Late in 2003, Colorado Technical University prepared to develop a large number of programs for online delivery. As part of the planning, the university developed its professional learning model (PLM™) to ensure online and face-to-face courses would address student motivation, employ proven teaching techniques, integrate theory with practice, teach real-world knowledge and skills, and support assessment of student learning. PLM™ courses focus on mastery of professional knowledge and skills by applying what is taught in the course to the construction of authentic deliverables that are produced in the professional environment, such as project plans, software programs, or electronic devices. CTU PLM™ engages the student in complex, real-world projects and scenarios that require them to organize, research, and solve problems. Essentially, it allows students to practice skills in real world situations. Professional learning naturally answers the student question, “How will I use this in the real world?” It allows students to easily establish the connection between what they learn in the classroom and real world issues and practices. This learning method encourages students to use higher levels of thinking skills by having them look critically and creatively at problems that don’t have one right answer. Students learn about information in situations that are similar to the professional situations in which they will use the information in the future.
PLM™ integrates theoretically diverse concepts of “context” to create a learning environment that is multi-dimensional. A number of theories are incorporated into this “context of learning” including Gagné’s Conditions of Learning (Gagné, 1965); the importance of structuring and sequencing of instruction (Reigeluth, Merrill, Wilson, & Spiller, 1980); the socially mediated aspects of learning (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Vygotsky, 1978); constructivism, the individual construction of knowledge through experience and external constraints (Piaget, 1952); and respecting the experiential knowledge resident within and among adult learners (Pea, 1993; Rogers & Freiberg, 1994).
By focusing on authentic deliverables constructed by students, PLM™ employs constructionism (Harel & Papert, 1991). Using constructionism makes it likely that students form new knowledge and skills through the construction of authentic deliverables (Papert, 1984; Stager, 2001). Through deliverable development and aided by course design, students individually and collaboratively reflect on their learning (Papert, 1993) which leads to enculturation into their chosen field (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Hay & Barab, 2001; Stager, 2001) and a smoother transition into a community of practice (Wenger, 1999; Barab & Duffy, 2000).
By tying courses closely to student desires to be successful in the workplace and allowing students to apply their resident knowledge, andragogical principles are incorporated to keep students engaged (Knowles, 1973, 1984). The aspects of andragogy incorporated into PLM™ are