How Concordia researchers could change the face of learning
This fall, Concordia’s Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance (CSLP) received nearly $1.5 million in funding to support infrastructure, partnership development and research as part of a Le Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture Regroupements stratégiques initiative.
Heavily focused on interdisciplinarity in areas covering cognitive science, instructional design and educational technologies, the CSLP is tasked with researching and mobilizing knowledge in the field of pedagogy in order to inform educators and policy-makers interested in evidence-based practice.
The centre maximizes learner success and cognitive skills in people of all ages, focusing on four axes of research: emergent educational technologies, the Learning Toolkit (LTK) software suite, language and literacy, and academic self-regulation.
Exploratory work on emergent educational technologies: understanding the technological and theoretical frontier
For David Waddington, an associate professor in the Department of Education, bridging the gap between technological practice and pedagogical theory is crucial to understanding the potential benefits and drawbacks of technology’s influence on learning.
As Waddington explains, his research is “all about refining and reinvigorating traditional educational theories in the context of emerging technologies like video games, social media and mobile platforms.”
He believes that technology has the potential to help learners better comprehend extremely complex issues, citing video games such as Fate of the World and Get Water, both designed to increase understanding of global warming, as examples. He and his colleagues are also looking at how interactive technologies such as clickers — which enable instructors to ask students questions and immediately collect and view responses — can improve classroom dynamics and overall learning.
“The key is understanding if these technologies deliver what they promise,” Waddington says. “These are trends happening at what I call the ‘frontier’ of educational practice, where there is a great deal to be learned both practically and theoretically.”
The Learning Toolkit: improving essential competencies
More than 12 years ago, Philip Abrami — the CSLP’s director and a professor in the Department of Education — developed ABRACADABRA, an early reading software. Since then, the LTK has evolved into a full suite of programs that not only cover the basics like math and literacy but also develop soft skills such as communication, goal setting and critical thinking.
By using best theory, validated through longitudinal studies, Abrami has created programs that improve learning and help students understand their own motivational and self-regulatory processes.
The success of the LTK has gone global and is being used in North America, Europe, Hong Kohng, Australia and Africa. “A key component of the LTK is scalability and sustainability,” Abrami says. “The technological capacities of a classroom in Kenya versus those in Canada are extremely different, so we’ve adapted the software to meet these realities. It’s a constant challenge, but an essential one to meet if the LTK is to be used successfully.”
Language and literacy: the power of being understood
One of the key areas of research for CSLP is not only the cognition of learning second languages but how people use them at school and in the workplace.
Laura Collins, an associate professor in Concordia’s Teaching English as a Second Language and Applied Linguistics programs, has found that her colleagues are contributing to a better understanding of what makes speakers comprehensible, which informs approaches to teaching and assessing competence in additional languages.
“For years, the goal has been to sound like a native speaker,” she says. “But really, the importance lies in being understood — and that may involve having an accent.”
Research in this area takes place in a wide range of contexts, from elementary schools to postsecondary institutions and workplaces. “An interesting example is our research in how to train healthcare workers in a second language so that they can communicate effectively with patients,” Collins says. “These types of workers interact with people in vulnerable situations, and need to use their second language to deliver medical information and address emotional aspects of caregiving.”
Academic self-regulation: how emotions affect the way we learn
Self-regulation is a crucial process for learning within individual and group contexts. Learning something new on one’s own is often difficult, and staying on task depends on how individuals deal with the various affective and cognitive challenges inherent to a learning activity.
For CSLP member Julien Mercier, a professor at L’Université du Québec à Montréal, examining the role of emotions and cognition in self-regulation is vital to improving learning strategies in this area.
“Because self-regulation is not directly observable, we use various methods to glean insight from the matter,” Mercier says. “This includes everything from self-report questionnaires and recordings of learning tasks through video and sound, to electroencephalography that detects electrophysiological activity in the brain.”
The idea is to find out which affective and cognitive states are conducive to learning. Once this is understood, the question will then be how to maintain these emotions and cognitive dispositions, or induce them during a learning task.