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02/06/2012

RESEARCH PROPOSAL ON TRADITIONAL VERSUS DISCOVERY LEARNING IN ADULT EDUCATION SETTING


TRADITIONAL VERSUS DISCOVERY LEARNING IN ADULT EDUCATION SETTING

INTRODUCTION

In today’s age of information communication technology, it can be observed that many traditional practices are being tried to be replaced with modern alternatives that are perceived as more convenient and effective. Tasks are becoming more and more automated. People in today’s societies are served with the privilege to ‘take it easy’ and not to ‘sweat it out too much’. With the commercialism of the Internet and the already wide acceptance and use of IT hardware and software, tasks that are difficult and stressful to perform before are now as easy as 1-2-3.  Proponents of the new technologies boast that it will enable work to become faster and more accurate. In education per se, it is said that ICT integration produces many positive implications. ICT enables access to Web sites that would allow students to learn about different cultures around the world (Ngen et al, 2003). Students are also seen as more motivated and interested into a subject when daily lessons are incorporated with ICT (Ngen et al, 2003). This implies that learning is no longer trapped with the traditional pattern of being provided by teachers. People of today have now the chance to explore things easily for themselves because of the many learning tools and technologies available.

The growth of technologies did not only change the way individuals work and function, but also the demand of business companies all over the world. For instance, employers are now on the lookout for ‘flexible’ employees or employees that can easily adapt with changes and can work with minimal instructions (Lunenberg, 1998; McCain, 2000). This type of attitude towards how an employee should react and act is contrary to what the traditional methods of learning implies – that is to rely on instructions and command from superiors, for example, the teachers in the school setting, or the managers in the business setting. This, however, suggests that there is an opportunity to explore discovery or progressive learning. Discovery learning, contrary to the traditional learning relying on classroom instructions, focuses on the learning taking place within the individual, the teaching and instructional strategies designed by the teacher, and the environment created when such strategies are used (Castronova, 2002). However, this new type of learning method is not left without any scrutiny from critics, mostly proponents of traditional learning. Evers (1998) elaborated that critics of progressive or discovery education pinpoints on the fault that progressive educators decline to look at the results of their methods. Evers (1998) further explained that discovery educators instead elevate those methods into an object of near-religious veneration and stress method at the expense of knowledge of the subject matter. Because of the continuous debate on which learning method is more effective, there is still to assess the subject as much as possible to be able to reach a final consensus. Furthermore, there is a need to align the issue on a certain focus group such as adult learners. This paper will review several literatures about discovery learning and will try to formulate a problem statement that should be investigated. It will also present possible research methods that can be used and how it can be incorporated in such research.

LITERATURE REVIEW

What determines quality education? UNESCO answered this question when they mentioned four pillars of quality education (EFA Global Monitoring Report, 2005). The four pillars are: learning to know; learning to do; learning to live together; and learning to be.  ‘Learning to know’ means that learners should build their own knowledge daily, by combining indigenous and ‘external’ elements. ‘Learning to do’ focuses on the practical application of what is learned. On the other hand, ‘learning to live together’ means addressing the critical skills for an individual free from discrimination, where all have equal opportunity to develop themselves, their families and their communities. Finally, ‘learning to be’ emphasizes the skills needed for individuals to develop their full potential (EFA Global Monitoring Report, 2005).

Recently, the delivery of quality education is still dominated by the traditional classroom instruction approach of education. Classroom learning is one of the oldest forms of learning that is often used today. Classroom learning can uphold the four pillars of education because aside from cognitive learning, it also helps the student in creative and emotional development. Experienced teachers deliver many subtle messages and important lessons in such classrooms, which might be diminished in other types of flexible learning. Non-traditional methods are said to decrease social and emotional learning (Donlevy, 2003). In addition, students with low reading abilities and problems with motivation may find it difficult to sustain interest in accomplishing all the learning activities associated with other types of learning (Donlevy, 2003). The bottom-line is that, there should have a superior figure who should monitor the progress of students and guide them every step of the way.

However, the recent view of organizations on how the learning process can be more effective is more on the favor of informal learning rather than the formal classroom learning process. One related literature about this that can be reviewed is the article written by Reardon (2002) entitled: “How Engineers Learn in the Face of Organizational Change”. In the article, Reardon (2002) discussed the importance of informal learning to engineers today. Reardon (2002) cited from Schon (1983) that an experienced professional does not only need traditional or technical training, because they often ‘reflects in action’. Reardon (2002) emphasized that informal learning takes place as professionals seek solutions. This type of learning is also coined as incidental learning, which may take place without the learner being aware of it. The study conducted by Reardon (2002) is aligned with this issue as the researcher investigates how experienced engineers learned following an organizational change. The study was inductive qualitative and was based on interviews of nine experienced engineers as Reardon (2002) asked them to reflect how they learned to perform their jobs after a major organizational change. The study found out that engineers learn new tasks for themselves because such tasks cannot be explained or directed by procedures. There was basically a sharing of ideas once one of the engineers learns something. Learning was informal and peer-to-peer but it got the job done and enabled the engineers to adapt to change. However, the problem is that informal learning comes naturally and there were no means or methods to promote them. The engineers learned as they discovered for themselves and among themselves without any teachers. The only downside of this method, according to Reardon (2002) is that it is not likely effective to inexperienced engineers because of the level of discovery is of those who have adequate experience in the field.

The study reviewed recently is a direct example of discovery learning. It can be helpful to follow this with a review of Castronova’s (2002) article entitled: “Discovery Learning for the 21st Century: What is it and how does it compare to traditional learning in effectiveness in the 21st Century?” This article almost completely discussed the different aspects of discovery learning and compared them with the traditional methods of learning. Here, Castronova (2002) cited from Dewey and Piaget, two known fathers of such method, that discovery learning refers to a learning method that “encompasses an instructional model and strategies that focus on active, hands-on learning opportunities for students”. This definition exactly fits the experiences of the engineers in Reardon’s (2002) study, which was reviewed earlier.

Castronova (2002) did not only defined discovery learning but also cited three attributes of it: exploring and problem solving to create, integrate, and generalize knowledge; student driven, interest-based activities in which the student determines the sequence and frequency, and; activities to encourage integration of new knowledge into the learner’s existing knowledge base. All attributes mentioned by Castronova (2002) can be reflected from the respondents in Reardon’s (2002) study. First Reardon’s (2002) engineers were basically faced with problems that are new to them. By being faced with such problems, they developed the solutions among themselves because traditional instructions failed them. In this type of experience, students rather than the teacher drive the learning.

On the other hand, Reardon’s (2002) respondents also set the pace of learning for themselves. They did not hurry or slack themselves, but rather measured and integrated the right learning pace that suited them. Castronova (2002) interpreted this advantage as being able to achieve some degree of flexibility in sequencing and frequency with learning activities.

Finally, the third attribute relates with Reardon’s (2002) engineers because like the third attribute implies, they build new knowledge from their existing knowledge and experiences. Familiarity is an important factor in this attribute.

Castronova (2002) explained that scenarios with which the students are familiar allow the students to build on their existing knowledge by extending what they already know to invent new ideas. The engineers, being the student, looked in their previous experiences to help  them to formulate new knowledge for their new experiences.

Aside from the three attributes mentioned, discovery learning also have five characteristics that are unique from traditional learning. Castronova (2002) managed to find five characteristics: learning is active rather than passive (Mosca & Howard, 1997); learning is process-oriented rather than content-oriented; failure is important; feedback is necessary (Bonwell, 1998), and; understanding is deeper (Papert, 2000). These characteristics differentiate discovery learning greatly from traditional learning as their combination are claimed to provide more learning opportunities because learners internalize concepts when they go through a natural progression to understand them (Castronova, 2002). However, Castronova (2002) concluded that discovery learning is still no match with traditional classroom learning in terms of prestige because current legislations still favor the latter. Current legislations lean toward accountability based on test scores, standardizing content based curriculum, and maintaining higher class sizes to reduce cost work. This is clearly against discovery learning being adapted into the classroom (Castronova, 2002). Another current problem of discovery learning is that there is shortage of professionally trained teachers in the market (Castronova, 2002).

One literature that tries to prove why minimally guided instructions such as that of discovery learning often fail is the article written by Kirschner et al (2005) entitled: “Why Minimal Guidance during Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching”. Kirschner et al (2005) argued that while unguided or minimally-guided instructional approaches such as discovery learning are very popular and intuitively appealing, these approaches ignore both the structures that constitute human cognitive architecture and evidence from empirical studies over the past half century that consistently indicate that minimally-guided instruction is less effective and less efficient than instructional approaches that place a strong emphasis on guidance of the student learning process. Kirschner et al (2005) further argues that the goal of instruction is rarely simply to search for or discover information and to give learners specific guidance about how to cognitively manipulate information in ways that are consistent with a learning goal, and store the result in long-term memory. They stated that without such guidance, novice students will have difficulty looking for problems. Kirschner et al (2005) also mentioned how instructions support long-term memories. According to them, the aim of all instruction is to alter long-term memory. Thus, if nothing has changed in long-term memory, nothing has been learned. Minimal guidance to instruction may hinder its effect and thus, traditional learning or instructions should be favored.

A particular theory that relates with discovery learning is the constructivist theory. Constructivism is a theory of knowledge and cognition that research has revealed in describing student learning. Von Glasersfeld (1996) defined constructivism in the following principles: “that knowledge is not passively received, either by sensing or by communicating, but is actively built up by cognizing the subject; and that the function of cognition is adaptive, and tries to increase fitness or viability - serves the organization of the experiential world of the subject, not the discovery of ontological reality.” This principle explains that the perception and confirmation of one’s knowledge in social interaction plays a crucial role in a person’s construction of his or her experiential reality. In other words, the learning process within the constructivist paradigm is based on subjectivity (Rueda & Vacas, 2001). Subjectivity means that the student must explore the system according to his or her own interest. Also, subjectivity means providing a ‘blind exploration’ for the students. In other words, the student can enhance his or her knowledge through his or her own efforts and determination to learn.

            Constructivism suggests that learning can be more likely achieved when instructions are student-centered, involves more active learning experiences, different interaction between teachers and students, and more work in solving realistic problems through concrete materials (Jensen, 2001). More simply put, constructivism is a communication theory based on the assumption that people make sense of the world through their own systems of personal constructs.

As a product of constructivism, it is still unclear if discovery will be favored by educators in time. Literature shows both potential and stagnation for discovery learning. To further understand discovery learning and its edge on traditional learning, there is still a need to further compare the two practices. Further research is imperative as mentioned by Castronova (2002).

RESEARCH DESIGN 1

Two methods that were used in the literatures cited above are literature review and qualitative research. Both have specific strengths and weaknesses. For this study however, the importance will be given on the preference of students and to which learning characteristics are they comfortable with or they perceive they learn better. Thus, this study will incorporate the survey. Although survey has a limitation of not being able to measure deeply a phenomenon, the statistical generalization it will provide may give an idea on the general learning preference of adult learners. Both discovery and traditional learning have their unique learning characteristics. Such characteristics will be separated and tested on students and see how they react to each. Although limited in nature, the survey might be able to provide a quantitative generalized view on the score of discovery and traditional learning characteristics. Their score will highly depend on the responses or preferences of the students.

Problem Statement

With a specific research design specified, the specific problem statement for this study has been decided to focus on the preference of adult learners among different learning styles. The different learning styles will be categorized into two: the discovery; and the traditional. The aim is to provide a general view of adult student preference and then post-test them through control group experiment. For the null-hypothesis, the study will test two groups of adult learners – females and males.

Research Questions

Given that there is already a problem statement formulated for the study, the following research questions were shortly developed. The questions will be addressed in the actual study.

1.         Do adult students prefer discovery-based learning characteristics than traditional-based learning instructions?

2.         What are the rationales or different reasons why a student prefers a specific learning experience or characteristic over the others?

3.         Do the opinions or preference of the students match their actual performances on their preferred learning characteristics?

4.         Limited only to the results of this study, which is a better learning approach - discovery or traditional?

Null-Hypothesis

            In this study, the learning characteristic preferences of adult students will be tested and will be post-tested with discovery-based instructions and traditional instructions.

            The following indicates the formula

H01 = μ2

Where:

H0 = the null hypothesis (adult students prefer discovery learning characteristics over traditional)

μ1 = the mean of population 1 (male adult students), and

μ2 = the mean of population 2 (female adult students).

 

Participants

            Participants will be adult students or learners from different universities or organizations across the state. The target sample is 500 per gender – 500 males and 500 females. Therefore, the total number of participants planned to be surveyed is 1000. They will be contacted by submitting a letter to their respective universities or organizations asking permission to take the survey. They will be contacted through phone or email.

Data Collection

The study will test the relationship between independent and dependent variables. The independent variables of the study are the students and the types of learning, while the dependent variable is their preferences in learning or learning characteristics.

Each variable will be operationalized. The students will serve as the respondents of the study, to which their responses will be the data to be measured. By measuring, a nominal type of data can be determined. The weighted mean and percentage of the answers of male and female respondents will be determined for comparison. This type of data collection can apply to the survey method and the control group method – the two research designs chosen for the study.

Data Analysis

The following statistical formulae will be used:

1.       Percentage – to determine the magnitude of the responses to the questionnaire.

            n

% = -------- x 100        ;           n – number of responses

            N                                 N – total number of respondents

2.       Weighted Mean

            f1x1 + f2x2  + f3x3 + f4x4  + f5x5

x = ---------------------------------------------  ;

                        xt

where:             f – weight given to each response

                        x – number of responses

                        xt – total number of responses

 

RESEARCH DESIGN 2

            The second research design that can be used for this type of study is the qualitative research design. Qualitative research is a good alternative to survey because this gives the researcher the opportunity to look and know deeper about a particular phenomenon. In this study, the two phenomena that will be explored are the effectiveness of traditional and discovery learning. With qualitative research, theories that would explain the relationship of one variable with another variable through qualitative elements in research can be found and built (Patton, 2001).

Problem Statement

The problem statement for qualitative research is to explore the attitude, behavior and performances of students from traditional and discovery classes and compared them for assessment. Qualitative research will enable the researcher to know the respondents better and provide them the opportunity to further explain their answers. In this way, issues found in the study can be discussed deeper as the data provided by the respondents are richer in information.

Research Questions

            In the qualitative approach, the study will answer the following research questions:

1.         What do students in traditional classes feel and think about their classroom experiences?

2.         What do students in traditional classes think about the approaches in discovery learning?

3.         What do students in discovery learning feel and think about on their own classroom experiences?

4.         What do students in discovery learning think about traditional learning classes?

5.         In each group of students’ view, what are the advantages and disadvantages of discovery and traditional learning and which method do they prefer?

6.         What are the difficulties being experienced by traditional classroom students and discovery learning students?

7.         Which group of students is better in terms of academic performances?

8.         Does the attitude of discovery learning students in academics differ from that of traditional students?

Participants

Respondents will be from two different student groups: traditional learning students; and discovery learning students. 10 students from each group will be subjected in case studies. Participants will be interviewed, surveyed and observed in their actual class.

Data Collection

Qualitative research does not need any null-hypothesis, thus we immediately proceed to data collection. In this study, data collection will be multi-method. Accordingly, there are two major advantages in the application of multi-methods: first, different methods can be used for different purposes in the study so as to gain more confidence that one is addressing the most important issues, and the second advantage is that it enables triangulation, or the use of different data collection methods within one study in order to ensure that the data are clear, valid and reliable. (Saunders et al, 2003). In this study, interviews, surveys and literature search will be used as primary data collection strategies.  A case study approach will be used to each of the respondents in the study. case study is defined as a strategy for doing research that involves an empirical investigation of a particular contemporary phenomenon within its real life context with the utilization of various sources of evidence, and in this strategy, one has the considerable ability to generate answers for the questions “why?”, “what?” and “how?”, where data collection methods applicable with such approach include questionnaires, interviews, observation, and documentary analysis. (Robson, 2002; Saunders et al, 2003)

Data Analysis

The analysis will be less structured but will give the opportunity to interpret relationships freely based on available resources in order to produce new theories and insights. This interpretivistic approach is more in-depth than the positivist approach as it is not confined with objective underpinnings.

            The qualitative data analysis strategy to be used is the analytic induction approach that fits well with the interpretivistic research philosophy. Analytic induction is the “intensive examination of a strategically selected number of cases so as to empirically establish the causes of a specific phenomenon” (Johnson, 1998, p.28). Analytic induction encourages the collection of data that are thorough and rich, basically based on explored actions and meaning of those who participate in the process (Saunders et al, 2003).

            The analytical induction process for the study is as follows:

Ø      Definition of the subject topic and the phenomenon (from literature and the participants).

Ø      Redefinition of the phenomenon.

Ø      Subjective interpretation of data.

Ø      Conclusion.

In order to perform the analysis clearly, categorization of data will be conducted. Labels or codes will be used to rearrange the data. In this process, ‘unitizing’ data will also be performed by attaching relevant bits of data to the appropriate categories that will be devised within the study (e.g. knowledge of teacher, types of student thinking, cognitive effects, etc.). Through these categories, relationships of variables within the study will be identified for better analysis. In the end, a specific hypothesis can be developed with its results. Furthermore, a new theory may be spotted during the data analysis process. The literature reviews should play an important role in this process as this information will be helpful in creating better data results interpretations.

 

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