The design of a task can require significant thought and devotion of time, as it must marry up multiple factors: the subject content that is learnt; the pedagogy of the teacher; the disciplinary practice of the subject; and the cognitive theories that support learning, to name but a few.
Despite the many contributing factors, I would argue that task design is influenced most by a teacher’s view of learning. For example, this could be influenced by whether a teacher views knowledge as something that needs to be constructed or as something that is simply transmitted or interpreted (I appreciate this may be a false dichotomy but please indulge me for the sake of the argument).
A teacher’s view could dictate not only the design of their tasks and their instruction, but also how they implement tasks in the classroom. To exemplify this point, let’s consider two famous theories of learning: Behaviourism and Constructivism.
Behaviourism outlines that learning must focus on observable behaviour and actively discounts activity centred around the mind or mental state. In this theory, there must be observable change in behaviour for learning to have occurred.
The task purpose from a behaviourist standpoint would therefore be centred on how the task can reinforce desired behaviours, while avoiding undesirable behavioural responses. Thus, tasks that promote memorisation and repetition of knowledge (rote learning) could be prevalent in a classroom with a behaviourist approach. The learner would be undertaking tasks that demonstrate knowledge is transmitted.
The constructivist theory of learning would promote an entirely different type of task. Constructivism believes that the learner ‘constructs’ their own understanding of the world and therefore that the purpose of a task is for the learner to generate knowledge through their experiences.
As this theory believes learning is a search for meaning and understanding, the constructivist classroom would more likely include tasks of a discovery or inquiry-based nature. The learner would be undertaking tasks that demonstrate that knowledge is constructed.
Of course, it is not as black and white as that. But, while there are many theories of learning we can discuss, this shows how task design, and the purpose of tasks, are contingent on a teacher’s view of learning and their pedagogy that arises from that view.
The next blog will look at approaches to task design.