Using COVA+CSLE to Empower Learners to Make Connections

Rhondda. (2013). Learning [Photograph]. Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC 2.0).

As we move through the DLL program, we have been introduced to concepts such as COVA (Choice, Ownership, and Voice through Authentic learning), and CSLE (Creating Significant Learning Environments). (Harapnuik, Thibodeaux, & Cummings, 2018). These concepts build on the research and work of constructivist theorists, and focus on the importance of learners taking responsibility for their own learning (ownership). When learners are given opportunity to choose how they are going to learn, they have a greater tendency to feel a sense of ownership for their own learning, and make the needed connection. Learning becomes relevant and meaningful.

In the COVA book, Harapnuik tells a story of a peer who, during military training activities, refused to take ownership for his learning. As a result of not taking ownership, this individual did not see the importance in the tasks they were learning. He simply did not make the connections needed for authentic learning. In this situation, his actions could (and did) cause injury to himself and others. (Harapnuik, Thibodeaux, & Cummings, 2018).

I think this anecdote really emphasises the importance of the “why.” Learners need to know why they are learning something. In order to allow them to make meaningful learning connections, they need to have choice, ownership and voice through authentic learning experiences.

According to Dee Fink, to create these authentic learning experiences, educators must start with good design, which examines situational factors and learner characteristics, among other considerations. Educators need to consider the desired learning outcomes, and how their learners can attain those outcomes, and how their progress will be assessed. (Fink, 2003). We now refer to this is backward design: beginning with the end in mind. To create authentic learning opportunities in significant learning environments, we must be cognizant of what our learners need to know or do, and then track back to determine how we can best guide them to those outcomes.

In the digital age this also includes the need to incorporate technology into the learning environment. However, technology can facilitate learner progress toward those outcomes, or technology can hinder learner progress. The instructor/designer must be very intentional in the use of technology to ensure that it is accessible and not prohibitive to all learners.

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has developed a list of standards for educators to consider when incorporating technology into the learning environment. These standards are designed to help “empower student voice and ensure that learning is a student-driven process.” (ISTE, 2016). These standards include indicators that help students become

  • Empowered Learners
  • Digital Citizens
  • Knowledge Constructors
  • Innovative Designers
  • Computational Thinkers
  • Creative Communicators
  • Global Collaborators

Educators are evolving into designers and facilitators, guiding learners on a journey that helps them develop the ability to make connections and think. Gone are the days of the lecturer telling students what they want them to know; gone are the days of students regurgitating facts. Students are being empowered to craft their own learning experiences, to ensure that the connections they make are authentic. By considering these concepts and standards while designing significant learning experiences, we empower learners to have a choice, take ownership of their learning, and have a voice through authentic learning. In this way,educators are more effectively preparing learners for their role in today’s rapidly changing digital global community, and for a future that will continue to evolve technologically.


Fink, L. (2003). A Self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning.

Harapnuik, D., Thibodeaux, T., & Cummings, C. (2018). COVA: Choice, ownership, and voice through authentic learning

International Society for Technology in Education.(2016). ISTE standards for students. Retrieved from

Rhondda. (2013). Learning [Photograph]. Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC 2.0); retrieved from 12-August-2018.


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