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Digital Pedagogy - A Guide for Librarians, Faculty, and Students

This guide is meant to inform the user about Digital Pedagogy. It includes information on educational theory, a collection of case studies, and resources relevant to the study of digital pedagogy.

Online Learning Objects and Constructivism

Online Learning Modules, Constructivism, and Andragogy

Numerous articles discussing Online Learning Objects discuss specific pedagogical theories and frameworks used in order to develop online modules, as part of good principles of design. The most prominent pedagogical theory to emerge was Constructivism.

In “Leveraging Adult Learning Theory with Online Tutorials,” (2015), Halpern and Tucker , working with sociology students at the University of Southern California, wanted to create an online module that was more aligned with adult learner pedagogy, using Knowles theory of andragogy. The authors wanted to move away from teaching in a way where learners need to know that they must learn what the teacher is teaching, which has a tendency to cause dissatisfaction in adult learners, towards Knowles’ andragogical model, which has the following six components:

  • The need to know why something is being learned: contextualizing for a lesson makes for clearer understanding as to why something should be learned
  • The learner’s self-concept – the move from dependent to self-directed learning
  • Including the role of learner’s experience – bringing a wealth of experiences through experiential techniques
  • Readiness to learn (adults learn content better when it is situationally appropriate)
  • Orientation to learning – adults learn better through problem solving, and
  • Motivation, the internal factors for learning

The authors argue that Knowles theory manifests constructive learning theory because:

  • adults should be involved in their own instruction
  • instructors should facilitate learning through experiential experiences
  • help learners to contextualize core concepts into real world applications

The authors recommend that online information literacy modules, in order to be useful should:

  • be highly relevant to assignments
  • be problem based to encourage critical thinking and reflection
  • acknowledge prior work and experience
  • be self-paced

Generally, the authors feel that librarians should cultivate an adult-centered approach to library instruction design that incorporates inquiry based learning, activity based learning, and self-direction. They should take a constructivist or self-directed approach, making lessons highly relevant to the work that has to be carried out, establishing opportunities for collaboration or reflection, and should engage students through problem based opportunities. Additionally, they should support a variety of learning types (visual, aural, text).  

In “Online and Face-to-Face Library Instruction: Assessing the Impact on Upper-Level Sociology Undergraduates,” Hess lists best practices around the development on online learning. These include the necessity of connecting to academic purpose when designing modules as is the integration into problem based projects. The author argues that project oriented constructivist learning environments have the potential for the formation of deeper understanding.


Maryellen’s Allen’s “Promoting Critical Thinking Skills in Online Information Literacy Instruction Using a Constructivist Approach,” is a philosophical discussion of constructivism and how it can be applied to the development of online modules. The author indicates that it is important to look to instructional design theories in order to provide effective online modules to students, and examines the constructivist approach, in which the facilitator takes on a much more passive role. The question that the author is trying to answer is how to best design library instruction so that critical thinking skills and their resulting information literacy competencies can be effectively delivered in a web-based setting that involves asynchronous learning. The author asserts that constructivism proposes that learners build knowledge and skills upon their already existing constructs of the world based upon individual experience. In constructivism, learners take an active role in the inductive learning process. The author goes on to say that if online instruction uses the constructivist approach in order to help develop critical thinking in students, content must encourage discussion, questioning, evaluation, and reflection, although she emphasized that this approach is often difficult and very time consuming to recreate in an online environment.