Silent Learners

Week 7 Theme: Inclusion & Universal Design

Summary: This week we explored accessibility and accommodation for different types of learning and learners. 

The idea from this week that I was most intrigued with was lurking and how participation in learning could be invisible yet still successful. This topic actually touched upon all three of the questions that I defined at the start of the course, as it is related to interactivity, discourse and discussions, and balancing between individualized learning and social learning.

This week, we looked at a study conducted in Finland on Silent Learners, which suggest that “…learners have a range of learning strategies and that visible activity is not always a sign of effective learning…” (Árnason et. al. 2017, p. 9). The study suggested that learning be designed in such a way to accommodate more “passive” approaches to learning rather than explicitly trying to discourage passivity. This idea seems at odds with the understanding that learning is inherently social which is at the core of constructivism (Reusser, 2001).

This is also an interesting concept to consider when designing an synchronous discussion activity. One would assume that more active participation in the activity would indicate a higher level of engagement. However, Gourlay directly questions what she calls the ‘tyranny of participation’ and suggests that although “active, public and observable forms of participation are favoured in the ideology of student engagement”, sociomaterial interactions, those that occur between the learner and devices, texts, or other non-human tools, need to be considered as valid forms of participation as well (2015). Gourlay suggests that emphasizing only social interactions could marginalize ” private, silent, unobserved and solitary practices” (2015, p. 410).

The challenge then becomes one of assessment. If learning can be invisible and solitary, how can this be observed and subsequently measured? Vrasidas’ discussion of constructivism actually supports the idea of solitary practices being a part of constructivist assessment, including reflection and self-evaluation.

  • Gourlay, L. (2015). ‘Student engagement’ and the tyranny of participation. Teaching in Higher Education, 20(4), 402–411.
  • Nordic Council of Ministers. (2017). Silent learners—a guide.
  • Reusser, K. (2001). Co-constructivism in Educational Theory and Practice. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2058–2062.

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