SJSU Portfolio

Competency #11

Design training programs based on appropriate learning principles and theories

As a candidate for the California teacher librarian credential, I was required to take both Libr 233, School Library Media Centers, and Libr 250, Design and Implementation of Instructional Strategies for Information Professionals. Libr 250 could be taken with either a K-12 or an academic library focus: I chose the latter. As a high school teacher I am well acquainted with the historical foundations of modern education, and frequently overwhelmed by the study and demands of newer theory. Adding the information acquired in Libr 250 broadened my perception of the genesis and connections of influential movements in educational philosophy and clarified some instructional principles which seem best choices to guide the creation of effective training materials. Educational theory is controversial and in constant flux; however, a competent librarian designing instruction will make decisions based on a strong knowledge and careful consideration of primary educational principles and theories.

In general, my education for teaching made me aware of three important governing concepts in education. First, the Behaviorist ideas of how humans learn, developed by scientists such as Pavlov and Skinner, focus, as might be expected, on how behavior can be changed to produce new behavior patterns—this is a Behaviorist definition of learning. Behaviorist educators use operant conditioning—training through constant repetition of reward or punishment in conjunction with desired behavior patterns. In spite of almost an entire century of reform and opposition, this model is still commonly observed in schools: library fines are an obvious example, as are grades. Memorization, for years decried as rote learning by progressive educators, is a form of operant conditioning, and has found renewed if limited support in the work of educators such as Robert Marzano (2004, p.3) who observe the struggles of students deficient in background knowledge. Although few modern educators would recommend continuous reliance on behavioral lesson planning, acquisition of some permanent knowledge about, for example, common library organizational structures, is a lifelong benefit to students at all levels, and positively reinforced rote learning is one way to reinforce that knowledge.

An enormously important number of educational theories can be grouped under the title of Constructivism. Arising from Piaget’s observations of how small children learn through play in different stages of their development, a foundational principle in American education through the work of John Dewey, and enjoying a renaissance of strength and interest as part of our contemporary educational reform movement, the constant idea uniting constructivist concepts is that people learn by doing, that understanding of the world is individually constructed by accumulated experience (Fry, 1999). Modern schema theory, based on brain research, is a current element of constructivist thought, and informs instructional design at any level. This theory, which says that new knowledge can only be incorporated into our neural processes by attaching itself to existing patterns of understanding and experience— schema, is reflected in library science in the ‘sense-making’ theories of Brenda Dervin, and is an important underlying principle of modern instructional design. Today, not only students but adult library users and newer library staff in need of training will come from diverse backgrounds, with widely divergent educational backgrounds, language abilities, and assumptions about learning. A competent librarian planning training instruction must assess her training plan for adequate provision of background knowledge. When teaching a group of users about controlled vocabulary in a database, it is first necessary to ensure that they know what a database is, and how to access one. Effective schema-theory based instruction is necessarily flexible and adaptive.

An important current emphasis in education which incorporates schema theory is the Cognitive approach. Behaviorism focuses on how learners act; cognitive theory examines how they think. Current brain research is providing new information on how reading actually occurs, how online viewers process material, and on the neural pathways forged by visual and digital information compared to the patterns found in long-time text readers. This information, still accumulating and being interpreted, has implications for instructional design, and is yet another area where a competent librarian responsible for instruction must keep current with professional reading.

Older elements of constructivism assume great importance in current educational trends. John Dewey’s ideas that education should be learner-centered, interactive, and tied to the greater society (Garrison, D.R. & Anderson, T., 2003) are influencing K-12 school reform, with its renewed emphasis on project-based learning, field work, and community participation. The growth of internships in college programs is also connected to constructivism. At a minimum, a competent librarian should be aware that the standard in teaching has shifted from instructor as “the sage on the stage” to teacher as “guide on the side”. For most groups, modern instructional design should contain frequent opportunities for the learner to do or create something, to apply a new concept or experiment with a new skill. Interactivity in digital tools is highly desirable. Although there is controversy about whether modern instruction responds to these expectations or creates them, many students will bring to a training an assumption that instruction will be engaging, high-interest, fast-paced, and will incorporate visual elements.

It was illuminating for me to discover in Libr 250 the work of Paolo Friere, not because I always agree with his theories of education (Few can object to his passion for human enfranchisement through liberating education, but the root causes of injustice and the best route to improvement will always be controversial.), but because now that I am aware of his work, I recognize what an enormous influence he is exerting over the reform movements in US education today. Friere shares with other constructivists the emphasis on the centrality of the learner, but he stresses the liberating aspect of this type of instruction, which can give a voice to the oppressed, and also examines the role of educational practices in maintaining the status quo for the dominant power. It is completely in accord with the foundational values of librarianship as discussed under our first two competencies for those planning trainings to consider the impact of their lessons on social justice.

In Libr 250 we used the Angel forum to conduct weekly substantial discussions on learning theory. As evidence of my understanding of modern principles and theories of education I am including a sampling of these postings; many of them contain citations for other works read and discussed for the class.

I am also providing a link to the Curriculum web page of the California High School Speech Association. I am a member of the state-wide curriculum committee, and with my colleagues have collaboratively created the instructional videos, one of which has a link to a trailer, the Coaches’ Handbook, and the Judges’ Handbook, all to be seen on this page. While the handbooks are fairly traditional, the videos show a clear grasp of modern educational concepts. Containing numerous student examples, clear graphics, and engaging production values, they have proven very successful in instructing new students in Speech and Debate.

For the California Maritime Academy I worked toward preparing instructional material on plagiarism which would be engaging and interactive. I soon learned that much of what I envisioned would entail access to and mastery of the Flash program, which is one of my next technological education goals. In my revised, interim Powerpoint material, I provided the interactive instructional component especially important with the target group of freshmen by incorporating online searches and evaluations for the students to pursue independently. I also attempted to use humor as an engaging device (though probably anyone who could compose the previous sentence is incapable of humor).


Friere, P.(1993) Chapter 2—Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum Books, 1993. Retrieved from

Fry, M. & Ketteridge S., &Marshall, S. 1999. A handbook for teaching and learning in higher education. New York, NY: Routledge

Garrison, D.R.& Anderson, T. E-Learning in the 21st century:A framework for research and practice. London, UK: RoutledgeFalmer.

Marzano, R.J.(2004). Building background knowledge for academic achievement: Research on what works in schools. Alexandria: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.