Category Archives: Graduate Coursework

Thoughts on Cognitive Load and the Modality Effect; Self-Regulation and Mindsets

I wrote the following discussion replies for an assignment in IDS 6504: Adult Learning, instructed by Dr. Kay Allen. The first reply is about cognitive load theory and the modality effect; the second is about self-regulation and mindsets.

IDS 6504 Assignment 6: Replies to Others
Richard Thripp
University of Central Florida
March 17, 2017


FIRST REPLY

Richard Thripp, responding to [redacted]

Question: What are strategies that can be implemented to reduce cognitive load?

General Comment: Reducing extraneous cognitive load, that is, cognitive load unrelated to the instructional materials themselves, is a worthy goal. Two of your references might be characterized as the modality effect—that presenting information both visually and auditorily can reduce cognitive load as compared to using only one modality.

Supplement: When considering cognitive load and the modality effect, one should also look at whether the instruction at hand is system-paced or self-paced. Classroom lecturing, such as the Lewis (2016) article you cited, is a classic example of system-paced instruction, because the learner cannot decouple the auditory portion of the presentation from the visual portion—these two modalities are temporally linked. This is good. In fact, Ginnas’s (2005) meta-analysis found a strong presence of the modality effect for system-paced instruction, but a weaker presence when instruction is self-paced. In self-paced instruction, the learner consumes instructional materials in one modality while having the option of referring to materials in other modalities. An example is a textbook or learning modules with graphics and text, supplemented by an audio or video clip to be accessed separately. The modality effect may be so bad for self-paced instruction that it may even be worse than presenting instruction in one modality, at least according to a study by Tabbers, Martens, and van Merriënboer (2004). This implies that temporal contiguity is essential. Therefore, instructional designers may want to be cautious about providing text-based modules with multimedia supplements. In fact, if we accept the argument of Tabbers et al. (2004), it may be better to force students to watch a video where the temporal contiguity of multimodal information is preserved (i.e., learners hear the audio that accompanies relevant text at the right time, rather than minutes or hours after reading the text in the learning module or textbook), at least with respect to cognitive load theory and the modality effect.

While I have not mentioned the cueing effect, it may be important to the modality effect if cues are linked across modes (e.g., a narrator telling the learner to look at a particular portion of a diagram). However, the cueing effect, quite often, is seen purely in the visual modality, such as highlighting or otherwise visually drawing attention to an area of a figure, graph, table, diagram, or block of text.

As an added comment, what Dr. Allen does in this course with real-time learning sessions is a great example of using system-paced instruction to leverage the modality effect. She does not read from the slides, but auditorily elaborates on the points on the slides with different words. She does not offer the slides for download, nor a text transcript of the spoken portion of the presentation. Ironically, not offering these supplements may actually be preferable to offering them; even learners who miss the real-time session must review a video-recording of it, which ensures that temporal contiguity of the instructional modalities is preserved. If slides and transcripts were offered, learners availing themselves of them would become self-paced with respect to instructional modality, which can have deleterious, or at least sub-optimal, results (Tabbers et al., 2004).

References

Ginns, P. (2005). Meta-analysis of the modality effect. Learning and Instruction, 15, 313–331. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2005.07.001

Tabbers, H. K., Martens, R. L., & van Merriënboer, J. J. G. (2004). Multimedia instructions and cognitive load theory: Effects of modality and cueing. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 74, 71–81. http://doi.org/10.1348/000709904322848824


SECOND REPLY

Richard Thripp, responding to [redacted]

Question: How can instructors of adult language-learners address the issue of learners’ self-regulation so they may better manage their learning?

General Comment: Self-regulation is multi-faceted. Explaining the research on self-regulation to learners may be beneficial. Influencing learners’ mindsets is another worthy avenue. The instruction or assessment goal at hand is a factor in whether self-regulation should be prioritized or deferred.

Supplement: In their blockbuster literature review and position piece, Muraven and Baumeister (2000) contend that self-regulation is like a muscle—it is finite, can be easily depleted, and yet may also be strengthened by being frequently exercised. Explaining this to learners may improve their understanding of self-regulation and perhaps reduce inappropriate self-blame. Moreover, learners’ personal situations and an educator’s present goals are important. During instruction and formative assessment, encouraging self-regulation among learners may be beneficial. However, allowing learners to exhibit self-regulation by making all assignments and assessments due on the last day of the semester may have profoundly negative results for learners who fail to self-regulate; instead, staggered deadlines can reduce learners’ self-regulatory burdens. Further, educators and institutions arguably should reduce the need for self-regulation among learners who are going through transitions or already have a lot of self-regulatory burdens. For instance, the self-regulation required of doctoral candidates may be foreign and overwhelming, which is a contributory factor toward the undesirable outcome of doctoral attrition (Bair & Haworth, 1999). In response, universities might mandate format reviews, committee meetings, and draft deadlines to reduce doctoral candidates’ reliance on self-regulation.

Another important factor is mindset—whether the learner has a growth mindset (incremental theory of intelligence), meaning they believe they can improve their abilities with effort, or a fixed mindset (entity theory of intelligence), meaning they believe their abilities in a particular domain, or in general, cannot be increased through effort (Thripp, 2016). In an extensive meta-analysis, Burnette, O’Boyle, VanEpps, Pollack, and Finkel (2013) found that having a growth mindset predicted superior self-regulation. Growth mindset can be easily taught through brief instructional modules advocating the brain’s plasticity and potential for growth (Paunesku et al., 2015). Such interventions may have collateral benefits to self-regulation. Efforts should be made by educators to demystify important concepts, such as mindsets and self-regulation, among their learners. Then, learners may achieve metacognitive awareness, becoming empowered to recognize and adjust for their human limitations as a step toward truly taking control of their educations.

References

Bair, C. R., & Haworth, J. G. (1999, November). Doctoral student attrition and persistence: A meta-synthesis of research. Paper presented at the meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, San Antonio, TX.

Burnette, J. L., O’Boyle, E. H., VanEpps, E. M., Pollack, J. M., & Finkel, E. J. (2013). Mindsets matter: A meta-analytic review of implicit theories and self-regulation. Psychological Bulletin, 139, 655–701. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0029531

Muraven, M., & Baumeister, R. F. (2000). Self-regulation and depletion of limited resources: Does self-control resemble a muscle? Psychological Bulletin, 126, 247–259. http://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.126.2.247

Paunesku, D., Walton, G. M., Romero, C., Smith, E. N., Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2015). Mind-set interventions are a scalable treatment for academic underachievement. Psychological Science, 26, 784–793. http://doi.org/10.1177/0956797615571017

Thripp, R. X. (2016, April 21). The implications of mindsets for learning and instruction. Retrieved from http://thripp.com/2016/05/mindsets-education-lit-review/

Pedagogical Implications of the Testing Effect, Working Memory

I wrote the following for an assignment in IDS 6504: Adult Learning, instructed by Dr. Kay Allen. I chose the testing effect and cognitive load theory because of my interest in these constructs and their pedagogical importance.

IDS 6504 Assignment 6
Richard Thripp
University of Central Florida
March 8, 2017

1. Theory and Construct – Cognitive Information Processing – The Testing Effect

2. First Implication for Instruction – Testing learners’ ability to recall (“retrieval practice”) improves learning and assessment outcomes by strengthening both retrieval ability and knowledge encoding.

3. Question – When should teachers and trainers implement retrieval practice to engage the testing effect?

4. Answer – My claim that the testing effect may even improve knowledge encoding sounds audacious to the uninitiated, but is being borne out by recent research—Karpicke and Blunt (2011), in a statement that sounds more like synaptic pruning than an educational phenomenon, propose that “retrieval practice may improve cue diagnosticity by restricting the set of candidates specified by a cue to be included in the search set” (p. 774). That is to say, the testing effect is not so much increasing the number of encoded features, but rather improving the lucidity of the existing encoded features, somewhat like tracing over a pencil sketch in pen. For closed-book assessments, retrieval practice has been shown to be much more effective than repeated study of learning materials, if the exam is given some time after the last study session (in Roediger & Karpicke, 2006, the testing effect was apparent two days and a week later, but not five minutes later). Teachers and trainers should augment their lessons with retrieval practice activities early and often, even for complex materials (Karpicke & Aue, 2015). Simply re-reading a textbook is not enough. Even teachers who implement elaborative learning activities are leaving a great deal of potential learning gains on the table if they do not engage the testing effect through retrieval practice (Karpicke & Blunt, 2011). One of the few times where retrieval practice may not be useful is immediately before an exam (i.e., the five-minute condition in Roediger & Karpicke, 2006). Giving yourself flashcard quizzes while waiting for the exams to be passed out is probably not very useful, perhaps because there simply is not enough time for the testing effect to incubate at this point.

5. References

Karpicke, J. D., & Aue, W. R. (2015). The testing effect is alive and well with complex materials. Educational Psychology Review, 27, 317–326. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-015-9309-3

Karpicke, J. D., & Blunt, J. R. (2011). Retrieval practice produces more learning than elaborative studying with concept mapping. Science, 331, 772–775. http://doi.org/10.1126/science.1199327

Roediger, H. L., & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). Test-enhanced learning: Taking memory tests improves long-term retention. Psychological Science, 17, 249–255. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01693.x

6. Specific Application – One specific application, employed by Dr. Kay Allen at the University of Central Florida in such courses as EDF 6259: Learning Theories Applied to Instruction and Classroom Management, and IDS 6504: Adult Learning, is to give learners multiple-choice quizzes during lectures. This retrieval practice may aid long-term retention and retrieval ability, particularly for learners who read the textbook, modules, or other supporting materials prior to attending the lecture or web conference.


7. Theory and Construct – Cognitive Load Theory – Working Memory and Cognitive Efficiency

8. Second Implication for Instruction – Instruction should be designed to accommodate the learner’s working memory capacity by reducing or eliminating the need to hold information in working memory unnecessarily. This is just one step toward designing instruction with cognitive efficiency in mind.

9. Question – How should instructional designers account for working memory capacity in multimedia learning?

10. Answer – Multimedia learning activities should be designed to avoid cognitive overload for the target audience (Mayer & Moreno, 2003). If the target audience is learners who are already experts in the field of study at hand, obviously, learning activities that produce substantial cognitive overload for novices might become viable. Cognitive efficiency, or “qualitative increases in knowledge gained in relation to the time and effort invested in knowledge acquisition” (Hoffman, 2012, p., 133), is arguably a worthy consideration—the time and resources available to learners and instructors are perennially constrained. Instruction that exceeds the learner’s working memory capacity most commonly results in cognitive inefficiency, not unlike a computer running out of random-access memory and being forced to “swap” information to the hard disk which is one one-thousandth as efficient. Therefore, instructional designers should not only consider their target audience(s), but develop their multimedia materials with good pedagogy that transcends the target audience. For example, expecting learners to memorize a lengthy number or sentence and then enter this information on a different screen is neither appropriate for novices nor experts (except, in the rare case that the instructional goal is short-term retrieval practice). Instead, the learning activity should be designed so the learner can simultaneously view this information while entering it into a different area or application. In a similar vein, multimedia learning should employ techniques such as segmenting, pretraining, signaling, and weeding to avoid extraneous cognitive load and optimize learning-relevant cognitive load (Mayer & Moreno, 2003), thereby avoiding cognitive or working-memory overload and improving cognitive efficiency.

11. References

Hoffman, B. (2012). Cognitive efficiency: A conceptual and methodological comparison. Learning and Instruction, 22, 133–144. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2011.09.001

Mayer, R. E., & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Educational Psychologist, 38, 43–52. http://doi.org/10.1207/S15326985EP3801_6

12. Specific Application – If you are designing multimedia training that requires interacting with external computer programs, it is not appropriate for this training to take up the entire computer monitor. The training window should be capable of being resized to a smaller size by the learner, so that he or she can avoid unnecessary working memory usage and avoid the split-attention effect by being able to position other computer program windows next to the training window (Mayer & Moreno, 2003). Similarly, within the multimedia training, such situations should be avoided. For a specific application, in IBM’s Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS), there are many instances where it is impossible to access certain information about the data-set at hand without closing a statistical options menu or dialog box. This phenomenon occurs even when accessing certain information about the data-set is essential to the task at hand in an options menu or dialog box. This is a prime example of poor design that fails to consider cognitive load theory, working memory, or efficiency of any kind besides the convenience of the programmers and developers of the software or training at hand.

13. Specific Application – Supplement – If the prior application is difficult to understand, here is an easy example: you have received a voicemail on your smartphone where the caller has spoken a call-back number that is different from his or her caller ID number. However, without some external tool such as a pen and paper, it is impossible to record this phone number in your phone while listening to it. Consequently, you are forced to hold the number in working memory if an external recording device such as a pen and paper is unavailable, and then enter it into your contacts or dialing app. If you are familiar with the area code, remembering seven numbers is an easy task, but if the area code is unfamiliar, attempting to hold 10 numbers in working memory may easily exceed your working memory capacity. Regardless, from a design standpoint, this is a poorly designed and needlessly inefficient situation.

Task Analysis Comparison for Calculation of Net Worth

I wrote the following paper for my coursework in EME 7634: Advanced Instructional Design, instructed by Dr. Atsusi Hirumi. Net-worth calculation was my chosen topic, due to my persistent interest in financial education.

I am also making this paper and companion slides available for download. The companion slides are not included in the paper. They were made two weeks before I wrote this paper, prior to conducting the actual task analyses.

Download paper as Microsoft Word 2016 document
Download paper as PDF
Download companion slides as Microsoft PowerPoint 2016 file
Download companion slides as PDF

My work should only be used appropriately and I should be credited.


Task Analysis Comparison for Calculation of Net Worth
Richard Thripp
University of Central Florida
March 1, 2017

Calculating one’s net worth is a vital part of financial literacy (French & McKillop, 2016). Tallying the value of one’s assets and debts improves understanding of one’s financial situation. Although at first, this process may seem simple, appraising one’s assets is a complex issue, and even remembering all of one’s possessions and liabilities may be difficult. Therefore, net-worth calculation seems a suitable instructional situation to analyze. For this portfolio analysis, I am applying three alternative analysis techniques that were included in Jonassen, Tessmer, and Hannum’s (1999) handbook—procedural analysis, critical-incident analysis, and case-based reasoning (CBR). The former two are differentiated by their focus on overt elements and underlying methods, respectively, while CBR’s status as a task-analysis method is tenuous and its utility in this situation is marginal—it is included here for demonstration purposes.

Procedural Analysis

This type of analysis is geared toward assembly lines and other easily observable tasks. However, it can be used to describe cognitive activities if they are overtly observable, and when extended with flowcharting, can even describe relatively complex decision-making processes.

The following analysis is for the net-worth calculation task, based on the steps described by Jonassen et al. (1999, pp. 47–49):

  1. Determine if the task is amenable to a procedural analysis. Listing assets and liabilities, looking up their values, and sometimes, appraising values are overt actions and can be conceived as a series of steps. However, recalling all relevant items and appraising values can require covert cognitive processes in some cases, so procedural analysis does not capture everything required for this task.
  2. Write down the terminal objective of the task. “Calculates their net worth by estimating and tallying the values of their real assets and liabilities.” Note that this task excludes analyses of liquidity, cash flow, monthly expenses, and interest rates on debts, which are also important components of one’s financial situation.
  3. Choose a task performer. I am the performer for this task. I achieved competence in this task three years ago. If the training is for novices, Jonassen et al. (1999) say the flowchart should be based on someone who has only achieved expertise recently, to avoid “an idiosyncratic sequence” (p. 47). For this task, Investopedia’s Net Worth Calculator (www.investopedia.com/net-worth) was examined to help guide the analysis. Additionally, based on my knowledge of personal finance, I accounted for a variety of common financial situations (e.g., marriage, retirement funds, etc.).
  4. Choose a data-gathering procedure. I took notes as a silently executed the task.
  5. Observe and record the procedure. I made a text-based list of tasks before starting, and opted to construct a flowchart while executing the net-worth task.
  6. Review and revise outline. This step was skipped, because I did not do an outline.
  7. Sketch out a flowchart of the task operations and decisions. See Figure 1. In constructing this flowchart, is was readily apparent that a complete flowchart would be “cumbersome in detail” (Jonassen et al., 1999, p. 53). Consequently, I constructed the flowchart at an abstracted level that condenses or generalizes many steps. For example, Item 210: “Cash equivalent asset or debt?” actually applies to a host of items including bank accounts, taxable investment accounts, mortgages, student and auto loans, and credit card debts. Item 120: “Recall and list real assets and liabilities …” implies the learner will list assets and debts as separate line items (e.g., house and mortgage would be listed separately). These details and others are omitted from the flowchart to prevent it from becoming overwhelming and unwieldy. At Item 200, a foreach loop is used to iterate over the array (list) of assets and debts, similar to the foreach construct in PHP, a popular web scripting language.
  8. Review the procedural flowchart. This was done during its construction.
  9. Field-test the flowchart. I compared the flowchart to the Investopedia’s Net Worth Calculator (www.investopedia.com/net-worth) to see if it could fit the same situations. The categories of assets and liabilities on this calculator all fit into items on the flowchart. A net-worth spreadsheet is more versatile than Investopedia’s calculator because it can be saved, amended, and reused.

Procedural-analysis flowchart for net-worth calculation task

Figure 1. Procedural-analysis flowchart for net-worth calculation task.

Critical-Incident Analysis

This type of analysis involves interviewing subject-matter experts (SMEs) to gain a realistic understanding of the task at hand, including the important elements (Jonassen et al., 1999). Interview or survey data from SMEs must be culled to remove noncritical elements, focus on the required behavior, and to arrange tasks by importance (Flanagan, 1954). You can also ask your SMEs to arrange tasks by importance (Jonassen et al., 1999).

Continue reading Task Analysis Comparison for Calculation of Net Worth

On the Purported Essentiality of Higher Education for the Adult Learner

Written on January 29, 2017 for an assignment in my Spring 2017 course, IDS 6504: Adult Learning, at University of Central Florida.

1. StatementQuote: The transformation of the world economy over the past several decades has put a premium on an educated workforce. A more fluid and volatile global economy is characterized by more frequent job and career change, which is an important factor in the growing demand for continual learning and skill enhancement. Because of these changes, it is clear that current and future generations of adult workers seeking employment and better quality of life will require more education credentials. Thus 2- and 4-year degrees, certificate programs, and workforce educational and training opportunities are becoming increasingly essential for all workers. (Hansman & Mott, 2010, pp. 19–20)

2. Explanation – There is a lot to unpack in this statement. First, we have to take Hansman and Mott’s arguments with a grain of salt—they are university professors and administrators, who are obviously not a neutral source to ask about the necessity of their practice. It is difficult to imagine them saying that higher education is becoming increasing irrelevant, even if it were true.

Next, we can contrast this 2010 book chapter, having been published after the 2008 financial crisis, with the Reach Higher, America report (National Commission on Adult Literacy, 2008), which was published just three months before the worst part of the financial crisis. The Reach Higher report complains that American adults are less educated than the generation before, unlike every other OECD free-market country. While it is unfair and inaccurate to blame the financial crisis primarily on Americans’ lack of education, in a time of economic recession, high-value skills are essential to obtaining a living wage. I would contend that Hansman and Mott (2010) would not have worded their arguments as strongly had they been writing a few years earlier, when times were good.

However, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (2009), in 2009, of adults aged 25 and older, 85% reported having a high school diploma or equivalent and 28% reported having a bachelor’s degree or higher. These statistics are higher than ever before. To say that Americans are less educated is a misnomer, at least with respect to formal attainment. Nonetheless, it is possible they are completing secondary and post-secondary education yet coming away poorly educated or educated in subjects that do not provide value to employers. If so, educators, administrators, and policymakers share much of the blame.

Economically, globalization is characterized as a foregone conclusion, except perhaps by nationalists like President Trump. However, in lieu of protectionist policies, it becomes necessary for adult learners to develop increasingly specialized and high-value skills to merit a living wage in the open market. Under globalization-friendly policies, coupled with mechanical and technological advancements, jobs can be outsourced to foreigners at a small fraction of the cost of an American worker. First, this applied to durable goods, and now, in the Internet age, it applies even to U.S.-based technical positions, and certainly any jobs that can be performed remotely (e.g., customer service). For example, Americans working in information technology (I.T.) frequently complain about reduced wages or unemployment due to skilled foreigners with H-1B visas flooding the American workforce. These foreign workers are willing to work for far lower wages than Americans were previously accustomed to.

Fundamentally, however, a significant component of the “growing demand for continual learning” (Hansman & Mott, 2010, p. 19) is induced demand. If not for Pell grants, student loans, tax money, and government guarantees, it is unlikely that many of the faculty and staff—even those employed at University of Central Florida (UCF)—would be able to sustain their tenure, salaries, or quality of life. Moreover, the federal government offers student loans at unnaturally low interest rates even to non-creditworthy borrowers pursuing unsalable degrees, further incentivizing perverse educational choices among Americans. Ironically, this may be even more destructive with respect to private institutions. For example, private universities like Keiser University and University of Phoenix are over-priced and fairly pointless compared to public institutions like UCF, and yet ill-advised Americans can be suckered into ridiculous and unnecessary debt burdens due to the illogical availability of student loans for private institutions with low return-on-investment (ROI).

The burgeoning sector of the American economy that operates with relative independence from market forces—government and government-sponsored or government-like enterprises (healthcare, education, large corporations, etc.)—is now the ticket to the American dream. Yes, advanced degrees are usually required. However, I contend that in many cases, the day-to-day duties in a surprising proportion of these positions could be performed by high-functioning high school dropouts with a few months of well-executed training.


3. Statement – “Nearly half of new job growth in the first decade of the 21st century required college or other postsecondary education” (Hansman & Mott, 2010, p. 19).

4. Explanation – Once again, the temptation to conflate formal education with real education is strong. What may really be happening here is that employers are requiring a 4-year degree as a weed-out. My Psychology B.S. does not make me any better an office worker, but in an employer’s market, employers are flooded with desperate applicants. Thus, they use shortcuts to thin the herd. This may be one of the antecedents of the bizarre credential-inflation phenomenon we have seen over the past 50 years. Even quite recently, new advanced degrees like the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) have emerged, arguably to pander to this phenomenon. The cost to the adult learner is staggering. If a job that required 12 years education (Grades 1–12) in my grandfather’s time now requires 17 (Grades K–12 + Bachelor’s), the costs are huge, even to young adults who push straight through. (In truth, completing a 4-year degree in 4 years or less has actually become somewhat unusual.) Entering the workforce at Age 22 with $50,000 in debt versus Age 18 with no debt is a massive handicap, and this is a fairly conservative debt estimate. The 18-year-old can invest in retirement funds and brokerage accounts perhaps 10 years ahead of his/her college-educated counterpart, which can consistently produce a 7% inflation-adjusted annual return. Obviously, a 10-year head start yields an increase of 1.07^10 = 1.97× in retirement, which is almost double.

Consequently, the full-time adult learner pursues education at a massive opportunity cost. It is important for learners and educators to internalize this knowledge and act accordingly. If Americans desire the overwhelming, comprehensive advantages that high socioeconomic status (SES) delivers for themselves and their progeny, then as adult learners, it may be necessary to curate their programs of study with actuarial ruthlessness.


References (Note: Certain references are only included in the narrative as hyperlinks)

United States Census Bureau (2009). Educational attainment in the United States: 2009. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/p20-566.pdf

Hansman, C. A., & Mott, V. W. (2010). Adult learners. In C. E. Kasworm, A. D. Rose, & J. M. Ross-Gordon (Eds.), Handbook of Adult and Continuing Education (2010 ed.; pp. 13–23). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. Retrieved from http://www.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/34503_Chapter1.pdf

National Commission on Adult Literacy. (2008, June). Reach higher, America: Overcoming crisis in the U.S. workforce. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED506605.pdf

Personal Limitations and Limiting Beliefs in Adult Learners

On January 29, 2017, added my replies to others to this blog post.

A brief exploration of my emergent beliefs about adult learning, written on January 22, 2017 for an assignment in my Spring 2017 course, IDS 6504: Adult Learning, at University of Central Florida. Many terms I have included, coined, or adapted are not operationally defined.

1. BeliefDisciplined and self-aware adult learners recognize their time, energy, and willpower is highly limited; consequently, under ideal psychological and physiological conditions they concentrate their efforts on what is highly interesting or useful.

2. Explanation – The feeling of infinite time and potentialities experienced by teenagers and twenty-somethings gradually evaporates, giving way through self-agency and external influences to realistic pragmatism, unhappy disillusionment, or something in-between. Those who recognize their personal limitations can focus pragmatically on what brings them the most happiness or benefit, particularly when they feel secure, well-rested, and are in a conducive learning environment. Sometimes, this may even involve strengthening areas where they already excel, rather than shoring up areas that require overwhelming efforts to yield minimal gains. However, the disciplined and self-aware adult learner is also able to direct their focus as appropriate to the goal at hand. For example, such an individual may focus on what s/he finds very interesting when learning in his/her spare time, but when it comes to formal or professional education, s/he recognizes the importance of pandering to syllabi, rubrics, requirements of courses or programs of study, and expectations of instructors or supervisors, which may involve learning or expressing interest in certain materials or tasks that are not of intrinsic interest, even though the overall course or program is of intrinsic interest. Finally, either consciously (ideal) or subconsciously (more common), such learners recognize the opportunity cost of learning, the value of creative and divergent thinking, the imperative to seek help and feedback early and repeatedly, and the value of strategic procrastination.


3. BeliefAdult learners are more susceptible than child learners to entrenched limiting beliefs operating globally and/or with respect to specific tasks or domains, including inferiority complexes, fixed mindset (entity theory of intelligence), performance-avoidance and mastery-avoidance goal orientations, social identity threat, and stereotype threat.

4. Explanation – While child learners may face limiting beliefs such as stereotype threat for mathematics among girls (often due to not fault of their own), adult learners may carry limiting beliefs from childhood or early adulthood with them as entrenched parts of their identities. For instance, many adults have a fixed mindset for their mathematical abilities, which can circumvent efforts to develop these skills. Such limiting beliefs are often based on a modicum of truth—for instance, it certainly is easier to learn a second language as a child than adult. However, the limiting belief often serves to prevent all progress, even when a great deal of progress was possible. The velocity at which the adult learner reaches the inflection point where a limiting belief is overturned is crucial to maximizing the degrees of freedom in his/her learning horizon. For example, it is not very useful if an adult at Age 70 finally overturns the limiting belief that she is not “college material.” However, if this limiting belief can be overturned at Age 35, the remaining potentialities (degrees of freedom) are far greater. On the other hand, past beliefs and knowledge can function as heuristics that allow the learner to quickly absorb instructional materials with an adequate level of fidelity. For example, the experienced academic may be able to quickly synthesize a journal article with a surprising degree of accuracy, just by reading the abstract and skimming key sections, tables, and figures. The adult learner’s experience is a double-edged sword, inflicting self-mutilation only to the extent that experienced-derived beliefs are inconsistent with reality. The disciplined and self-aware adult learner recognizes the search for truth as ongoing, iterative, and asymptotic. Moreover, s/he recognizes and rejects fallacies of logic and reasoning such as the all-or-nothing fallacy.


Replies to discussion posts by others, written by me on January 28, 2017.

Belief to which I am responding: “Whenever a person cares about the topic they are learning about, they do a better job of learning about it.”

My response:

Sometimes, we don’t know what we find interesting. We may think we find a particular topic interesting, and yet be bored and unmotivated in a formal course on the topic. This can be related to how the topic is framed and presented in the curriculum and by the instructor, a mismatch between our perceived and actual interests, or a combination of the two. Further, I have often found myself highly interested in a topic that is of no practical relevance to my life or real-world plans. One only has to look at the hordes of people interested in fictional worlds like World of Warcraft or A Song of Ice and Fire to see that humans are not necessarily most interested in what is most relevant to their professional or financial success, even as adults.

Regarding high-level maths, it has always amused me that one of the main uses for learning these is becoming a math teacher. Now, even engineers and statisticians rely on computer programs to perform many of their calculations. Of course, people must know how to design, develop, improve, and trouble-shoot these programs, but just as farming has become concentrated in the hands of a few experts who perform it at massive scale, so might knowledge of higher maths become unnecessary for many. In fact, this simplification is ongoing in multiple domains—for example, we have a whole new generation of web entrepreneurs who don’t even know how to write JavaScript, PHP or ASP.NET, SQL, or advanced HTML and CSS thanks to software suites (e.g., WordPress, Joomla) that do much of the difficult work for you.


Belief to which I am responding: “Adult learners have a better grasp on what their learning style is, and can then tailor their education in a way that best suits them.”

My response:

Learning styles have been thoroughly debunked, but what you are describing here sounds more like learning preferences (and in fact you even used the word “preference” in your explanation), which have validity. The learning styles myth is typically summed up in the belief that some learners are better served by visual content, while others might learn better in auditory, linguistic, or kinesthetic modalities. In fact, a more accurate characterization is that particular content is best learned in particular modalities—if making a balloon animal is best learned visually, then it is best learned that way for all (or most) learners, even if a learner claims to have a linguistic learning style.

Using “learning styles” in the way you have is not incorrect, but the term just has too much baggage and must be abandoned, particularly if you attend conferences like the American Educational Research Association (AERA), lest you be lampooned by hordes of educational eggheads dying to pounce on usage of an educational proposition that has (a) been thoroughly and reliably discredited and (b) remains wildly popular and influential.

As for online versus face-to-face courses, I agree 100% that online courses work much better for those with busy schedules. Some people may ask, why even bother? If you are going to learn online, why not just use Coursera, Udemy, Wikipedia, et cetera? Well, there are plenty of reasons! Particularly as an educator, academic credentials are very important and cannot be earned via Wikipedia. You can’t go in for an interview to be a teacher, instructor, or professor without the requisite academic degrees. Being enrolled at a university provides access to journal articles that you actually have to pay for otherwise. UCF alone pays $1.3 million for its subscription to Web of Science, and many millions more to provide you with access to academic journals and resources. Try writing a literature review as an Independent Scholar, and you’ll quickly find it is no easy task. Plus, even online courses have a way of lighting a fire under your butt that a massively open online course (MOOC) simply cannot do. For example, in your M.A., Ed.D., or Ph.D. at UCF, fail more than two courses and you’ll be ejected from the program. If you stop working on your MOOC, no one cares.