COVA — is a learner centered active learning approach that gives the learner choice (C), ownership (O), and voice (V) through authentic (A) learning opportunities.
While the acronym COVA is somewhat authentic, the elements of the COVA approach to learning which include choice, ownership, and voice through authentic activities or assignments are based on well-established and widely accepted active learning principles. Similarly, the elements of Creating Significant Learning Environments (CSLE) are not new and neither is the idea of looking at learning from a holistic or broader learning environment perspective. So, when the COVA approach is combined with CSLE, you get a significant learning environment which takes into account all the key elements essential to effective active learning. Additionally, the learner has the opportunity to choose and take ownership of their own authentic learning experiences. All the variables are in place to help your learner make the meaningful connections which are so fundamental to learning. When you factor in a genuine digital learning portfolio, which we prefer to call an ePortfolio, you also give your learner the opportunity to find their voice, reflect on their experiences, express their insights, connect, and collaborate with a broader learning community. Research has shown that the assembly of existing or well-established ideas into new combinations is the foundation of most innovative work and knowledge advancement (Wuchty, Jones, & Uzzi, 2007; Duhigg, 2016).
Choice – Learners are given the freedom to choose (C) how they wish to organize, structure and present their learning experiences and evidence of learning. Choice also extends to the authentic project or learning experience. Choice promotes personalized learning (Bolliger & Sheperd, 2010) which includes adapting or developing learning goals and choosing learning tools that support the learning process (Buchem, Tur, & Hölterhof, 2014). It is crucial to acknowledge that the learner’s choice is guided by the context of the learning opportunity and by the instructor who aids the learner in making effective choices.
It is extremely important that this learning process is understood as guided discovery and not confused with pure discovery learning (Bruner, 1961, 1960). The research over the past 40 years confirms guided discovery provides the appropriate freedom to engage in authentic learning opportunities while at the same time providing the necessary guidance, modeling, and direction to lessen the cognitive overload (Mayer, 2004). In addition to instructor guidance, the creation of a significant learning environment will also provide guidance and structure to help direct the learner. The academic literature is rich with examples of choice which can often be referred to as learner agency, autonomy, empowerment, self-efficacy. Choice has a very long history as we can see from Dewey’s (1916) perspective from Democracy and Education:
The essence of the demand for freedom is the need of conditions which will enable an individual to make his own special contribution to a group interest, and to partake of its activities in such ways that social guidance shall be a matter of his own mental attitude and not a mere authoritative dictation of his acts. (p.352)
Ownership – Learners are given control and ownership (O) over the entire learning process including the selection of projects, the ePortfolio process, and all their learning tools. Once again we must reiterate that this ownership process is within the context of instructor guidance. The same benefits of guided discovery discussed above apply to this context as well. Constructivists, like Jonassen (1999), argue that ownership of the problem is key to learning because it increases learner engagement and motivation to seek out solutions. Ownership of learning is also directly tied to agency when learners make choices and “impose those choices on the world” (Buchem et al., 2014, p. 20; Buchem, Attwell, & Torres, 2011). Clark (2001) points to a learner’s own personal agency and ownership of belief systems as one major factor contributing to the willingness and persistence in sharing their learning. These belief systems must be understood prior to sharing their belief systems. Clark (2001) also claimed that media is not solely responsible for learner motivation.
Voice – Learners are given the opportunity to use their own voice (V) to structure their work and ideas and share those insights and knowledge with their colleagues within their organizations. The opportunity to share this new knowledge publicly with people other than the instructors helps the learner to deepen their understanding, demonstrate flexibility of knowledge, find their unique voice, establish a sense of purpose, and develop a greater sense of personal significance (Bass, 2014).
Authentic learning – Learners are given the opportunity to select and engage in authentic (A) learning opportunities that enable them to make a genuine difference in their own learning environments. The selection and engagement in real-world problems that are relevant to the learner furthers their ability to make meaningful connections (Donovan et al., 2000) and provide them with career preparedness not available in more traditional didactic forms of education (Windham, 2007). Research confirms that authenticity is only developed through engagement with these sorts of real-world tasks and that this type of authentic learning can deepen knowledge creation and ultimately help the learner transfer this knowledge beyond the classroom (Driscoll, 2005; Nikitina, 2011). It is also important to recognize that authenticity is not an independent or isolated feature of the learning environment but it is the result of the continual interaction between the learner, the real-world activity, and the learning environment (Barab, Squire, & Dueber, 2000). This is also why we stress that in the COVA model choice, ownership, and voice are realized through authentic learning and without this dynamic and interactive authenticity, there would be no genuine choice, ownership, and voice.
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