The principle of scaffolding was first developed by the psychologist Lev Vygotsky. It builds on the idea of the Zone of Proximate Development, which refers to what a learner can accomplish with the help of a more knowledgeable other, such as a trainer, mentor, or even a peer. This ZPD lies between what the learner can do already on their own, and what they can do with enough guidance and support. It is this guidance and support which is known as scaffolding. In a learning cycle, it is gradually removed as the learner becomes more competent and confident in their learning tasks. Eventually they become fully independent and can complete the tasks without any help at all.
One example of scaffolding in eLearning is the use of a series of interactive practice exercises that provide a form of tapering-off of support to learners. These exercises typically include multiple-choice, categorising, ordering, fill-the-gap click-and-drag, or fill-the-gap text, and other interactive activities that allow learners to apply what they have learned in a safe environment. The feedback provided by these exercises can help learners to identify areas where they need more practice and support.
It’s important to create a flow of practice exercises that gradually increase in difficulty and challenge. Getting the order right is very important. This helps learners build their skills and confidence in a natural and progressive way. Scaffolding is essential in creating this natural flow of exercise types, incrementally decreasing the level of support.
Here is an example flow of practice exercises, going from easy to more difficult and challenging:
Meaning-focused exercises: These exercises are designed to help learners understand the meaning of words and phrases in context. For example, learners might be asked to match words with definitions. These exercises provide a foundation for learners to build on their vocabulary and understanding of the language used in a subsequent text or dialogue.
Text with multiple choice: These exercises ask learners to read a passage of text and answer questions based on what they have read. The questions might be multiple choice or true/false. This type of exercise helps learners to develop good comprehension skills.
Read the following text and do the multiple-choice question.
Adaptive learning is another key aspect of scaffolding in eLearning. It involves adjusting the learning materials and support provided based on the learner’s progress and performance. By continuously monitoring and adapting the learning experience, trainers can ensure that each learner remains within their Zone of Proximal Development, where they are appropriately challenged and supported. The support is gradually tapered off, so that learners become fully independent.
Categorizing: These practice exercise types ask learners to sort words or phrases into categories based on their meaning or usage. For example, learners might be asked to categorize phrases based on their function.
Ordering: These exercises ask learners to put words or phrases in the correct order to form a sentence or a conversation. This type of exercise helps learners develop their ability to use the language in a structured and coherent way.
Fill-the-gap click-and-drag: These exercises ask learners to fill in missing words or phrases in a sentence or conversation by clicking and dragging the correct word or phrase into the gap. This type of exercise helps learners develop their ability to use the language accurately and fluently. The words are supplied to the students, so the challenge level is low.
Fill-the-gap text words: These exercises ask learners to fill in missing words or phrases in a sentence or conversation by typing in the correct word or phrase. For lower level students, the first letter is often provided. This type of exercise helps learners develop their spelling and typing skills, as well as their ability to use the language in a natural and fluent way. In this exercise, the students have to come up with the words on their own so the challenge level is higher.
Fill-the-gap text sentences: Students have to create complete sentences based on prompts, or available sentence components.
By gradually increasing the difficulty and challenge of the practice exercises, learners are able to build their skills and confidence in a natural and progressive way. Scaffolding is important in creating this flow of exercises, as it provides learners with the guidance and support they need to succeed at each stage. As learners become more confident and independent, they can move on to more challenging exercises, including independent production exercises where they create their own sentences and conversations using the language they have learned.
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