Meaningful learning experiences

It’s been an interesting week and I have felt challenged by my reading and interactions with colleagues in my university studies.  I am someone who is fortunate enough to be very metacognitive in my own learning.  I am always conscious of my thoughts and thought-processes, and how I am interacting with academic stimuli.  I can’t say that I have always been like this but when I studied educational psychology, in first year of my bachelor degrees, I learned a lot about constructivism and metacognition, how the brain works and how it develops.  It was this knowledge that drove me to understand my own learning processes at a much deeper level.  That course changed my life, and many learning experiences have continued to effect me profoundly since.  What kind of learning experience are most effective?  Meaningful learning experiences.

Reading Howland, Jonassen and Marra (2012), a lot resonated with me about the dimensions of meaningful learning that are identified.  The authors share the figure below to outline the characteristics of meaningful learning.  As a teacher in the 21st century, I have become more and more conscious of providing students with learning experiences that are authentic and ‘real-world’ relevant to them.  I believe this falls under the ‘Active’ part of these characteristics because the real-world relevance of content and activities is observable to students.  I guess its like the saying: “Seeing is believing”.  If students see the relevancy of something they are learning in the real world, then they are engaging in a meaningful learning experience.

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So, where does technology fit in with this idea of meaningful learning?  Howard, Jonassen and Marra (2012) say this: “Technologies need to engage learners in articulating and representing their understanding, not that of teachers.” (p. 4).  That’s it!  There is always so much debate about how to appropriately integrate technology with schools and classrooms, however, now is the time to ensure you are knowledgable and skilled when it comes to engaging learners in utilising ICT and be prepared to let go of the reigns a little bit more.

How I make learning experiences meaningful?

Active (manipulative/observant) – I like to get my students to manipulate their understanding of a topic and recreate/re-represent it in another form to show the depth of their understanding.  For example, the demonstrate their knowledge of orchestral instruments, I have gotten them to rewrite the information in the form of a first person introduction.  This category of meaningful learning is similar to constructive in a way.

Constructive (articulative/reflective) – I have always valued time set aside to critically reflect on what I have learned.  I always try to encourage my own students to reflect before they begin engaging in a new learning experience and then again afterward so that they can learn to understand their own learning processes and how they learn.  In this area, I have encouraged students to keep an eportfolio or diary of SMART goals in order to regularly reflect on their learning, using scaffolded apps like Tools 4 Students.

Cooperative (collaborative/conversational) – The benefit of Google Apps and an LMS like Moodle is that collaboration and conversation online can be easier set up.  Students in my classes have frequently used Google docs to write a document together and I have had a lot of experience as a student and teacher with discussion forums.  I find that students really do start thinking more critically and deeply in collaborative and conversational environments, inspired by others, and perhaps competing with others.

Authentic (complex/contextualised) – PBL units of work are a fantastic way to create learning experiences that are authentic.  In my previous school, all PBL had to be embedded in real-world relevant topics and activities.  Their PBL units of work would often culminate in a product that would be entered into a competition or be used in a public showcase.  Video products are a great way to disseminate information and have long-lasting physical evidence of the learning.

Intentional (goal directed/regulatory) – having learning outcomes explicitly stated and visible is a great way to help students become goal directed and to encourage them to regulate their learning by checking for outcomes achieved.  In online learning, I always try to include outcomes for each section of learning developed.

I will continue to reflect on the model proposed as I seek to always create meaningful learning experiences for those I work with.


Howland, J. L., Jonassen, D. H., & Marra, R. M. (2012). Chapter 1: What is meaningful learning? In Meaningful learning with technology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Edmodo vs Moodle – A common debate

So many times when I’ve worked with staff at schools the question is raised, which is better, Edmodo or Moodle?  First of all, they are two different things entirely when you really know what they are.  Is it stated on the Edmodo website that Edmodo is a K-12 social learning network “dedicated to connecting all learners with the people and resources they need to reach their full potential” (Edmodo, 2014).   However, Moodle is stated as being “a learning platform designed to provide educators, administrators and learners with a single robust, secure and integrated system to create personalised learning environments“, as well as this, there is a philosophy behind the development of Moodle that states that “the design and development of Moodle is guided by a “social constructionist pedagogy” (Moodle, 2012).  To me, it is pretty obvious that each of these two products serves distinctly different purposes.

There have been numerous teachers in places I have worked who claim Edmodo to be the best digital learning tool for all teaching and learning activities.  I decided to give it a good go with students a year ago and see for myself how it worked as a learning tool.  It worked well in some instances, and I had about 250 students using it for a range of activities and discussions.  I awarded badges to students based on things they were doing and interacted with them as they completed activities and wrote their reflections etc as replies to posts.  However, after a while, the issues became this:  students forgot passwords and would create new accounts instead of contacting me to find out their password or seek help; students couldn’t find the assigned activities in the feed of comments and activities; and, students focused too much on the social and not enough on completing work and learning.  These are things I found fundamentally disadvantageous to quality teaching and learning.

Moodle on the other hand facilitates teaching and learning that is both synchronous and asynchronous; collaborative and independent; and, passive as well as interactive. Courses in Moodle can be designed to facilitate learning that is based on a linear pathway of content and activities or it can be designed to be completely individualised based on student groups, or some other student-based variable.  For example, completing a lesson activity, students may answer questions in different ways that take them in different directions, depending on the lesson setup.  I could honestly go on about the things I believe set Moodle apart from other systems as a learning management system but basically it is because Moodle facilitates learning customisation, creativity, collaboration and personalisation.

Check out some of these other blog posts that discuss the Edmodo vs Moodle issues:

Ultimately, Moodle is a learning management system and Edmodo is not, it is simply a social learning environment that connects people with the potential to learn.

A new 21st century pedagogical model

This is something I have pondered for years, a new model, a 21st century model, for understanding and implementing best practices into teaching.  We were asked to consider this in the course I’m doing called ‘Advanced Pedagogy’, and as an online learning designer, I have been very heavily into instructional design models and models for creating new learning experiences.  I’ve explored many of these, and other learning models, on my blog over the years but the few that have particularly stood out to me are:

  • The TEC-VARIETY Model
  • Hybrid learning model

In the 2014 K-12 Edition of the Horizon report, hybrid learning was outlined as a mid-range trend, and this involves utilising a range of teaching and learning modes to facilitate experiences for students that produce quality learning outcomes.  A quote I found particularly valuable from the report said:

“Schools that are making use of hybrid learning models are finding that using both the physical and the virtual learning environments to their highest potentials allows teachers to further personalise the learning experience, engage students in a broader variety of ways, and even extend the learning day.  Hybrid models, when designed and implemented effectively, enable students to use the school day for group work and project-based activities, while using the network to access readings, videos, and other learning materials on their own time, leveraging the best of both environments.” (p. 12)

I think that any model we utilise pedagogically needs to be flexible, agile and adaptable to the needs of all learners.

Another point I think is important in any model is that it is progressive in nature or provides some sort of continuum on which to base the starting point of learning about something new and the mastery of something.  I think that students need to have something to aim for, so having a model that presents a continuum will provide teachers with guidelines on which to frame learning and progression of.  Like the progression through syllabus stages, e.g. stages 1-6, however, more micro progressive.

The TEC VARIETY model is one that was developed to address motivation and engagement in online learning, but which I feel is applicable to all teaching and learning if considered in the right light.  The model is an acronym for the following: tone/climate, encouragement, curiosity, variety, autonomy, relevance, interactive, engagement, tension and yields.  Each of these elements have been researched and proven to have significant effect on engagement and motivation.  More can be read at

The TPACK model is also a favourite of mine and one that I feel is crucial in the 21st century.  It is a holistic model that comprehensively covers how to work seamlessly with content, pedagogy and technology in curriculum design and its about understanding how each combination of the three work together to create a model for 21st century learning.

Will work on visuals for my combined ideas and the most important ones but as I was reading another one of the course readings, it mentioned other elements that I thought might be relevant for a new pedagogical model.  Kalantzis and Cope (2012) conducted research that was published under the title of ‘New learning: a charter for change in education’ and in it they said: “The transformed economic system emerging from the current financial crisis will require human capacities that only education can nurture, based on deep knowledge, practical imagination, creative participation, intellectual inquisitiveness and collaborative commitment” (p. 83).  These words immediately stood out to me as essential elements in a new pedagogical model for the 21st century but what would they look like in the classroom?



Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. (2014). NMC Horizon Report: 2014 K-12 Edition . Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium

Kalantzis, M., & Cope, B. (2012). New learning: a charter for change in education. Critical Studies in Education, 53(1), 83-94.

Yay! A transparent filing system on tablets…

In my comparison of iPad Air vs Samsung Galaxy Note, there is one thing that really makes the Android experience even better.  The transparency of the filing system!! It is brilliant!!  For years I have used the iPad and tried to navigate numerous apps in the hope of figuring out an easy file management system and workflow for completing school documents etc.  Students are always dealing with documents such as Pages, Keynotes, PDFs and images but they have no one place where they can manage and store these with ease and use them in other apps without having to re-download them.  Yes, you can store everything in your Google Drive and use them as you need from there, however, you then have to download them again and this requires an internet connection.  I’m sure there is things that the iPad can do that manage files better, however, file management and storage should not be something a user has to think twice about.


A default folder amongst the apps and folders on the Samsung reveals the above apps.  All of them are very useful but for now, I am loving the My Files and Downloads apps.  On my MacBook, I have my Desktop, Documents, and Downloads folders etc, but these are not something found on the iPad.  However, on the Samsung, I can find these within the My Files app and the Downloads app and what that visually looks like is a lot more intuitive and transparent, almost like it were a computer desktop.

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Not only does the file system/folder on the Samsung organise my files into categories accessible from one app, it also links to my Dropbox and allows me to easily navigate those files and open them on my Samsung tablet.  It’s so much easier to manage!  The breadcrumbs underneath the categories (seen above) are also very helpful for navigating the file system.  Another huge benefit too, is the fact that the space taken by each category of items/files stored is clearly visible, which makes the management of my 16GB tablet’s storage a lot easier as well.

I haven’t played around with all of the features yet, but I have the ability to create my own folders within this filing system and create shortcuts as well.  Another thing I have yet to explore is the connectivity with a USB and an external microSD card to add further storage space to the device but I will cover that one soon.Screenshot_NormarAppImage (1)

I’m converted… from iPad Air to Samsung Galaxy Note

I’ve been a Mac/Apple ‘convertee’ since about 2009 when I got my first MacBook, and as far as computers go I am still convinced that the MacBook is definitely the best way to go for laptops… HOWEVER… drumroll please…. after being so immersed in the world of iPads as the ‘tool of the future’ for education, I am now convinced that Android, and particularly Samsung are superior in the affordances and features it offers for classrooms and students.

It’s only taken one night of playing on my new Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1″ last night to realise what should’ve come a lot sooner had I not be ingrained in the sect that is allegiant to Apple only.  I have never used an Android device for more than a few minutes of maybe trying to hack into my sisters Facebook on her Android phone (before I convinced her to go Apple iPhone ironically), so last night was a totally new technical experience and I must say that the UX was fantastic!!! I struggled a little sometimes but overall, I was getting so excited by the way I was able to get timely responses from the device and all of the functions and features.

Anyways, I got a lot more playing to do with my device and there will be MANY MORE posts to come about this flip from Apple iPad to Samsung Galaxy… feel free to share tips, tricks and comments galore…

Designing professional learning using the 4MAT Cycle

I’m always trying to refine the format of professional development workshops I run, continuing to strengthen the opportunities it provides for colleagues to produce great ‘take-aways’ for their own professional practice, at the same time offering the time and scope to ‘play’ and collaborate with colleagues as well.  I heard of the 4MAT Cycle very early on in my career and was directed to it when I was really struggling to teach my classes at the first school I taught at but it wasn’t until recently that I revisited it with the view of it refreshing my mindset on professional learning.  Instructional design is a very big interest and passion of mine and I am always keen to explore better ways of designing lessons and professional activities.

The 4MAT Cycle also closely relates to the work of Kolb and his work on experiential learning.  From diagrams such as the one above and other similar representations of the 4MAT Cycle I have come up with a 10-step cycle I will utilise for professional learning workshops in the next term when engaging colleagues in learning about the SAMR Model. The ten steps I have identified are:

  1. Icebreaker – This is intended to both engage and motivate everyone, creating enthusiasm for learning.
  2. Outcomes – To focus the learning activities and provide an idea of where the workshop will head and where it will finish.  Indicates the knowledge and skills participants should acquire.
  3. Knows and need to knows – Accessing participants background knowledge and engages them in thinking about what questions they have and want answered.
  4. Stimulus/thought-provoker – Introduce the content and topic more, provoke participants to start thinking about the content.
  5. Information/content – Present quick, factual, straight-to-the-point information that will help participants acquire the desired knowledge need for the workshop activities.
  6. Reflection – Individual reflection on a given stimulus/lesson/resource.
  7. Group collaboration – Sharing and reflection within small group about the reflection above.  Preparation of something to share, could be simply verbally sharing.
  8. Present back/share – Groups share what they discussed/created/came up with during group collaboration.  Large group discussion.
  9. Group Reflection – Small groups reflect together on what other groups produced and shared with everyone.
  10. Need to knows – review of need to knows and new knowledge and skills acquired, and any that still need to be addressed.

So this is the structure I am going to go with for about 4 workshop sessions and see how it helps my colleagues to learn the SAMR Model.  I want professional learning to be fun, engaging, collaborative and valuable in that participants have the opportunity to develop something they can take away and work on as well as this will often be the focus of individual and group activities.  More to come once implemented…


The Rule of 6: How to Teach with an iPad by Jim Norwood

My previous post reflected on this book and a lesson I designed that implemented the book but I have continued to ponder it further and the other day created these two infographics to outline the basic content and stages of The Rule of 6.

The Rule of 6 - Part 1 The Rule of 6 - Part 2

Adapted from the work of Jim Norwood in The Rule of 6: How to Teach with an iPad.