A Closer Look at Learning Theory

Dr Tony Bates

Part of EDUC 4250 – a PIDP module at Vancouver Community College

Tradespeople produce products and services that must fulfill certain expectations and must be as safe and durable as specified. This is why traditionally the epistemology applied in Trades education is inherently objectivist because the end goal is to learn skills the “correct” way. The learning theories that are usually applied are behaviourism and cognitivism.
Traditionally, theoretical knowledge in Trades education is taught in lectures and rote learning from textbooks. While the practical part of Trades training is more constructivist in nature. In the practical application of trades, we must adjust to constantly changing circumstances and challenges.

Think of what you consider in the past to have been your most successful unit of teaching

The example that comes to mind is the safety education every trades school student has to go through before being allowed to work in the shops. I taught this section in our Women in Trades class about a year ago. The main part of these safety weeks is taught in synchronous lectures on zoom. Because the goal of the course section is to keep everyone safe by following College and WorkSafe regulations the epistemology is strictly objectivist.
The theories of learning used are mainly cognitivism and behaviourism. I used formative assessments mainly in the form of online quizzes on Moodle.
Safety weeks are universally hated by most students because rather than the hands-on education they expect, we subject them to over a week of theory and learning.
I have discovered that too few students remember the lessons once we get to the shop. I am working on replacing some lessons with activities that are more based on constructivism and connectivism.
Fortunately, we are also seeing an increase in Indigenous students in our program, so I am especially keen on thinking of ways to build in more Indigenous principles of learning.

Think of a course that you will likely be teaching in the future, how would you change your teaching methods now that you have completed the learning activities in this unit.

Learning about learning theories and epistemologies has motivated me to design future classes with more variety in mind. Especially the mentioned safety weeks would benefit from more variety in learning methods.
One example of applying a more experiential learning theory is a project I introduced where students are asked to measure the noise level around their home or workplace using a free phone app. The app lets students take a picture with the decibel level superimposed so they can present their findings to the group. My students were excited to learn about noises in their surroundings and the impact these noises could have on their hearing. The results of this exercise are encouraging and I am looking for more ways to give my students the opportunity to learn more elements this way.
In “PIDP 3340 Collaborative Learning in The College Classroom” I presented a way to replace the self-study time our students have with group work based on online group projects in Moodle and weekly presentations to the class. Now that I read Dr Bates’ chapter about Online Collaborative Learning (OCL) I have a much-improved background in making these group work sections successful.
Given the fact that we see more Indigenous students in our classes, I would like to find more ways of utilizing Indigenous principles of learning into my teaching.
Our current apprenticeship systems in Canada are euro-centric adaptations of traditions with origins that reach as far back as the creation of guilds in the 12th century. An interesting parallel is that in Indigenous learning cultures skills are often transferred by apprentices working alongside elders that teach their methods in an organic way. The realization of this parallel helps me when I teach hands-on techniques in the workshop.
I am intrigued by the idea of connecting knowledge to a place as described in the examples used in the text by the group of Indigenous scholars in “Pulling Together: A Guide for Curriculum Developers” I am thinking of ways to connect theory knowledge gained to places. I think this would be beneficial to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.


Header 📷 Dr. Tony Bates

Community of Practice Design Guide: A Step-by-Step Guide for Designing & Cultivating Communities of Practice in Higher Education

Indigenous Epistemologies and Pedagogies

Experiential learning theory

Pulling Together: A Guide for Curriculum Developers

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