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Best Practices in Engaging Online Learners Through Active and Experiential Learning Strategies
Date Reviewed: March 29, 2017
“Learning in the 21st century has drastically changed how learners access and process information” (1). The authors of Best Practices in Engaging Online Learners begin by describing specific changes in higher education that directly impact student learning. This change is obvious. Several technologies are changing the landscape of higher education: electronic textbooks, learning management systems, large-scale institutional data, social media – each of these changes impacts student experience, and benefit from intentional pedagogical usage. These changes are more thorough in distance learning than in face-to-face contexts it seems. The authors present an idealistic call towards engaging and developing rigorous online education that harnesses its possibilities. As such, they advocate active and experiential learning that is high on transfer and reflection.
To a certain extent, this book seems to be incorrectly titled. Calling itself Best Practices in Engaging Online Learners leaves the reader with the expectation that the book contains examples of best practices. What the book does in actuality is to categorize several trends in pedagogy and in the scholarship of teaching and learning research. The focus is almost entirely theoretical. The book surveys experiential learning (13-33), project-based learning (36-39), scenario-based learning (39-43), gamification (47-57), cooperative learning (61-71), and assessment strategies (73-89). The summaries of these areas of pedagogy research are accurate and centralize much of the current research, but the most essential questions remain: how does an instructor take the content they need to present and make it engaging for students? How do instructors engage students in the learning process? What specific strategies empower students to have a higher degree of retention and transportability of what they have learned? On these questions, theory only gets us so far.
Having said this, the volume has some utility, particularly in that it provides an efficient summary of various mainline innovations in pedagogy research. For this reason, it would be valuable for an instructor new to teaching, or one looking to start making progress towards learning-centered instruction. It also might be worth discussing in a faculty learning community – provided that more seasoned instructors can flesh out the theory with examples from their teaching. The utility of this volume dramatically decreases for the seasoned teacher who has done reading or research into effective teaching practices.
Learning Transfer in Adult Education (New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, Number 137)
Date Reviewed: May 15, 2015
Leann M. R. Kaiser, Karen Kaminski, and Jeffrey M. Foley’s edited volume Learning Transfer in Adult Education offers a concise and readable entry point into the topic of learning transfer. While the stated focus of the volume is adult education, many of the themes and strategies considered will be of interest to those teaching traditional undergraduates as well. According to the editors, “Learning transfer, simply stated, is the ability of a learner to apply skills and knowledge learned in one situation or setting to another” (1). This goal, they suggest, is fundamental to any educational enterprise.
In the first chapter, Foley and Kaiser introduce learning transfer and concepts associated with it, providing a useful framing for the chapters that follow. In particular, Foley and Kaiser explain the distinction between “near transfer,” in which the new situation closely resembles the original learning context, and “far transfer,” in which it does not. These and a handful of other key terms reappear throughout the essays; this chapter deserves a careful reading. The chapter also offers a brief overview of some tools available to instructors, many of which reappear or are discussed in greater detail in later chapters.
Chapters 2 through 7 offer a variety of perspectives. Nate Furman and Jim Sibthorp (chapter 2) consider experiential learning techniques. These include problem-based learning, project-based learning, cooperative learning, service learning, and reflective learning. Three strong case studies are offered in this chapter, which help demonstrate the techniques in action. One of the techniques, problem-based learning (PBL), is the focus of the contribution by Woei Hung (chapter 3). Hung introduces the distinction between “well-structured” and “ill-structured” problems; the latter are more commonly found in the workplace and thus are productively used in PBL. Hung also comments on the cognitive processes that underlie effective learning transfer; these are complemented nicely by Jacqueline McGinty, Jean Radin, and Karen Kaminski’s study of “Brain-Friendly Teaching” (chapter 5). As the phrase “brain-friendly” suggests, the chapter skews toward pop psychology, but many of the techniques seem to hold potential. Patricia L. Hardré’s contribution (chapter 4), meanwhile, offers a serious engagement with the question of authenticity as it plays out in technology design.
The remaining two case studies take up broader concerns. Rosemary Closson (chapter 6) offers a nuanced review of issues surrounding race and cultural difference in learning transfer, combining theoretical and practical discussion. This chapter is especially valuable for instructors interested in race, cultural difference, and pedagogy. Jeani C. Young (chapter 7) offers an equally sensitive treatment of personal change. The volume concludes with a discussion by the editors on “applying transfer in practice.”
While those teaching adult learners will especially benefit from the specific examples and case studies, all interested readers stand to profit from this volume. In particular, its wealth of practical examples and classroom strategies offer quick and immediate value to the busy reader.