Analysis of Relevant Learning Theories and Principles
In learning about who Peter is, the generation he grew up in, his education and diverse professional background we get a sense of what he has brought to this experience. We understand that in the 70s typing was a "for girls" activity, that he grew up before the world was inundated with advanced computing platforms and blue collar work was a well respected path for men to follow. We also know that he completed some college level work and graduated successfully from a Police Academy. So while he may had very little direct learning experience with typing to transfer to this new task (Mayer, 2011), I believe that his previous experiences with learning provided a solid foundation for participating in this case study and successfully completing the program.
In their 2014 paper, Prior Knowledge is More Than Content: Skills and Beliefs Also Impact Learning, Ambrose and Lovett highlight several pieces of significant information:
- ...prior knowledge is one of the most influential factors in student learning because new information is processed through the lens of what one already knows, believes, and can do (p.7).
- Intellectual skills form the foundation of the ability to learn throughout life, particularly in today's work environment where professionals will likely change jobs and perhaps professions several times over the course of their careers (p.10).
- Students benefit from metacognition because it enables them to reflect on their own approaches to learning, accurately assess what they do and do not know, and make better choices as a result (p.14).
Through Ambrose and Lovett I can see that Peter's prior knowledge gained through experience both in and out of the classroom have contributed to his ability to learn successfully. He had a sturdy enough foundation to see this new task through a realistic lens that helped him stay on task. Moreover, his intellectual skills have clearly developed through his diverse professional career choices and he has been able to apply what he has learned over the years across a wide variety opportunities. And lastly, his metacognitive abilities are largely apparent when he said in the interview, "I am a terrible typer.... but I like to learn. I especially like to learn things that I think are useful. I think this has been a very useful experience. And if I keep practicing I know it will get even better". It's clear that Peter recognizes what he doesn't know, he can see what he has learned and even better he knows how to get where he would like to be. Which in this case is to become a proficient typist.
When I first asked Peter if he would consent to participate in this study, I remember his asking me how he should go about this teaching himself to type thing. I didn't want to influence him beyond giving him a basic overview of the study and told him that he would have to find a program that taught typing that he was comfortable with, and that how he went about "doing it" was entirely up to him.
Through observation and interview (and I confess further conversation since the big interview), I have been able to inform Peter that his metacognitive skills are well and thriving. Loosely, Girash, refers to metacognition as "thinking about, and planning and control of, one's own thinking" (2014, pp. 152). This is something that despite unexpected injury that Peter was able to do well. He was able to select a workspace where he could concentrate and be comfortable, he was able to find a schedule within his busy life to do the work of learning and apply himself to the task. Furthermore, he understood himself well enough to get past the moments of frustration and constant tedium in order to obtain his objective. He knew what he had to do, he figured out how to get there, and he did it.
There is also another moment where I see his metacognitive skills at work. Roughly, ten minutes into our observation session Peter stood up and took a short break from the keyboard. When he returned, it was with a renewed sense of purpose and an easing of tension that was fully observable. Sometimes in recognizing what your brain needs in order to learn, one needs to know when to take a break and put the pencil down.
And knowing when to put the pencil down can be just as difficult as applying oneself in a self-regulated learning environment. It is very easy to get derailed, as happened when Peter suffered a scheduling setback due to the unexpected injury. However, in keeping with Carneiro, Lefrere, Steffens and Underwood's theory of self-regulated learning, autonomy and responsibility are central to the construct if students are to take charge of their own learning (2011, p. vii). Part of autonomy is making healthy decisions, and it is healthy to take a break when a break is needed either for clarity or to reduce tension.
Peter once again showed his ability to self-regulate when he was able to get back on track after his injury and furthermore push past the distractions of being in an environment entirely conducive to being distracted (i.e., at home with a football game on in another room, noises coming from his daughters bedroom, phone ringing). This also shows another key feature of self-regulation, which is motivation (Carneiro, et. al, 2011, p.4). In order for a student to persist through a learning task, they must be motivated to do so, especially when in a non-conducive learning environment or when the reward for learning is either not immediate or obvious.
It is clear that Peter was motivated. Wlodkowski (2008), states that motivation is, "the natural human process for directing energy to accomplish a goal. What makes motivation somewhat mysterious is that we cannot see it or touch it or precisely measure it. ...We look for signs--effort, perseverance, completion..." (p.3). While Peter's intrinsic motivation may be difficult to pin down, the outward signs are obvious. He agreed to participate in the study. Despite setbacks and a rather tedious task he persisted until he completed the program. Wlodkowski brings up another key factor in assessing motivation, "We also know that culture, the deeply learned mix of language, beliefs, values, and behaviors that pervades every aspect of our lives, significantly influences our motivation" (p.3). To me this is significant.
Peter was challenging his cultural history to fit a more modern paradigm. He grew up in an age when men didn't type. That no longer holds true today. Now, everyone types. I also believe that his dedication to his daughter played a large role in his personal motivation. He sees her struggle through things most of us take for granted and he works diligently with her until she succeeds. I believe that he was able to access this motivation which is usually outward focused on her and use it to focus on a task that would ultimately serve to help both of them.
And lastly there is deliberate practice. Something which I touch on at the end because that is how the program and the interview ended with Peter. He didn't see himself as being proficient yet. He saw himself as improved. But he wanted to do better. So he looked ahead and sought to continue, to practice until he reached that moment when typing is no longer a chore and is instead as natural as putting pen to paper. Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Romer (1993), assert and support with empirical evidence that practice and expertise are intrinsically tied together. The more one practices than the better one gets. However they also caution that practice should be limited to what an individual can recover from either daily or weekly.