Inspiration for Students of Instructional Design and Technology

Course Reflection

Author's reflectionAs our course in Learning Theories and Instruction comes to a close, we have been asked to reflect on what we have learned and how our new knowledge will advance our career goals.

What surprised me?

Each week’s discussion brought new information and surprises. For example, I was surprised to discover that, although learning styles are popular and marketable, they are not especially effective ingredients for sound instruction (Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, & Bjork, 2008). Instead, instructional designers should focus on presenting a topic in the most effective manner rather than catering to individual preferences. I was also surprised to learn about the tenuous link between short-term and long-term memory. Fenwick and Tennant (2004) contend that “learning happens only when there is reflective thought and internal ‘processing’ by the learner in a way that actively makes sense of an experience and links it to previous learning” (p. 60). I had assumed that remembering something is simply a matter of self-discipline; however, this course has taught me that instructional design techniques like elaboration, comprehension monitoring, and mnemonics can aid retention (Ormrod, n.d.).

What did I learn about my personal learning process?

This course constantly challenged us to evaluate each new learning theory in terms of our own learning experiences. The three types of learning styles are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (Gilbert & Swanier, 2008), and I definitely favor the visual style. Gardner (2004) explains that, while a learning style is an individual’s preferred method of learning, our focus should be on stimulating our learner’s eight multiple intelligences. As a technical writer, I typically work with the Linguistic intelligence, but I have found that learning through my other, weaker intelligences can be just as rewarding. MI theory states that everyone can develop a reasonable level of proficiency in each intelligence “if given the appropriate encouragement, enrichment, and instruction” (Armstrong, 2009).

Learning theories, learning styles, educational technology, and motivation–how do they all fit together?

As instructional designers, we must consider how best to develop courses that integrate learning theories, learning styles, technology, and motivational factors. It is quite a smorgasbord to choose from, and selecting the best approach may not be a “no brainer.”

Ertmer and Newby (1993) assert that “as people acquire more experience with a given content, they progress along a low-to-high knowledge continuum” (p. 67). The behaviorist approach is often used for introductory knowledge, with the learner performing a repetitive, observable action. Cognitive theory explains how learners receive and process information, much like a computer, and is appropriate for more advanced learning (Ormrod, Schunk, & Gredler, 2009). Constructivism asserts that knowledge is “subjective and personal” (Ormrod et al., 2009, p. 184) and “that persons, behaviors, and environments interact in a reciprocal fashion” (p. 185). Social constructivism takes the idea a step farther and contends that “meaningful learning occurs when individuals are engaged in social activities” (Kim, 2001, p. 3). Connectivism is a learning theory for the digital age, whereby learners are linked to a variety of real-time knowledge sources, both human and technological (Siemens, 2004). Adult learning theory addresses the importance of intrinsic motivation and relevancy while acknowledging the special challenges faced by learners with adult responsibilities (Conlan, Grabowski, & Smith, 2003). These theories all have their proponents, but as instructional designers we are not obligated to jump on one “bandwagon” and pledge our loyalty. Instead, I believe we should follow Karl Kapp’s (2007) advice to “take the best from each philosophy and use it wisely to create solid educational experiences for our learners” (para. 4).

As previously stated, learning styles should probably not be an instructional designer’s primary focus. However, by presenting information in multiple ways, the designer can appeal to various “styles” and “intelligences” so that learners have a better chance of understanding and retaining knowledge.

Keeping pace with technology should be a priority for any aspiring instructional designer. Today’s learners have many resources for acquiring knowledge, particularly through the Web and social learning. Siemens (2004) explains that “the amount of knowledge in the world has doubled in the past 10 years and is doubling every 18 months” (para. 3). For this reason, as the theory of connectivism explains, building learning networks is essential because one person cannot possess all the knowledge that is needed to accomplish a variety of tasks (Siemens, 2004).

Once the instructional designer has identified the appropriate learning theory, addressed learning styles, and selected the best technology for a new course, there is still one more important factor to consider. A superior design may still be ineffective if the learner lacks motivation. Keller (2008) explains that higher achievement occurs when instruction addresses learner attention, relevancy, confidence, satisfaction, and volition.

How will this course further my career?

This course has broadened my understanding of how people learn and suggested strategies for addressing various cognitive hurdles. I have come to understand that there is no one clear-cut method, but rather a toolbox of theories and strategies that can be employed as appropriate for each situation. Although this course has encouraged a great deal of self-reflection about my personal learning style, as an instructional designer, I must develop courses for learners who possess a variety of strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and experiences. The knowledge and insight that I have gained from this course has been beneficial to me in my current role as a technical writer and will undoubtedly provide a foundation for branching into instructional design projects.


Armstrong, T. (2008). Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Conlan, J., Grabowski, S., & Smith, K. (2003). Adult learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4), 50–71.

Gardner, H. (2004). Frequently asked questions—Multiple intelligences and related educational topics. Retrieved from

Kapp, K. (2007, January 2). Out and about: Discussion on educational schools of thought. [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Keller, J. M. (2008). First principles of motivation to learn and e3-learning. Distance Education, 29(2), 175-185.

Ormrod, J. (n.d.). Learning styles and strategies [Video podcast]. Los Angeles: Laureate Education, Inc. Retrieved from

Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2009). Learning theories and instruction (Laureate custom edition). New York: Pearson.

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9 (3).

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved from


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