Learning is a multi-faceted process that involves the interactive, constructive, and transformative dimensions.
Research on cognition and learning in the classroom points to the necessity for further study of learning behavior in terms of three dimensions: interactive, constructive, and transformative. Each of these important dimensions contributes to the teaching and learning strategies for quality instruction at all academic levels and in all kinds of educational environments, including traditional and online mediums.
The Interactive Dimension
“Learning involves a complex system of interactive processes” (“Dimensions of Learning,” 1997, para. 4). The exchange of information is the basis for the interactive dimension. It is in this dimension that the learner processes what is learned from his or her environment. The development of meanings from personal experiences also constitutes interactive behavior in which the learner attains knowledge through dependence, independence, and, most importantly, interdependence.
The measure of dependence is related to the learner’s ability to gain cognitive insight by adopting meanings generated by others. Secondly, the measure of independence refers to the learner’s ability to acquire information based on his or her own ability without conferring with another individual. Thirdly, the measure of interdependence is “how much (the learner develops) shared meanings in interactions with others” (Mackeracher, 2007, p.8). These three measures are dependent on the attitudes and perceptions of any student.
The way that the learner communicates is instrumental in his or her ability to engage in interactive discourse where meaning is conveyed through both verbal and nonverbal cues. Additionally, the power and influence of the instructor contributes to the learner’s ability to absorb information. This is why instructors often adjust their style of teaching to accommodate their student’s needs.
The Constructive Dimension
In this dimension, there are many concerns dealing with a learner’s ability to create or “construct” meaningful ideas from the environment. Because of constructivist ideals, it is easy to recognize how people shape their worlds according to their perceptions, feelings, and attitudes about their experiences. In the case of learning, these experiences are systematically based on “acquiring and integrating knowledge” (“Dimensions of Learning,” 1997, para. 2).
Past experiences greatly affect new learning. In the constructive dimension, a student must overcome barriers caused by distorted mental maps or personal ideas that sabotage active learning. Hence, conscientious instructors should consider a student’s past education in order to build better lesson plans that encourage progress by challenging old misconceptions.
The Transformative Dimension
Learning is transformative, as it leads to change. However, in this dimension there are two main occurrences that effect the level at which a learner changes. First, there is differentiation, which indicates the process of separating or distinguishing concepts. Second, there is integration, the process that involves connecting or combining ideas. According to this learner-centered framework, it is during this third overall dimension in which a student begins to extend and refine knowledge.
When one considers the types of possible learner transformations, three emerge: meanings, habits of mind, and perspectives. Meaning refers to a learner’s personal model of reality and can be modified by values, skills, and knowledge. This is a very basic level of transformation, for it entails the application of general knowledge of any subject.
Next, habits of the mind are premises and assumptions that guide a learner’s understanding of his or her environment. Lastly, perspectives of the mind are “the general framework of meanings and cultural understandings underlying (one’s) entire model of reality” (Mackeracher, 2007, p. 11). In other words, transformations will occur when a learner reflects and thinks critically about his or her own beliefs.
By understanding the three dimensions—interactive, constructive, and transformative—of learning, instructors and students can communicate better by sharing information more effectively. Instructors can use knowledge of these dimensions to design curriculum and plan lessons that complement learners’ abilities in the classroom. Students, at the same time, can gain insight into how and why they learn and use this information to improve their study habits.