivist Strategies to Optimize Four Levels of Interaction in a Distributed Learning Environment: A Case Study

Linda Lohr (University of Northern Colorado, USA), Nicholas Eastham (University of Northern Colorado, USA) and David Kendrick (University of Northern Colorado, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-654-9.ch016
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This case study describes how a constructivist theory of learning guided the design of distributed learning environment for a three credit hour graduate level course on instructional design. Four types of interaction data were collected from 27 participants, one instructional designer/instructor, and two assistant designers. Overall, constructivist strategies appeared to contribute to a successful learning experience as measured by participant surveys, designer observations, and academic performance. A strong majority of students considered a number of constructivist strategies beneficial, such as the provision of a variety of reading and learning activity options, as well as participation in an authentic and relevant learning task. Academic quality of end of semester instructional products was high. A strong majority of participants received a rating of excellent, as determined by designer/instructor and mentor evaluations. Some constructivist strategies appeared to detract from the learning experience. Data related student-to-student, student-to-content, student-to-teacher, and student-to-interface interaction suggests the need to clarify expectations for small group discussions and participant blogs, rewriting or repositioning an instructional story as a case study, increasing design-document specific feedback, using a broad and shallow interface structure and moving selected course content to pre-packaged paper-based format to reduce cognitive demands related to reading while online.
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This case study identifies constructivist design principles behind the creation, implementation, and assessment of a semester-long graduate-level distributed education course. Distributed education involves multiple sources of information, occurring in or outside a classroom or campus, often mediated by technology, with time and location independence (Obinger, Barone, & Hawkins, 2001). The role of technology in facilitating constructivist instructional strategies is explored and analyzed in this chapter to direct future distributed learning case study design and assessment studies.

In its broadest sense, a constructivist learning experience is one in which the student is provided with opportunities to create knowledge and understanding as they reflect upon authentic learning activities. Students in this case study participated in a distributed education course titled “Instructional Design.” Students, hereafter named participants, were required to create (construct) self-paced instructional modules for two audiences: a teaching mentor, and the mentor’s students. Course content involved participant problem solving and creative thinking in the context of uniquely identified instructional problems. Participants were required to generate a number of documents and products including: analysis instruments, needs assessments, self-paced instruction, learning assessments, and weekly reflection blogs.

While the course was delivered online, participants interacted with a variety of learning resources characteristic of distributed learning environments. Participants in this student were involved in:

  • One on one interaction with designers as questions arose

  • Online collaboration/interaction with other study participants, fellow graduate students who also were taking the class and also creating units of instruction

  • Interaction with a mentor based upon on instructions to “find someone whose teaching you admire and hope to emulate”

  • Interaction with the mentor's students

The unit of instruction developed by the participant involved:

  • Conducting a needs assessment and learner analysis

  • Developing instructional objectives, strategies and assessments

  • Implementing the instruction

  • Evaluating (formatively and summatively) the effectiveness of the instruction

The problem solving nature of the instructional design course, coupled with authentic design tasks and audiences, provided a strong opportunity to analyze and assess the implementation of constructivist learning strategies.

This chapter begins by describing key terms and concepts used in the context of this study. Constructivism, rich environments for active learning (REALs) and resource-based learning (RBL) are defined. The influence of cognitive load theory and interaction design in the implementation of constructivist learning strategies is discussed. Three overall research questions guide an assessment of the learning environments effectiveness. Trends in technology in light of the implications of the study conclude the chapter and provide the basis for continued research and application of instructional design.



A constructivist view of learning characterizes much of the research related to educational technology at this time (Molenda, 2008). While there are many definitions of constructivism, Driscoll (2005) finds most explain learning as an active process whereby the learner creates knowledge and understanding by making sense of learning experiences.

According to constructivist learning theory, individual and social experiences are the basis of knowledge experiences (Crotty, 1994; Jonassen, 1992; Savery& Duffy,1995; Valasidou, Sidiropoulos, & Makridou-Bousiou (2005). Learning is viewed as an active process of thinking, understanding, and reflecting that results in meaning making on an individual level.

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Michael Sherman
Carla R. Payne
Chapter 1
Maria Luisa Pérez Cavana
Taking into account the complexity and multiplicity of constructivist theories, the first part of this chapter focuses on the relationship between... Sample PDF
Closing the Circle: From Dewey to Web 2.0
Chapter 2
Noel Fitzpatrick, Nóirín Hayes, K.C. O’Rourke
Constructivism has become the comfortable face of educational theory in recent years, due in no small part to the mainstreaming of learning... Sample PDF
Beyond Constriction and Control: Constructivism in Online Theory and Practice
Chapter 3
Barbara de la Harpe, Fiona Peterson
There is a strong move worldwide for a constructivist theory to underpin the way teaching and learning are viewed in today’s colleges and... Sample PDF
The Theory and Practice of Teaching with Technology in Today's Colleges and Universities
Chapter 4
Karen Swan, D.R. Garrison, Jennifer C. Richardson
This chapter presents a theoretical model of online learning, the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework, which is grounded in John Dewey’s... Sample PDF
A Constructivist Approach to Online Learning: The Community of Inquiry Framework
Chapter 5
Jennifer Lee, Lin Lin
Based on constructivist principles, this chapter provides a new instructional design map for online learning environments. This instructional design... Sample PDF
Applying Constructivism to Online Learning: A New Instructional Design Map
Chapter 6
Beth Rubin
Constructivist education usually involves authentic assessment, which is affected by the media used to teach. Information technology can enhance or... Sample PDF
Enhancing Authentic Assessment Through Information Technology
Chapter 7
Xenia Coulter, Alan Mandell
The adult college student, caught between the competing demands of work and home, has recently become a valuable commodity in today’s fast-changing... Sample PDF
Nontraditional Students and Information Technology: The Siren Call of the Virtual Classroom and its Impact on Progressive Educational Ideals
Chapter 8
Jakko van der Pol
This chapter aims to perform a thorough analysis of students’ online learning conversations. Although offering a high potential for collaborative... Sample PDF
Online Learning Conversations: Potential, Challenges and Facilitation
Chapter 9
Laura M. Nicosia
Contemporary educators have been reassessing pedagogical frameworks and reevaluating accepted epistemologies and ontologies of learning. The age-old... Sample PDF
Virtual Constructivism: Avatars in Action
Chapter 10
G. Andrew Page, Radwan Ali
The key idea that sets constructivism apart from other theories of cognition was launched about 60 years ago by Jean Piaget. It was the idea that... Sample PDF
The Power and Promise of Web 2.0 Tools
Chapter 11
Shalin Hai-Jew
This chapter examines some ways information technologies (IT) are deployed in higher education courses to help learners create robust mental models.... Sample PDF
IT-Enabled Strategies for Mental Modeling in E-Learning
Chapter 12
Roisin Donnelly
This chapter critically explores the design and implementation of a blended problem-based learning (PBL) module for academic professional... Sample PDF
Transformative Potential of Constructivist Blended Problem-Based Learning in Higher Education
Chapter 13
James G.R. Cronin, John Paul McMahon, Michael Waldron
Reception and use of information technology by lifelong learners within a “blended” learning environment needs to be articulated within a... Sample PDF
Critical Survey of Information Technology Use in Higher Education: Blended Classrooms
Chapter 14
M. Beatrice Ligorio, Nadia Sansone
In this chapter, the case of a blended university course will be described in detail. The main focus of this description will be on how some... Sample PDF
Structure of a Blended University Course: Applying Constructivist Principles to Blended Teaching
Chapter 15
Hwee Ling Lim, Fay Sudweeks
As educators utilize an increasingly wide range of technologies for facilitating interaction between distant learning parties, there are concerns... Sample PDF
Constructivism and Online Collaborative Group Learning in Higher Education: A Case Study
Chapter 16
Linda Lohr, Nicholas Eastham, David Kendrick
This case study describes how a constructivist theory of learning guided the design of distributed learning environment for a three credit hour... Sample PDF
Constructivist Strategies to Optimize Four Levels of Interaction in a Distributed Learning Environment: A Case Study
Chapter 17
Alessio Gaspar, Sarah Langevin, Naomi Boyer
This chapter discusses a case study of the application of technology to facilitate undergraduate students’ learning of computer programming in an... Sample PDF
Facilitating Students-Driven Learning of Computer Programming with Technology
Chapter 18
John Miller
A central component of constructivist pedagogy at the college level is the modeling and practicing of critical thinking, and since Socrates... Sample PDF
Designing Asynchronous Discussions to Teach Critical Thinking
Chapter 19
Mark H. Schulman
The challenges for Goddard College posed by 21st Century information technologies are their incorporation into, and reflection of, the foundational... Sample PDF
"To Be in Occasional Touch": Goddard College's Progressive Principles and Distributed Learning
Chapter 20
Carol R. Rinke, Divonna M. Stebick, Lauren Schaefer, M. Evan Gaffney
This chapter presents a critical case study on the use of information technology in a pre-service teacher education program. The authors integrated... Sample PDF
Using Blogs to Foster Inquiry, Collaboration, and Feedback in Pre-Service Teacher Education
Chapter 21
Michal Zellermayer, Nili Mor, Ida Heilweil
This chapter describes the learning environment that the authors created for veteran teachers, graduate students in Teaching and Learning who are... Sample PDF
The Intersection of Theory, Tools and Tasks in a Postgraduate Learning Environment
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