Challenges to student-centered learning in children’s ministries volunteer training

As the Director of Children’s Ministries at Christian Life Fellowship church, I am responsible to provide the children’s ministries volunteer training sessions in a manner which is most beneficial, convenient, and accessible for volunteers. While optional monthly volunteer training sessions are currently offered September thru May to provide volunteers the opportunity to receive professional development training on topics pertinent to current children’s ministry pragmatics, less than ten percent of volunteers take advantage of these training sessions. With the increasing schedule constraints that people are facing, it is conceivable that an online format of training would be a much more advantageous avenue for attaining volunteer development training than the current face-to-face monthly training workshop. The online format could provide a much more accessible avenue for attaining volunteer development training than the current face-to-face monthly training workshop.

The proposed online training format would consist of a variety of elements which would all serve the purpose of fostering an engaging and collaborative learning environment. Volunteers would take on the active roles of knowledge generation, collaboration, and process management (Palloff & Pratt, 1999) within the learning framework. These learners would receive an email with a link to view an interactive instructional presentation online. After choosing to participate and viewing this presentation, individuals could access additional resources relevant to the topic discussed and then participate in an asynchronous discussion board. The collaborative learning processes involved would afford volunteers the opportunity to work together in achieving deeper levels of knowledge generation through a, “shared process of meaning-making” (Palloff & Pratt, 2001, p. 32). While not a pure “student-centered” format, this would be an initial step towards providing training in a more accessible, relevant, and engaging context.

The goal of this interactive learning process would be to provide volunteers with additional opportunities to ask questions and seek out additional resources beyond even what is covered in the instructional presentations. This constructivist learning format would entail a complete paradigm shift from the current instructivist learning philosophy that has permeated the volunteer that that is currently being offered. The current pedagogical foundation does not consider the needs of the learners. According to Land & Hand, “Pedagogical foundations form the affordances and activities of the environment and should be inextricably linked to corresponding psychological foundations” (Land & Hannafin, 2000).

From the needs, task, and contextual analyses that I have conducted, I have deduced that the technological, cultural, and pragmatics of the current scenario do favor the development of such student-centered online learning environments. Volunteers surveyed have indicated their interest in participating in a more convenient format of training, with 87% stating that they would like to participate in a sample online training workshop.

As I examine the logistical and financial considerations in making online training available, the pragmatic foundations, “recognizing the reality check of learning environment design and implementation” (Land & Hannafin, 2000) certainly illustrate the feasibility of developing an online training program using a combination of instructional presentations with synchronous and asynchronous communication. There is a no more efficient or effective means to provide ongoing training to my children’s ministries volunteers than through an online format.

– Jason


Land, S. M., & Hannafin, M. J. (2000). Student-centered learning environments. In D. H. Jonassen & S. M. Land (Eds.), Theoretical foundations of learning environments. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (1999). Building learning communities in cyberspace: Effective strategies for the online classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2001). Lessons from the cyberspace classroom: The realities of online teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Instructional design in children’s ministries

The term “electracy” was a foreign term to me prior to this unit. However, I have been cognizant of its influence on education for quite some time. Electracy is defined as, “an ability to use technology to gather and reflect on the use of information for different purposes” (Erstad, 2003). Proficiency in this “literacy for a post-typographic world” that Erstad refers to is becoming a requirement for learners in the twenty-first century.

While learning domains remain constant, the modes in which concepts are learned certainly can be tailored to a given topic or lesson. As an instructional designer, I seek to continually evaluate and identify the most effective learning processes that I’ve used. I look to present content in the most relevant and applicable means possible. I agree whole-heartedly with the statement that Randy Christensen made this last week at the Assemblies of God National Children’s Ministries Conference when he said, “People equate the relevancy of the message with the relevancy of the method.” In the realm of religious education especially, now more than ever, relevancy is a crucial element to effective instruction. A relevant and balanced approach in instructional design is imperative.

Erstad summarized the necessary balance between formal learning contexts and more informal learning processes by stating, “The relationship between formal and informal ways of learning needs to be highlighted more strongly to create meaningful learning environments for students” (Erstad, 2003, p.26). The task for any instructional designer is to look to develop balance in the design and then for educators to maintain that balanced approach through the instruction. The reality is that there is no single design or approach that will meet the needs of all students. Flexibility on the part of all parties in the instructional design and delivery processes will ensure that an environment of customization is available.


Erstad, O. (2003). Electracy as empowerment: Student activities in learning environments using technology. Nordic Journal of Youth Research, 11(1), 11-28.

Key elements of behavioral, cognitive, affective, and collaborative learning theories

Scholars have theorized that learning takes places through a multitude of domains, including: behavioral, cognitive, affective, and collaborative. Best practice models from throughout a variety of educational settings have confirmed the effectiveness of instructional strategies which identify these learning modes and seek to incorporate these learning processes, when applicable, into learning environments.

The behavioral or psychomotor learning domain focuses upon the processes of mastery of physical skills. Physical skills have been categorized in a variety of ways, but invariably include cognitive, psychomotor, reactive, and interactive domains (Romiszowski, 1999). Romiszowski (1999) stresses not only the general learning processes of psychomotor skill learning but also the instructional strategies necessary for skills development. The challenge for educators teaching physical skills is for learners to transfer knowledge of these skills into proficient practice.

Bloom first defined the cognitive domain of learning as one which deals with the, “recall or recognition of knowledge and the development of understandings and intellectual abilities and skills” (Reigeluth & Moore, 1999). While Bloom’s taxonomy is arguably the most well-known articulation of cognitive processes, others such as Gagne, Ausubel, Anderson, Merrill have all presented similar cognitive theories which express a variety of levels of interaction between learner and content. Therefore, the focus of cognitive learning is built upon the understanding that learners attain knowledge through a variety of interactions and processes.

The affective domain is one which, ”refers to components of affective development focusing on internal changes or processes” (Martin & Reigeluth, 1999). Or, stated another way, the affective domain relates primarily to the motivational factors involved in learning. A taxonomy of internalization from least to most includes: receiving, responding, valuing, organization, and characterization (Martin & Reigeluth, 1999). Affective components are strongly related to other elements of learning processes, and are at times not easily distinguishable.

Collaborative learning has been defined as, “a structured exchange between two or more participants designed to enhance achievement of the learning objectives” (Clark & Mayer, 2003). Collaboration has typically taken place in the classroom setting through the use of group work, etc. but has been expanded into a plethora of applications in the online learning environment. While traditional collaborative learning opportunities have typically been synchronous, many online instructional strategies now implement asynchronous collaborative exercises. These asynchronous collaborations are not dependent upon schedule constraints of learners or faculty. The undeniable fact exists that a variety of levels of structure exist among collaborative environments and that not all forms of collaborative learning prove equally effective (Clark & Mayer, 2003).

Each learning domain examined certainly clarifies important learning processes. The task for instructional designers and educators alike is to evaluate what the needs of the students are and then to employ strategies which help students meet instructional objectives.


Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2003). Learning together on the web. In e-Learning and the science of instruction. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Martin, B. L., & Reigeluth, C. M. (1999). Affective education and the affective domain: Implications for instructional-design theories and models. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructinoal-design theories and models: a new paradigm of instructional theory (Vol.
2). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Reigeluth, C. M., & Moore, J. (1999). Cognitive education and the cognitive domain. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models: a new paradigm of instructional theory (Vol. II). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Romiszowski, A. (1999). The development of physical skills: Instruction in the psychomotor domain. In Instructional-design theories and models: a new paradigm of instructional theory (Vol. 2). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Instructional design models that relate to specific learning or training environments

As a novice of instructional design, I’m experience the “growing pains” of trying to get up to speed on the terminology and theoretical premises for the various models. Nonetheless, I keep reassuring myself that eventually I’ll make it over this learning ID learning curve.

Prestera (Prestera, n.d.) presents a succinct and tangible overview of ISD models. He referred to Gustafson’s classifications of ISD models into three categories, include: classroom models, product development models, and systems development models. It is easy to identify the instructional context will help the instructional designer to determine which model, or combination of models, will prove most effective. I wholeheartedly concur with Tennyson’s claim that, “for each learning problem there may be more than one solution and approach to instructional design” (Tennyson, 1997).

Each model reviewed employed a specialized framework in order to develop learning strategies within a specific context. The Dick and Carey model, while presenting a foundational approach for converting a goal statement instruction ready for implementation (Dick, 1997), has been accused of only being feasible in unrealistic circumstances. Tennyson (Tennyson, 1997) presents an accommodating system dynamics approach to instructional system design which, “dynamically adjusts the authoring activities by direct reference to the given problem situation” (Tennyson, 1997). His model stems from the understanding that the actively engaged learner who is solving problems while learning will best be able learn complex systems (Tennyson, 1997). Gerlach and Ely present a classroom model which examines content first prior to objectives and describes key interactive procedures while refraining from articulating any concrete practices (Prestera, n.d.). Sims, Dobbs, and Hand (Sims, Dobbs, & Hand, 2002) stress the importance of proactive evaluation and strategic intent in any ISD model selected. Kemp presents a model similar to Gerlach and Ely’s, in which he expands upon the concept of flexibility within the ISD process while keeping content at the core of the development (Prestera, n.d.).

Ultimately, I’ve learned from the ISD models presented in this unit that elements of flexibility and customization should be paramount in any model chosen. The characteristics of the learners, the learning context, and instructor are among the many elements which need to be considered when choosing a model to utilize.


Dick, W. (1997). A model for the systematic design of instruction. In R. D. Tennyson, F. Schott, N. Steel & S. Dykstra (Eds.), Instructional design: International perspectives. Volume 1: Theory, research, and models. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Flechsig, K.-H. (1997). Cultural transmission, teaching, and organized learning as cultureembedded activities. In R. D. Tennyson, F. Schott, N. Seel & S. Dijkstra (Eds.), Instructional design: International perspectives. Volume 1: Theory, research, and models. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Prestera, G. (n.d.) Instructional design models. Retrieved April 2, 2004 from,

Sims, R., Dobbs, G., & Hand, T. (2002). Enhancing quality in online learning: Scaffolding planning and design through proactive evaluation. Distance Education, 23(2), 135-147.

Tennyson, R. D. (1997). A system dynamics approach to instructional systems development. In R. D. Tennyson, F. Schott, N. Seel & S. Dijkstra (Eds.), Instructional design: International perspectives. Volume 1: Theory, research, and models. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Essence of the paradigm shift in instructional design theory and practice

The paradigm shift in instructional design theory and practice refers to the necessary change in emphasis from teacher-centered to learner-centered instruction. No longer is the traditional view of education of “presenting content to students” the focal point of ISD. Rather, the emphasis should be on ensuring that learners understand what they are taught (Reigeluth, 1999) and that they have meaningful and engaging opportunities in which to construct this learning.

This paradigm shift in ISD is absolutely critical to the field of religious education (RE). The RE field is considerably behind public education and corporate training models in relation to the having this learner-centered perspective. In far too many churches and organizations within evangelical religious circles the emphasis is still on “how to teach a lesson” rather than on “how to help students learn the lesson”. I look forward to helping this paradigm shift take place in RE.


Reigeluth, C. M. (1999). What is instructional-design theory and how is it changing? In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models: a new paradigm of instructional theory (Vol. 2). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.