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The essence and structure of meaningful learning and the Highly Effective Teaching instructional design model

Author: Cheryl J. Anderton
The match between the essence and structure of meaningful learning continues to challenge public schools amidst educational reform. Meaningful learning design for twenty-first century learners must be based on three foundational principles: (a) a systemic focus, (b) an enduring focus and (c) an evolving focus; it must include the learner, the learning experience and the learning environment as integral elements within the design structure. Student descriptions of meaningful depicted in this phenomenological study are shown to align with the design components of the Highly Effective Teaching Model. As a result of the learning experiences at the inquiry component of the model (grades three and six), it is evident the model has the capacity to foster and support twenty-first century learning.

Table of Contents List of Tables 6 List of Figures 7 CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION 8 Introduction to the Problem 8 Background of the Study 10 Statement of the Problem 10 Purpose of the Study 11 Research Question 12 Significance of the Study 12 Definition of Terms 13 Assumptions and Limitations 16 Theoretical Framework 17 Organization of the Remainder of the Study 18 CHAPTER 2. LITERATURE REVIEW 20 Essence and Structure of Meaningful Learning 20 Knowledge in the Twenty-First Century 25 Learning in the Twenty-First Century 32 Understanding in the Twenty-First Century 40 Concept Development in the Twenty-First Century 44 Epistemological Overview of Brain Research 48 Instructional Design for Meaningful Learning in the Twenty-First Century 55 The Highly Effective Teaching Model (HET)- An Example 64


Meaningful Learning Facets and HET Components- A Comparison 75 CHAPTER 3. METHODOLOGY 85 Theoretical Framework 85 Research Design 86 Setting of the Study 87 Sampling Design 87 Instrumentation 88 Data Collection 90 Ethical Considerations 91 Data Analysis Procedures 91 Limitations of Methodology 92 Expected Findings 93 Timeline 93 CHAPTER 4. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS 95 Data Set Analysis 103 HET Model Components and the Depiction of Meaningful Learning Analysis 125 Instructional Design for Twenty-First Century Learners Analysis 133 CHAPTER 5. RESULTS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS 141 Data Set Syntheses 142 HET Model Components and the Depiction of Meaningful Learning Synthesis 17 Instructional Design for Twenty-First Century Learners Synthesis 191


Suggestions for Effective Instructional Design 193 Recommendations for Designers, School Districts and Future Research 201 REFERENCES 204 APPENDIX A. RESEARCH TIMELINE 215



List of Tables Table 1. Essence and Structure of Meaningful Learning-Similarities 23 Table 2. Essence and Structure of Meaningful Learning-Differences 24 Table 3. Meaningful Learning Facets and HET Component Comparison 77 Table A1. Pre- Post Inquiry Use 252 Table A2. Pre- Post Inquiry Structure 253 Table A3. Pre- Post Inquiry Environment 254 Table A4. Pre- Post Learning 255 Table A5. Pre- Post Understanding 258 Table A6. Pre- Post Knowledge 261 Table A7. Pre-Post Concept Development 264


List of Figures Figure 1. Dynamic interaction of the essence and structure of meaningful learning 21

Figure 2. Highly effective teaching model overview 66



Introduction to the Problem Too many students are not learning in ways that prepare them for their lives. The match between the inherent nature of meaningful learning, its essence, and its corresponding application, its structure, continues to be a challenge for today’s public schools amidst the efforts of educational reform. Centered on a national education equity principle, the intent of No Child Left Behind legislation has been to build a social consensus around high expectations for all students, a notable goal indeed (Cronin, Dahlin, Adkins, & Kingsbury, 2007). What country in the world would not want to see 100% proficiency for all students within its educational system? Yet, as Cronin et al. (2007) indicate, the nature of prescriptive structures in place to meet this goal are based on an understanding that lacks a common definition of what proficiency actually means. Does meeting standard (proficiency) likewise mean a student is prepared to use knowledge effectively in a knowledge-age society? As Postman (1996) so aptly puts it, “without meaning, learning has no purpose” (p. 7). According to Linn (2006), standardized test scores can give an inflated impression of student mastery levels. A student may score within the proficiency range, however the ability to apply learning may be in question. If it is to address students’ future needs, learning cannot be solely considered a skill development process. In order for reform efforts to succeed in the future, there is a distinct need for a common understanding of what meaningful learning is (its essence and structure) and how it can be supported through its instructional design (Wiske, 1998) to provide optimal learning opportunities for knowledge-age learners. Instructional design specifically targeted to match the


essence and structure of meaningful learning together can provide learners with a comprehensive approach for learning that is necessary for knowledge proficiency in the twenty-first century. Furthermore, within a high-stakes testing environment, many teachers have succumbed to the pressures of teaching to the test, knowing that pedagogically these practices are antithetical to sound instruction. Unfortunately, teaching for understanding is often sacrificed in exchange for assurance that students will pass the test (Valli & Buese, 2007). Moreover, students who are the recipients of this type of instruction, continue to show a steady decline in their commitment to school. Increasingly intelligent, students in today’s public schools desire authenticity and relevance from an educational experience for their present and future lives (Steinberg, Brown, & Dornbusch, 1996). Learning for meaning goes beyond the scope of skill development. From a learner perspective, the essence and structure of meaningful learning should align so that learners benefit from relevance, authenticity and application of their learning experiences. The challenge therefore, for instructional designers is to be able to create a cohesive design for learning that fosters and supports meaningful learning. Highly Effective Teaching, an instructional design model, uses principles emerging from brain research to influence instructional design decisions that support conceptual understanding through meaningful learning experiences. The model also incorporates attributes of responsible citizenship within a contextual framework, which work in conjunction with the instructional focus (Kovalik & Olsen, 2005). The model’s intent is twofold: (a) to promote deep understanding and application of concepts over


time, and (b) to create a supportive structure for learning that fosters social responsibility in tandem with sound instructional practices in order to achieve meaningful learning. Background of the Study In an age where 1) knowledge is needed on an ongoing basis (Postman, 1996) and 2) understanding is required to manipulate knowledge effectively (American Association of School Librarians, 2007) learners need to be experiencing what Marx ( 2006) refers to as “breakthrough thinking” (p. 163), a process in which the learner can integrate knowledge and understanding to optimize and solidify the learning experience across disciplines. With these two key principles in mind it is essential to consider how the essence and structure of meaningful learning, through the eyes of the learner, can become a reality so that an instructional design can be successfully created and implemented to foster and support meaningful learning. Statement of the Problem Instructional design in public schools does not target or produce meaningful learning from the perspective of the learner (Wagner, 2008). Meaningful learning is a process that includes a continuous effort to build knowledge over time (Bereiter, 2002) through “active, constructive, intentional, authentic and cooperative activities” (Jonassen, Howland, Marra, & Crismond, 2008, p. 2). There is a strong emphasis on state and national test results, which exerts pressure to teach for the test rather than for deep understanding at a conceptual level where learners will be able to use knowledge for the present and future. To achieve the kind of significant learning described above, instructional designers must start with a curriculum model, such as Highly Effective


Teaching, that intends to engage learners at the conceptual level so that learners can then apply their learning to new situations. Although literature exists on the essence and structure of meaningful learning, none exists in regard to the Highly Effective Teaching (HET) model’s potential to foster and support the phenomenon of meaningful learning from a learner’s perspective in a public school setting. Therefore, the intent of this study was to (a) elicit student descriptions of their lived learning experiences at the inquiry component of the HET model in a public school setting and thereafter (b) examine the model’s potential to foster and support the essence and structure of meaningful learning through its design. Purpose of the Study Establishing a high priority for meaningful learning design presents a challenge for instructional designers in an age where a widely accepted understanding of learning resides in evidence of standardized test results. As Hollingsworth and Gallego, (2007) indicate, learning outcomes within a NCLB (No Child Left Behind) framework are defined by a test-based accountability system. Test results indicate student achievement; however, evidence of learning can also be reflected by a student’s ability to know when and how to use knowledge effectively. Therefore, it was noteworthy to examine the phenomenon of meaningful learning through the eyes of learners’ experiences in order to determine if the model fosters and supports the essence and structure of meaningful learning through its design— a design that goes beyond the era where successful learning has been determined through test results. In order to obtain a description of learners’ experiences in a public school setting while participating within a HET classroom environment, an approach based on lived


experiences, a phenomenological research design, was selected for this study. Through the use of purposeful sampling using a journaling, interview and observation process, thick, rich descriptions of the learners’ experiences were documented. Analysis of these descriptions provides instructional designers with key indicators that support a match between the essence and structure of meaningful learning. Thereafter, an analysis of the key components of the HET model were noted in order to determine if the model, through its design had the potential to foster and support meaningful learning. In the final analysis, a valuable contribution has been made to research in regard to the power of instructional design, to increase the likelihood of meaningful learning experiences, a design needed to meet the needs of twenty-first century learners. Research Question The purpose of this phenomenological study was to examine the following research question: 1. How is the essence and structure of meaningful learning described from the learner’s perspective at the inquiry component of the Highly Effective Teaching model? 2. What do the descriptions suggest for effective instructional design? Significance of the Study Through meaningful learning experiences, knowledge-age learners develop skills necessary to become learners who use on-demand knowledge efficiently (Zimmerman, 1998).The HET model’s development of a yearlong plan targets significant conceptual,


knowledge and skill key points that are directly connected to an overarching theme and are experienced by learners at the inquiry component of the model (activity level). Instructional design intentionally targeted to promote meaningful learning through the use of the Highly Effective Teaching model could provide critical components for learning that are needed in a knowledge-age society. As Reigeluth (1999) indicates, designers no longer live in an age where the purpose of instructional design is to sort learners; the purpose is to customize design so that learners can solve complex problems within an authentic, meaningful environment (p. 19). Therefore, it is critical for instructional designers to design for meaningful learning. Definition of Terms Being-There Experiences: Learning experiences in and outside of school, which activate the senses and help the brain form patterns and programs for understanding concepts (Kovalik & Olsen, 2005). Biology of Learning: An incorporation of essential learning principles based on brain research, i.e. emotions as a gatekeeper to learning, intelligence as a function of experience, learning as an inseparable partnership between brain and body, multiple intelligences use, and learning as a two-step process (patterns and programs) (Kovalik & Olsen, 2005). Brain-Compatible Learning: Learning environment in which the brain is allowed to work naturally (Kovalik & Olsen, 2005). Concept: An idea or thought, which may be concrete or abstract in nature. A concept is “an idea of something formed by mentally combining all its characteristics or particulars; a construct” (Kovalik & Olsen, 2005, p. 14.2).


Conceptual Curriculum Development: An instructional focus based on developing learner understanding of concepts within a curricular framework (Kovalik & Olsen, 2005). Concept Development: A specific, dynamic dual process a learner engages in to fine tune understanding from meaningful learning experiences, a misconception repair process and a preconception repair process (Chi & Roscoe, 2002; Bereiter, 2002). Essence: Quality, nature or identity of an entity (Morris, 1976). Highly Effective Teaching Model (HET): An instructional design model focused on brain research principles, curriculum development and instructional strategies integration, which can be applied to an instructional setting (Kovalik & Olsen, 2005). Instructional Design: “The systematic and reflective process of translating the principles of learning and instruction into plans for instructional materials, activities, information resources and evaluation” (Smith & Regan, 1999, p. 2). Instructional Design Model: The structure attributed to an instructional design to give it meaning within its context of use (Ryder, 2008). Instructional Strategies: Methods that can be used to promote understanding during instruction (Florida State University, 2004). Inquiries: A key curriculum development structure in the HET model. Inquiries are activities that enable students to understand and apply the concept, skill or significant knowledge key point to achieve mastery (Kovalik & Olsen, 2005, p. x.3). Key Points: “Essential concept, skill, or significant knowledge all students are expected to master (know and be able to use)” (Kovalik & Olsen, 2005, p. x.4) Knowledge: A state of knowing gained through experience (Morris, 1976, p. 725).


Learning: Learning happens over a lifetime and involves intentional or incidental experience. Learning is an ongoing process of demonstrated behavioral change (Driscoll, 2005, p. 2). Lifelong Guidelines: Guiding principles for behavioral and social interaction in an out of school: Trustworthiness, Truthfulness, Active Listening, No Put-Downs, and Personal Best (Kovalik & Olsen, 2005). LIFESKILLS: Guidelines that determine a specific personal best quality, for example, integrity within the HET model. There are eighteen LIFESKILLS associated with the Lifelong Guideline of Personal Best (Kovalik & Olsen, 2005). Meaningful Learning: A continuous effort to build knowledge over time (Bereiter, 2002)) through “active, constructive, intentional, authentic and cooperative activities” (Jonassen et al., 2008 p. 2). No Child Left Behind (NCLB.): A federal law for elementary and secondary schools, which has been designed to increase accountability for student achievement as evidenced in test scores (Allen, 2006). Patterns: Mental constructs as a result of a learning experience (Hart, 2002). Programs (mental): A set sequence for completing a purpose or sequence (Hart, 2002). Phenomenon: Any state or process known through the senses rather than by intuition or reasoning (Miller, 2006); an occurrence that is observable Structure: A construct or architecture of interrelated components (Morris, 1976). Understanding: “Understanding implies abilities and dispositions with respect to an object of knowledge sufficient to support intelligent behavior” (Bereiter, 2002, p.


101); not only demonstrating performance (Perkins, 1998) but also knowledge cultivation (Bereiter, 2002). Yearlong Plan: A conceptually driven plan of instruction, which uses a structure for learning to promote deep understanding. The yearlong plan provides an instructional focus for a school year based on the integration of key points (Kovalik & Olsen, 2005). Assumptions and Limitations This study focused on the phenomenon of meaningful learning and its relationship to the HET model’s design. Therefore, the data gathered for this study came from two schools that have implemented the model within the past four years. One school had implemented the model school-wide (elementary) and the other had selected classrooms where the model was being used (middle school). A school-wide implementation had not yet taken place in the selected school district at the middle school at the time of the study. Additionally, teachers at the full implementation school had been trained in the model through consistent coaching and professional development over the past four years while teachers at the middle school level had been encouraged to train in the model on a voluntary basis. Middle school teachers’ training was approximately one to two years behind the elementary school. Students in these two schools were selected from HET classrooms where processes and procedures related to the model are in place. Students in these classrooms were familiar with the yearlong plan, key points and inquiries, which provided the instructional focus for the classroom design. There are many HET schools around the country, however a majority of them are located out of the state in which this study took place, and thus were not accessible to this researcher.


Theoretical Framework of the Study Although educational reform continues to influence how student achievement is assessed (via test scores and the assumption that learning has taken place), within a larger context, it is even more important to consider the long-range goals of education for twenty-first century learners. The essence and structure of meaningful learning has yet to be described from a learner perspective using the HET model’s design so in order to understand this phenomenon from a learner perspective, an interpretative, qualitative research design, specifically a phenomenological approach was chosen for this study. As Merriam (2002) indicates, in order to understand a phenomenon, it is important to show how direct experiences are derived from simple components of experience (p. 7). Therefore, this study first focused on collecting data related to student learning experiences as part of the inquiry component of the HET model in order to derive a rich, descriptive depiction of the essence and structure of meaningful learning from a learner perspective. Thereafter an analysis of these descriptions and their relationship to the HET model’s components was examined in order to determine if the model, through its design had the potential to foster and support meaningful learning. Data for this study was collected during the 2009-10 school year from two Highly Effective Teaching schools (one elementary and one middle school). Purposeful sampling of data was collected from one classroom per grade level with five selected students (and their teachers) in grades six and three. Qualitative data for this study included the following: 1) Student journal entries and reflections


2) Classroom observations 3) Student interviews 4) Teacher interviews (triangulation for validity and reliability) 5) Member checks (triangulation for validity and reliability) Organization of the Remainder of the Study The focus of chapter 2: Literature Review, encompassed two broad themes: 1) the essence of meaningful learning, and 2) the structure of meaningful learning. Within the essence and structure of the meaningful learning theme, two broad components from literature were addressed: 1) knowledge required for the twenty-first century and 2) understanding required for the twenty-first century. Specifically, the relationship between knowledge and learning as well as understanding and concept development was investigated. Thereafter two additional broad components from literature were addressed: 1) instructional design for meaningful learning, and 2) the HET model, as an example of such design in action. Prior to addressing these two components however, an epistemological overview of brain research was examined in order to build a contextual framework for the structural components in relationship to brain-based learning. Thereafter, a presentation of the relationship between instructional design and meaningful learning in the twenty-first century and the HET model was described. An extensive focus on phenomenological design and its application to this study was examined in chapter 3. Both the essence and the structure of phenomenology were addressed because they are distinct, inseparable components used in the process for describing a phenomenon. Specifically, chapter 3 included the methodology, sampling


design and data collection procedures for the study. Also, the chapter addressed the issues of validity and reliability while using phenomenological design and the proposed timeline for the study. In chapter 4 an analysis of the data was presented. Journal entry data, interviews and classroom observations were synthesized in order to derive common themes attributed to the phenomenon of meaningful learning. The intent was to distill a rich, descriptive depiction of the essence and structure of the phenomenon from a learner perspective and then provide an examination of the components of the HET model’s design in relationship to this depiction. Chapter 5 provided results, conclusions and recommendations based on the analysis of the data presented in chapter 4. This chapter also addressed the findings as particularly noted for public education as well as a specific emphasis on instructional design recommendations for meaningful learning in light of recent educational reform measures and their impact on twenty-first century learners. The final section provided references and appendices so that readers will be able to investigate further into the phenomenon of meaningful learning and its design if they so choose.


CHAPTER 2. LITERATURE REVIEW Educational reform’s challenge to meet the needs of twenty-first century learners has its roots in a lack of common understanding of what proficiency (meeting standard) means (Cronin, Dahlin, Adkins, & Kingsbury, 2007). There is a match between the testing culture and standardized assessments that are given, however there is a mismatch between performance and understanding (Alonoso-Tapia, 2002). Unfortunately, the very goal educational reform was intended to accomplish has limited students’ capacity for knowledge expansion in order to thrive in today’s knowledge-age culture (Marx, 2006). Learning, wrought through experience, is often bypassed in exchange for standardized measures of factual knowledge, which are less likely to represent a student’s ability to understand conceptually (Brady, 2008; Bransford, Brown, Cocking, Donovan, & Pellegrino, 2000). Meaning and relevance in an educational experience give learning purpose as well as the means to use knowledge with competence over time through conceptual understanding. Although the goal of educational reform has been to increase student achievement, a common understanding of learning for meaning, as well as its requirements and how to support these efforts (Darling-Hammond, 1997), particularly from a learner perspective has yet to be determined. In order to explore meaningful learning as a phenomenon, two broad themes from the literature are summarized—in the essence of meaningful learning and the structure of meaningful learning—in light of their relationship to the kind of learning needed in the twenty-first century. Essence and Structure of Meaningful Learning The inherent nature of meaningful learning or its essence as described in the literature is a dynamic, continuous interaction that takes place between the learner and the


learning experience. Each facet of meaningful learning—knowledge, learning, understanding and concept development—possesses subcomponents. Those subcomponents are use, structure, and environment. Each works in combination or individually to support the learner in gaining expertise. The facets of knowledge and concept development are meaningful learning phenomena. Knowledge and concept development frame the learning experience for learners. They surround and support the experience of learning—a meaningful learning infrastructure. Learning and understanding on the other hand are meaningful learning processes. They are learner-initiated and learner-developed. Learning, as a process, spearheads the development of deep understanding. Learning is a continual ongoing process and understanding is a cultivation process; the learner improves his understanding over time (Figure 1). Figure 1.

Dynamic interaction of the essence and structure of meaningful learning

In conjunction with Figure 1, Tables 1 and 2 also provide a synthesis of the similarities and differences of the facets of meaningful learning in relationship to their subcomponents. First, each facet shares key indicators within each subcomponent (similarities). For example, within the facet of knowledge the indicator engagement is Knowledge

– phenomenon


Learning and Understanding -

processes (essence)

Conceptual Development - phenomenon



evident in a meaningful learning structure. At the same time, however, within the facet of learning the indicator engagement is also a depiction of a meaningful learning process. Both of these facets share the indicator engagement within the use subcomponent. This same process is evident for all four indicators within the similarities category. At the same time, each facet also possesses unique indicators within the subcomponents of use, structure and environment. For example, in the subcomponent of use, knowledge manipulation is a exclusive indicator for the facet of knowledge. In other words, in a meaningful learning structure, evidence of knowledge manipulation is evident. In like manner the other facets also follow suit with their own unique indicators within each subcomponent. As noted in Figure 1, there is a dynamic interaction that takes place between all four facets when meaningful learning is taking place. At the same time, as delineated in Tables 1 and 2, each facet also operates within a meaningful learning situation with both a similar and unique interaction.


Table 1 Essence and Structure of Meaningful Learning- Similarities

Meaningful Learning Facets Similarities Knowledge, Learning, Understanding, Concept Development

Use: Engagement, intentionality, integration, relevancy, productivity, application, time investment, individual and/or social context

Structure: Internal and external phenomenon, contextual framework, support mechanisms, mental representations

Environment: Societal infrastructure, conceptual understanding, articulated structure, climate for continuous learning continued


Table 2 Essence and Structure of Meaningful Learning- Differences Meaningful Learning Facets Differences



L earning




Concept Devel.




Knowledge manipulation

Knowledge for future use


Comes to know

by knowing

Desire to learn


Volition for understanding

Understanding propagates un derstanding

Concept Devel.

Dual processes

Productive thinking




Diverse knowledge structures




Trans fer


Intelligent action

Individual focus

Concept Devel .

Structure strength tied to

s trength of

learner concept

Concept change/concept




Climate that advances


Knowledge areas of influence


Interdependent attributes of

meaningful learning Instigates reason and reflection


Expert emulation

Individuals’ orientation

Concept. Devel .

Supports learner


Supports learner inquiry

Note. Concept Devel. means Concept Development Knowledge in the Twenty-First Century Knowledge use Knowledge required for the twenty-first century finds its substance in a dynamic interaction between knowledge use, knowledge structure and the knowledge environment. All three components, though unique in their function, nonetheless operate within an interdependent context as a meaningful learning phenomenon. Although knowledge use is individualized (Duffy & Jonassen, 1992), it is also relevant within a social environment. The effort to use knowledge poses a challenge for the learner to engage in meaningful learning experiences. Using knowledge asks the learner to grapple with complexity (Jonassen, 2006a), to struggle to understand (Postman, 1996) ending in conceptual understanding that has been wrought through a construction and reconstruction process (Jonassen, 2006a). To use knowledge effectively means to


experience meaningful learning through engagement and to also derive a product—a conceptual artifact or tool for future use (Bereiter, 2002). Using knowledge through experience is likewise intentional. Engaging in meaningful learning asks the learner to begin to think like an expert, to use knowledge rather than accumulate knowledge (Lundell & Higbee, 1999), to “problem-solve” in order to create deep knowledge structures (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2006). As Bereiter (2002) notes, knowledge that is used effectively through active engagement takes a learner beyond the immediate situation at hand and builds knowledge that can be applied at a later time. However, the process of using knowledge effectively must take place within a contextual framework. Learning experiences that are within an authentic, real-world, relevant setting, ask the learner to do something with what they are learning. They must manipulate knowledge, build a relationship between deep learning and the process by which knowledge advances and go beyond what they know (Lin, Hmelo, Kinzer, & Secules, 1999; Prensky, 2007; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2006). Ultimately, by using knowledge effectively, the twenty-first century learner can develop expertise through sustained inquiry (Jonassen, Howland, Marra, and Crismond, 2008) and thereby convert masses of information into useable knowledge (Lundell & Higbee, 1999). However, the effective use of knowledge is not solely an individual process. According to Porter, (2003) there is a social need to use knowledge; knowledge use takes place within a social context and is evidenced in collective understanding (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1994). As noted in the Kapur (2006) study, knowledge is constructed in every action that is related to a community of practice. To be an effective and expert user of

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Abstract: The match between the essence and structure of meaningful learning continues to challenge public schools amidst educational reform. Meaningful learning design for twenty-first century learners must be based on three foundational principles: (a) a systemic focus, (b) an enduring focus and (c) an evolving focus; it must include the learner, the learning experience and the learning environment as integral elements within the design structure. Student descriptions of meaningful depicted in this phenomenological study are shown to align with the design components of the Highly Effective Teaching Model. As a result of the learning experiences at the inquiry component of the model (grades three and six), it is evident the model has the capacity to foster and support twenty-first century learning.