Through reading Ertmer & Newby’s article Behaviourism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective, it became clear that I am working primarily from Cognitivism as my theoretical centre when teaching online and more from a Constructivism centre when teaching in the classroom.
Declaring an alignment with a particular theoretical stance for all of my work is not really possible because my work occurs in a variety of different contexts, for a variety of reasons.
I instruct and facilitate in Human Services programs, teaching primarily support strategies courses in the classroom and interpersonal communication online. The classroom work is dynamic, students have full access to each other and are encouraged to bring their own wisdom and experience to bear on the activities we do. Human Services is messy, unpredictable work, and students are given many opportunities to research, understand, discover and practice the skills that will be required in a variety of real-world scenarios (Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p. 57). The work is relational, so teaching a cut-and-dried set of procedures will not help students once they are in the work force. In order for them to be best equipped, I give them messy, ill-structured problems and as that they work individually and in groups to understand their relationship to the problem, their possible solutions, and how others might solve the problem differently, but with equal validity. Students are regularly asked to reflect on how they came to the conclusions they did, to examine personal experiences and biases that brought them to those conclusions, and the cultural context in which it all occurred (Ertmer & Newby, p. 56). Students complete their credential with practicum placements, which firmly places the learning in the realm of Constructivism.
The interpersonal communication course that I teach online has very different parameters. This is somewhat due to the constraints of the LMS (Learning Management System) we are working within, somewhat because of the constraints of working within a standardized course. There are several different instructors teaching this particular course and we endeavour to have some consistency (standardization) across all the classes and delivery methods. The constraints of the LMS make it difficult to have students practice their interpersonal skills with each other (curricular things such as eye contact, and open body language), and the institutional constraints make it difficult to introduce other applications for this practice (video conferencing software) as we are cognizant of privacy laws and student use of 3rd party applications. Within this course, I structure the environment of the course to have explanations, demonstrations and examples to guide students. We talk about how learners encode information, and work with a variety of study skills that are designed to support their learning through activating their prior information, connecting the new information to it, practicing or demonstrating this new information, and ongoing rehearsal of the information as a way of ensuring that it is encoded in memory (Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p. 52). Students are expected to demonstrate that they can apply the new information in a variety of contexts (transfer) through different assignments and class discussions in the forums. Coaching the students to use appropriate learning strategies is in line with a Cognitivism theoretical base (Ertmer & Newby, p. 52).
Due partly to the different contexts of the courses I teach and the different expectations of the courses, my role in the classroom is much more of facilitator (which I see as in line with Constructivism) and of instructor online (more in line with both Behaviourism and Cognitivism). Students in my online courses will all come away with the same set of skills and information, but the students in my face-to-face classes will come away from the course with learning that is meaningful to them.
Ertmer, P., & Newby, T. (2013). Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 26(2), 43-71.