Last updated: December 21, 2004
BOOK OF PROBLEMS
Presidential Workshops and Interactive Discussion Sessions at the International Conferences of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology Dallas, Texas, November 12-16, 2002, and Anaheim, California, October 22-25, 2003
- Workshop and Interactive Session at the AECT 2002 International Conference
- The "Book of Problems" community of scholars
- Inputs into a collaborative dialogue
- Talking about the unknown (A short report on the 2002 meeting in Dallas, TX, prepared for TechTrends)
- Special Panel Session and Workshop at AECT 2003 (Anaheim, CA)
- A cornucopia of problems (TechTrends article reporting on 2003 BOP workshop and open dialogue session)
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In re mathematica ars proponendi quaestionem pluris facienda est quam solvendi.
The above motto, on the front page of Georg Cantor's thesis, is cited in Stanislav Ulam's (1991) autobiography "Adventures of a Mathematician." Cantor's affirmation that "in mathematics the art of asking questions is more commonly applied than that of solving problems" is more than a statement of fact. For someone who, like Cantor, the creator of Set Theory and discoverer of transfinite numbers, can look at mathematics as a tremendous accomplishment of the human mind, the same statement also becomes an article of faith. To advance in any science, the most important thing is to be able to ask questions: to ask the right questions and to ask them the right way. In other words, knowing to formulate what one does not know is a fundamental step in the advancement of knowledge.
Despite appearances to the contrary, we still know very little about human learning. Many respected educational researchers may not agree with this statement and claim that, thanks to their work and that of their colleagues, we have a good handle on the issue of learning, particularly, that we are pretty well able to create in a deliberate fashion the conditions necessary for desired learning outcomes. They are right only to an extent, namely as long as one defines learning as the consequence of instruction; they are wrong if one is willing to look at learning as something more broadly defined.
The description below aims at providing further insight into the problem and makes suggestions for addressing it through the creation of a Web-based "Book of Problems." It is the text of a proposal to the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) to launch the creation of the Book of Problems initiative at the International Conference of the AECT to be held in Dallas, Texas, November 12-16, 2002, through a closed workshop for invited researchers, thinkers and practitioners followed by a public interactive discussion session. The AECT leadership has accepted the proposal and granted Presidential Status to both the workshop and the discussion session.
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ABSTRACT THE BOOK OF PROBLEMS (or what we don't know about learning)
Proposal for a Workshop with Interactive Discussion Session
for the International Conference of the
Association for Educational Communications and Technology
Dallas, TX, November 12-16, 2002
The problem addressed in the proposed workshop cum interactive discussion session is the state of knowledge about human learning. The underlying rationale is that we know very little about human learning and that, by clarifying what we do not know, carefully recording and annotating unsolved problems, it should be possible to inspire entirely new areas and new kinds of research into human learning.
The above assertion concerning the state of knowledge about human learning must be qualified with reference to how learning is defined. Most people don't define learning explicitly. However, even if they don't define it explicitly, it can easily be derived from their writings that their implicit definitions of learning are limited to what happens in a purposefully structured learning environment in which desired attitudinal or competence goals are to be achieved along the lines of well-designed processes. Such settings are the ones in which most of the existing research practice is rooted. Basically, therefore, what we learn from educational research is that "well-designed instruction works," each specific study adding to our knowledge of what "well-designed" means and the term "instruction" referring to processes ranging from highly directive ones that make people learn in prescribed ways to the more imaginatively designed environments that allow people to find their own ways to specifically defined learning goals. There is little research about learning that takes place beyond the instructional context, such as incidental learning, or about how attention to the conditions of learning in multiple settings (instructional as well as non-instructional ones) may mutually reinforce the depth of our learning. We often shy away from messy situations.
The past decade has seen an emerging interest in broadening the way we look at learning to beyond the instructional context per se. According to De Vaney and Butler (1996), past definitions of learning have long remained under the spell of Hilgard's (1948) definition, which states that "learning is the process by which activity originates or is changed through training procedures as distinguished from changes by factors not attributable to training" (p. 4). Only quite recently, this close linkage between instruction and learning has started to disappear. Driscoll (2000), for instance, analyzes the definitional assumptions shared by current learning theories. She notes that, in order "to be considered learning, a change in performance or performance potential must come about as a result of the learner's experience and interaction with the world" (p. 11; emphasis added). Tessmer and Richey (1997) argue for broadening the instructional design concerns to beyond the instructional context as such and to recognize "context" as an important factor in the design of instruction. Shotter (e.g. 1997) emphasizes the dialogic nature of learning, as do Savery and Duffy (1995) with particular reference to constructivist learning environments. John-Steiner (2000) elevates the idea of dialogue to the level of creative collaboration. Building on these different definitional developments, J. Visser (2001) proposes, while attempting to bring the various pieces together, a definition that looks at learning as a disposition to dialogue rather than as the collection of mental processes that result from such a disposition. Visser's definition furthermore recognizes the ecological integration of diverse levels of organizational complexity at which the dialogue takes place, involving, in addition to individuals, social entities of varying dimension. It also sees as the ultimate purpose of the dialogue the ability to interact constructively with change, rather than the mere acquisition of particular behaviors necessary for such interaction. Recently, Educational Technology magazine dedicated an entire special issue (Y. L. Visser, Rowland & J. Visser, 2002) to the issue of broadening the definition of learning and the implications this would have for educators and educational technologists.
Looking at human learning from the perspective of the above mentioned emerging shift in definitional assumptions provides a clear sense of the growing awareness of how much more complex the world of learning is than we ever thought. Consequently, it also heightens our consciousness of how little we actually know about that complex phenomenon. Confronted by this enhanced awareness of the limitations of our knowledge, it is worth looking at the history of science and ask ourselves if anything can be learned from what we know about the ways in which human knowledge developed, going from crisis to crisis.
Progress in several fields of intellectual endeavor has greatly benefited from open dialogue among scientists who were concerned with what they did not know, rather than with what they already knew. A clear example can be found in the history of how our understanding of the fundamental structure of matter and energy advanced throughout the twentieth century, particularly during the first half of it, thanks to the willingness and audacity of the scientists involved to keep challenging each other at the frontier of what was known, i.e. looking out over the vast unknown (e.g. Pais, 1991).
Another interesting example, which inspires the current proposal, can be drawn from the history of mathematics in the first half of the 20th century. The Polish school of mathematicians, who used to gather in the cafés and tearooms in such places as Lwów, developed a book in which they inscribed - and annotated - the great unsolved problems of their discipline. The book was kept in the Scottish Café in Lwów (whence its name: The Scottish Book) and handed by a waiter to the mathematicians in attendance when they so wanted. Miraculously, this fascinating notebook, the collaborative conscience of the mathematicians of the time regarding what they did not know, escaped the devastation of World War II and its aftermath and eventually got published. While it was kept, it used to help challenge those who wanted to be challenged to try and solve these problems. (The story of the Scottish Book can be found in Ulam . The print edition of the Book is hard to come by. A version of it, which was edited and translated by Ulam, was published in 1957 in Los Alamos, NM, by the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. An excerpt of the Book can be found at http://www.icm.edu.pl/home/delta/delta2/dlt0209.html.)
It is contended that in the sciences of learning we have reached a breakthrough stage that calls for a similar honest reflection among scientists on what they do not know as a means to move forward. Consequently, it is appropriate for those scientists who have an interest in broadening and deepening the meaning of learning to do what the earlier referred Polish mathematicians did: keep a book of what they don't yet know - not the nitty-gritty of it, but the really important problems - and use it as a source of inspiration for them and others to advance. While it would be attractive to use coffee and tea houses as gathering places for the discussion of such matters, it is now more appropriate to make this a Web-enabled effort as far as recording and annotating of the problems is concerned. The actual gatherings that contribute to filling the book progressively may well be linked to events such as the annual meetings of AECT and other professional organizations where scientists pertaining to the multiple disciplines relating to the transdisciplinary fied of the sciences of learning come together anyway in a more or less frequent fashion. Such gatherings can be complemented by various modes of electronic interaction in between of face-to-face events. The current proposal thus aims at starting the effort off on the occasion of the International Conference of the AECT in November 2002 in Dallas, Texas.
Nature of the proposed activity
The proposed activity will bring together selectively invited prominent researchers and thinkers to discuss ways of broadening research agendas in the area of research on human learning. It is proposed that the group of invitees first meet in a workshop-style conducted private session in the framework of the AECT International Conference. This proposed private workshop-type session will be followed by a two-hour session open to the conference attendees consisting of two parts: (1) presentation by the invitees of the results of their private meeting and (2) a discussion, involving invitees and attendees together, of the problems under consideration. This latter interactive session will particularly aim at critically appraising the work of the invitees and providing an opportunity for others to start contributing to the process envisioned by the Book of Problems. There will be no paper presentations in the traditional sense of the word. Rather, in the running up to the session, a concept paper will be prepared by the chair and circulated among the group of invited scientists with the aim of enhancing the document. While the process will start off with a particular number of invited scientists, it is expected and will be encouraged that the initial group will identify others who should be expected to make useful contributions to the Book of Problems. The enhanced version of the concept paper, which will increasingly reflect the views of a growing number of scientists, will guide the discussions during both the private session and the interactive discussion session. In addition to being made available to the invitees and attendees of the proposed sessions, the concept paper will also be available via the World Wide Web.
Purpose of the session
The workshop cum interactive discussion session, both through the process of its preparation and implementation, has the following objectives:
- To create awareness among the AECT membership at large of the importance of broadening and deepening the meaning of learning.
- To raise the level of sensitivity and heighten interest among the research community to explore new fields and modalities of research into human learning.
- To make a start with the above referred Web-enabled "Book of Problems" as a means to consolidate and further develop the above research interests.
- To make a start with establishing a research community interested in collaborating, where appropriate in a transdisciplinary mode, on key problems in the development of the sciences of learning.
Chair/organizer of the activity is Jan Visser, President, Learning Development Institute (LDI) and Principal Investigator of LDI's Meaning of Learning (MOL) project. For the purpose of organizing the session and its follow-up, he will be assisted by Yusra Laila Visser, Researcher at Florida State University and co-investigator of LDI's MOL project and David L. Solomon, Research Fellow with LDI as well as Vice President, Creative Director at BBDO Detroit. They will also themselves contribute to the process envisioned by the Book of Problems.
The following scholars, listed alphabetically, have at an earlier stage, independently of the idea to start this off at the 2002 AECT International Conference, been appoached and expressed interest in and commitment to being part of the effort to write the Book of Problems:
Carl Bereiter (University of Toronto)
Ron Burnett (Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design)
Marcy Driscoll (Florida State University)
Vera John-Steiner (University of New Mexico)
David Jonassen (University of Missouri)
Basarab Nicolescu (International Center for Transdisciplinary Studies and Research & Université Paris VI)
David Perkins (Harvard University)
Rita Richey (Wayne State University)
Gavriel Salomon (University of Haifa)
Marlene Scardamalia (University of Toronto)
Other researchers will be contacted after AECT will have agreed to run the activity in the framework of the 2002 International Conference in Dallas and will have granted Presidential status to it.
Procedures for the interactive discussion session
While procedures for the private workshop session, including the determination of how much time should be allocated to it, will be worked out in consultation with the prospective participants, it seems fair at this stage to describe how the interactive discussion session, which involves the participation of regular conference attendees, is foreseen to be conducted.
As mentioned, there will be no paper presentations during the proposed session. An expectedly large proportion of the participants will come well prepared for the debate. They include researchers alerted to the opportunity by the organizers and the team of invited scientists who have already joined the initiative. In addition, other interested researchers will themselves take the initiative to contact the organizers on the basis of information available in the program and on the Web pages of the AECT 2002 International Conference or on the Web site of the Learning Development Institute. Participants who "discover" the session only while in Dallas will be somewhat less prepared, but everything possible will be done to make their participation as effective as possible for the stated purposes of the session and as beneficial as possible for themselves. This may require a very brief summary of issues at the outset of the interactive session.
The value of the session lies in the energetic participation of all its participants in the debate. The chair will apply his considerable experience in conducting such sessions in ways that create maximum involvement of the participants. Depending on the size of the audience, part of the debate during the proposed two-hour session may be conducted in small groups so as to raise the level of creative engagement. In line with the set purpose for panel discussions, emphasis will be on the ad hoc interchange, recognizing the value of both divergence and convergence of positions in clarifying the issues concerned. To allow this ad hoc interchange to develop effectively, a fair level of improvisation will characterize the procedures of this session.
It is expected that the community of scientists, whose initial establishment is aimed at through the proposed activity, while begun in the AECT context, will grow beyond that same context. The sciences of learning constitute a truly transdisciplinary field. The Learning Development Institute (http://www.learndev.org) and its partner, the International Center for Transdisciplinary Studies and Research (CIRET; http://perso.club-internet.fr/nicol/ciret/) will work together to achieve that aim. In doing so, opportunities will be sought to involve scientists active in different fields pertaining to the sciences of learning by proposing follow-up sessions to different other organized bodies of scientists, such as those active in the areas of mass communication, neuroscience, linguistics, and the development of scientific competence.
De Vaney, A. & Butler, R. P. (1996). Voices of the founders: Early discourses in educational technology. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of research for educational communications and technology. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Macmillan (p. 3-45).
Driscoll, M. P. (2000). Psychology of learning for instruction. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Hilgard, E. R. (1948). Unconscious processes and man's rationality. Urbana, IL (as quoted in De Vaney & Butler, 1996).
John-Steiner, V. (2000). Creative collaboration. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Pais, A. (1991). Niels Bohr's times: in physics, philosophy, and polity. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Savery, J. R., and Duffy, T. M. (1995). Problem based learning: An instructional model and its constructivist framework. Educational Technology, 35(5), 31-38.
Shotter, J. (1997). The social construction of our 'inner' lives. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 10, 7-24.
Tessmer, M. & Richey, R. C. (1997). The role of context in learning and instructional design. Educational Technology Research and Development 45(2), 85-115.
Ulam, S. M. (1991). Adventures of a mathematician. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Visser, J. (2001). Integrity, completeness and comprehensiveness of the learning environment: Meeting the basic learning needs of all throughout life. In D. N. Aspin, J. D. Chapman, M. J. Hatton and Y. Sawano (Eds), International Handbook of Lifelong Learning. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Visser, Y. L., Rowland, G, & Visser, J. (Eds.) (2002). Special issue on broadening the definition of learning. Educational Technology, 42(2) - entire issue.
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THE "BOOK OF PROBLEMS" COMMUNITY OF SCHOLARS
Overview of members of the Book of Problems (BOP) community of scholars alphabetically listed by last name as of September 24, 2002. Members whose names are preceded by a red bar will be present in Dallas; those whose names are preceded by a green bar will interact with the participants of the Dallas workshop by teleconferencing. All other members, whose names are preceded by a yellow bar, contribute to the initiative in writing and possibly through alternative mechanisms of scientific exchange that may, in time, be decided upon. As the initiative progresses, the above list is expected to grow as more individuals are being approached.The column with biographical notes is continually under construction.
New names are being added as the community grows. Those whose names are preceded by a blue bar joined the community on the occasion of the Anaheim, CA, workshop and Special Panel Session (see below) at AECT 2003.
Name Affiliation Biographical notes
- John Bransford
Vanderbilt University John D. Bransford is Centennial Professor of Psychology and Education and Co-Director of the Learning Technology Center at Vanderbilt University. He is an internationally renowned scholar in the areas of cognition and technology. His collaborative involvement over several decades in research on human learning, memory and problem solving has helped shape the "cognitive revolution" in psychology. While developing the Learning Technology Center at Vanderbilt, John, who is an award winning author and developer, and his colleagues have contributed decisively to the thoughtful use of technology for the development and improvement of school-based learning through such programs as the Jasper Woodbury Problem Solving Series in Mathematics, The Scientists in Action Series, and the Little Planet Literacy Series, which are being used around the world. Closer to home they are involved, among other efforts, in a "Great Beginnings" project in Nashville that links homes, schools and members of the broader community through innovative uses of technology. John plays a prominent role in synthesizing findings from multiple areas of research to create a "user friendly" theory of human learning.
- Ron Burnett
Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design Ron Burnett is a Canadian communications scholar and social/cultural critic. He has a particular interest in popular culture, hypermedia, and postmodern media communities. He is the author of Cultures of Vision: Images, Media and the Imaginary, and the forthcoming How images think, as well as founder and editor of Ciné-Tracts Magazine (1976-1983). He is President of the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Prior to that he was Director and Associate Professor of Communications and Cultural Studies in the Graduate Program in Communications at McGill University in Montreal, Québec, Canada.
- David Cavallo
MIT Media Lab David Cavallo is Principal Investigator of the Future of Learning Group at the Media Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. David's work is particularly motivated by the concern that the latent learning potential of the world population has been grossly underestimated as a result of prevailing mindsets that limit the design of interventions to improve the evolution of the global learning environment.
- Marcy Driscoll
Florida State University Marcy Driscoll is Program Leader and Professor of Instructional Systems and Learning Psychology in the Instructional Systems Program of the Department of Educational Research at Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida. She is the author of multiple textbooks, among which the award winning Psychology of learning for instruction and, together with Robert Gagné, Essentials of learning for instruction, as well as numerous other publications. Marcy has a wide array of editorial responsibilities. She held and holds important leadership positions in the professional communities pertaining to her areas of interest and research.
- Alison Gopnik
University of California at Berkeley Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley. Her research focuses on early human development. She is specifically interested in questions regarding how children come to understand the world around them and what their "theories of mind" are, particularly in terms of children's early understanding of visual perception and desire as well as their understanding of causality and their explanations of events. She is also interested in the interactions between children's language and their cognitive development. Alison is widely known for such books as Words, Thoughts, and Theories, which she wrote with Andrew Meltzoff, and The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains, and How Children Learn, which she coauthored with Patricia Kuhl and Andrew Meltzoff. The investigations reflected on in these books are informed by "the theory theory", the idea that children understand the world by using strategies that are similar to and perhaps even identical with processes of theory change in science.
- Susan Greenfield
University of Oxford Baroness Susan A Greenfield, CBE, is a neuroscientist whose multidisciplinary research focuses on neuronal mechanisms in the brain that are common to regions affected in both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. She is particularly interested in strategies to arrest neuronal death in these disorders. A Professor of Pharmacology at Oxford University and Professor of Physics at Gresham College, as well as Fellow of Lincoln College, Susan is widely known, both in the UK and beyond, for her public lecturing, including via the BBC. She is the first female director of the Royal Institution, established in 1799 to "diffuse science for common purposes of life." Among her many publications are the best-selling The human brain: A guided tour as well as Journey to the centers of the mind: Toward a science of consciousness and The private life of the brain: Emotions, consciousness and the secret of the self.
- Vera John-Steiner
University of New Mexico Vera John-Steiner is a social and developmental psychologist with a particular interest in the role of language in learning, collaborative cognition and complex collaboration. She wrote, among other books Notebooks of the mind, which won several awards, and Creative collaboration. Vera is Presidential Professor in Linguistics & Educational Psychology, & Language, Literacy, & Sociocultural Studies at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM.
- David Jonassen
University of Missouri David Jonassen has taught and pursued his research goals around the world at different universities in the USA as well as in the Netherlands, France, Norway, Australia, Austria, Germany, Malaysia, Poland, Scotland, Singapore, Taiwan, and soon Korea. His background is in educational media and experimental educational psychology. David, who is considered among the top scholars in the world in the field of instructional design and technology, is the author or coordinating editor of a great many books and has written numerous articles, chapters, and reports on text design, task analysis, instructional design, computer-based learning, hypermedia, individual differences and learning, and technology in learning. His current research focuses on cognitive tools for learning, knowledge representation, computer-supported collaborative argumentation, cognitive task analysis, and especially problem solving. He has received numerous honors for excellence in both research and writing.
- Steve Lansing
University of Arizona J. Stephen Lansing is an ecological anthropologist, well known for his research on the emergence of cooperation within and among groups of humans who collaboratively interact with the same key environmental conditions, such as the rice farmers in Balinese watersheds. Within the context of the above research interest, Steve has been actively and successfully involved in the development of adaptive agent simulation models that can predict the emergence of cooperation at multiple hierarchical levels as a function of human-environmental interactions. He is the author of a variety of books. Priests and Programmers: Technologies of Power in the Engineered Landscape of Bali is probably the best known among those books.
- Leon Lederman
Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy Leon M. Lederman is an experimental physicist who received the 1988 Nobel Prize for his part in developing the neutrino beam method and the demonstration of the doublet structure of the leptons through the discovery of the muon neutrino. Since retiring from his function as Director of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, he has dedicated his efforts to helping others to discover the beauty of the world through science. Thus he helped organize a Teachers' Academy for Mathematics and Science, designed to retrain 20 000 primary school teachers in the Chicago Public Schools in the art of teaching science and mathematics. In addition, he has been involved with science education for gifted children and with public understanding of science. He helped to found the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a three year residential public school for gifted children in the State of Illinois. He also founded ARISE, a program to modernize the teaching of science in high schools.
- Federico Mayor
Culture of Peace Foundation & Universidad Autónoma de Madrid Federico Mayor Zaragosa is a biochemist of renown, whose publications focus, among other areas, on the metabolism of the brain and the biochemical processes and pathology of the newly born. He founded and directed the Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. Federico is also a poet, a thinker and one of the great humanists of our time. He served as Director-General of UNESCO from 1987 to 1999. Much of his attention during that period was directed at leading the Organization back to its original roots, namely its role in fomenting a culture of peace, promoting tolerance and understanding among the peoples. As part of this objective he took great care to advance human learning in its rich variety of appearances among all members of planetary society. Following an effective two mandates at the helm of UNESCO, he subsequently founded and presides over the Fundación Cultura de Paz, headquartered in Madrid, Spain.
- Basarab Nicolescu
Centre International de Recherches et d'Études Transdisciplinaires & Université de Paris VI Basarab Nicolescu is a widely published theoretical physicist who works with the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique at the University of Paris VI, France. He is also Founding President of the International Centre for Transdisciplinary Research and Studies in Paris and Member of the Romanian Academy. He is winner of the Silver Medal of the French Academy for one of his many books and of the Benjamin Franklin Award for Best History Book for another book. His authoring activities range from poetry, via philosophy, ethics, consciousness and spirituality, to such down-to-earth things as Hadron scattering or the Odderon intercept in perturbative QCD.
- Seymour Papert
MIT Media Lab Seymour Papert is a South Africa born mathemetician and an early artificial intelligence pioneer with a history of active participation in the movement to abolish apartheid in his native country. He engaged in mathematical research during the 1950s at the University of Cambridge before joining Jean Piaget at the University of Geneva with whom he worked for five years until 1963. The latter collaboration prompted his interest in using mathematics as a way to understand how children learn and think. Seymour is probably best known around the world - through projects he carried out in all continents and via his work, which has been widely translated - for his pioneering ideas about children's use of computers as a means to foster learning, thinking and creativity. Among his best known works are Mindstorms: Children, computers and powerful ideas (1980) and The children's machine: Rethinking school in the age of the computer (1992). In the early 1960's he founded, together with Marvin Minsky, the Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT. He is also a founding faculty member of the MIT Media Lab and inventor of the Logo programming language, putting children in control of computater technology. Living in Maine, he spends part of his time working in the Maine Youth Center in Portland, the state's facility for teenagers convicted of serious offenses.
- David Perkins
Harvard University David Perkins originates from the fields of mathematics and artificial intelligence, in which he obtained his Ph.D. at MIT. He is a founding member of the well-known Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a project which he co-directed for more than 25 years. Project Zero initially focused on the psychology and philosophy of education in the arts, but later broadened its perspective to encompass cognitive development and cognitive skills in both humanistic and scientific domains. Singling out any of the multiple books David has written would probably do a disservice to seeing the broadness of his interest in the human mind.
- Nick Rawlins
University of Oxford Nicholas Rawlins is a psychologist at the Experimental Psychology Department of the University of Oxford, UK, where he is a Fellow of University College and Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience. His research focuses on animal learning and memory, brain mechanisms of memory storage, animal models of psychosis, attentional deficits in schizophrenia, and FMRI studies of pain in humans.
- Rita Richey
Wayne State University Rita C. Richey is Professor and Program Coordinator in Instructional Technology for the College of Education at Wayne State University. She has a background in English, psychology and instructional technology and has won many awards, both for her outstanding performance as a teacher at Wayne State, such as the 1997 Outstanding Graduate Mentor Award and the 1985 President's Award for Excellence in Teaching, and for the quality of the books she produces, including the 1995 Outstanding Book in Instructional Development award of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology. Rita's research focuses on Instructional Design Effectiveness and Instructional Design Processes; Transfer of Training and Organizational Performance Improvement; and Competency Modelling.
- Gavriel Salomon
University of Haifa Gavriel Salomon is professor of educational psychology and past dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Haifa, Israel, where he is also co-director of the Center for Research on Peace Education. Gabi is well known for his work on a broad range of topics at the interface of educational psychology and communication, including the cognitive effects of media's symbol systems; the expenditure of mental effort; mindfulness and mindlessness; organizational change; the design of intelligent computer tools; the design and systemic study of technology-afforded learning environments; and - more recently - research on peace education. He has an extensive publication record in all of the above areas, his most recent book being Peace education: The concept, principles, and practices around the world. Gabi is the recipient of various awards, including the Israel National Award for life long achievements in educational research (2001).
- David Scott
University of Massachusetts at Amherst David K. Scott owes his motivation to having been born and grown up on the northernmost of the Orkney Islands in Scotland. The setting exposed him at an early age to the forces of nature which led to his interest in physics. The commitment of his family and community to helping him attend boarding school from the age of ten and to further pursue his academic interests has been a shaping force in his concern for the "democractization of privilege." David has a distinguished career both as a nuclear scientist and as an administrator, having served most recently as Chancellor of the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts from 1993 to 2001. He advocates and has developed policies for an integrative university in which transdisciplinary research and holistic learning communities overcome the fragmentation of knowledge and incite the development of wise human beings motivated to create a better world.
- Jan Servaes
Katholieke Universiteit Brussel Jan Servaes is Dean of the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences as well as Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication at the Katholieke Universiteit Brussel in Belgium. He is director of the Research and Documentation Centre 'Communication for Social Change' (CSC), and Coordinator of the European Consortium for Communications Research (ECCR). In addition to Belgium (Antwerp and Brussels), he has taught International Communication and Development Communication in the USA (Cornell), The Netherlands (Nijmegen), and Thailand (Thammasat, Bangkok). He is also President of the International Association of Media and Communication Research (IAMCR), in charge of academic publications and research. He has undertaken research, development, and advisory work around the world and is widely known as the author of journal articles and books on such topics as international and development communication; media policies; social change; and human rights and conflict management.
- John Shotter
University of New Hampshire John Shotter is a professor of interpersonal relations in the Department of Communication, University of New Hampshire. Author of such early (1975) works as Images of Man in Psychological Research and more recent (1993) ones such as Cultural Politics of Everyday Life: Social Constructionism, Rhetoric, and Knowing of the Third Kind and Conversational Realities: the Construction of Life through Language, he has a long standing interest in the social conditions conducive to people having a voice in the development of participatory democracies and civil societies. In recent times, John has begun to look beyond current versions of Social Constructionism, toward the surrounding circumstances that make such a movement possible. In this context, the move first to a focus on joint action, then to dialogically-structured or 'chiasmically organized' (Merleau-Ponty, 1968) activities, is a central part of his interest in participatory modes of life and inquiry.
- David Solomon
- BBDO Detroit &
- Learning Development Institute
David L. Solomon is Vice President, Creative Director in Training Operations at BBDO Detroit, the agency of record for DaimlerChrysler Corporation. He has more than 14 years experience designing, developing and implementing learning and performance improvement solutions for multinational and privately held businesses. David has held faculty/adjunct faculty positions in the Instructional Technology program at Wayne State University; the Human Resource Development department at Oakland University; and the communications department at Walsh College. David's research has explored the various ways in which philosophy shapes instructional design practice, including an investigation of perspectives, foundations, and elements of post-modernism in theory and practice. He joined the Learning Development Institute in 2000 as a Research Fellow on the Meaning of Learning (MOL) project.
- Michael Spector
Syracuse University Michael Spector is a philosopher by original background and is currently Professor and Chair, Instructional Design, Development and Evaluation at Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, USA. He is also a visiting Professor of Information Science at the University of Bergen, Norway and a member of the International Board of Standards for Training, Performance and Instruction. In addition, he is active in the context of numerous professional organizations in the area of education, computing and artificial intelligence. Mike's research and development interests cover such fields as intelligent performance support for instructional design; acquisition of complex cognitive skills; and the design of system dynamics based learning environments. He also teaches graduate seminars on topics related to the planning and implementation of learning environments and instructional computing systems.
- James C. Spohrer
IBM Almaden Research Center Jim Spohrer is a senior manager at IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California. He is also a core team member of the Educational Object Economy (EOE) foundation, which he helped start while a Distinguished Scientist in Apple's Learning Communities Group. At IBM Jim focuses on next generation user experience. In the EOE context his long-term goal is to create virtual learning community that goes critical as it grows in members and member generated open source assets, operating under an intellectual capital appreciation license (like a software bank,. borrow code, and repay in interest that is code enhancements or other useful meta-content). Jim's research interests revolve around understanding learning platforms and learning communities. He is especially interested in pedagogy, production and proliferation aspects of engaging, effective, and economically viable learning environments. Jim received his Computer Science Ph.D.from Yale in 1989 and his Physics B.S. from MIT in 1978. In 1989, Jim was a Visiting Scholar at the University of Rome La Sapienza in Italy.
- John Stein
University of Oxford John Stein is a physiologist at the University Laboratory of Physiology of the University of Oxford, UK, where he is a Fellow of Magdalen College and Professor of Physiology. His research focuses on auditory and visual perceptual impairments suffered by dyslexic children as well as on the role of the posterior parietal cortex, basal ganglia and cerebellum in the control of movement. As an outgrowth of his interest in the physiology of learning to read and dyslexia, John is setting up a study of the strengths of dyslexics that may predispose them to be artists,elite IT and other entrepreneurs. He is also involved in an attempt to design tests of deep learning styles for detecting unusual talent in the inadequately taught.
- Robert Sternberg
Yale University Robert Sternberg owes his childhood interest in psychology to his very poor performance on IQ tests. He credits his extraordinary academic and professional career in later years to the exceptional role of mentors in his life. Bob is now the IBM Professor of Psychology and Education at the Department of Psychology, Yale University. He is well-known for his work in the fields of intelligence, wisdom, and creativity, and has published some 900 books and articles in these fields. He graduated Summa Cum Laude Phi Beta Kappa from Yale and subsequently received his Ph.D. from Stanford. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Psychological Association (of which he is currently President-Elect and will become President on January 1, 2003), and the American Psychological Society. He has won four awards from the American Educational Research Association, as well as numerous awards from other organizations. Bob's research focuses on higher mental functions; thinking styles; cognitive modifiability; leadership; and love and hate.
- Jan Visser
Learning Development Institute Jan Visser is a theoretical physicist, turned educator, turned documentary filmmaker, turned instructional designer and researcher of human learning. He has a profound interest in the arts and is a practicing musician. As a physicist he dedicated himself to exploring the quantum mechanical aspects of molecular biological structures; as a documentary filmmaker his interest was drawn to the role of imagination in children's (and adults') coming to grips with the seemingly unalterable facts of life; as a science educator he explored developing the scientific mind through the understanding of the historical and epistemological development of science as well as the experiential involvement with natural phenomena; as an instructional designer he dedicated himself to the exploration and management within the learning environment of affective conditions, whereas as a learning scientist his attention goes to human learning as a complex adaptive phenomenon. Jan is president of the Learning Development Institute and former UNESCO Director for Learning Without Frontiers. He has lived and worked around the world, including a residence of some 20 years in Africa.
- Muriel Visser
Learning Development Institute & Florida State University Muriel Visser has an academic background in rural sociology (Wageningen University, Netherlands), distance education (University of London and Educational Extension College, Cambridge, UK), and mass communication (Florida State University). Her professional experience has focused on the design and management of international development projects, particularly in Africa. Muriel's current research interests focus on human learning and behavioral change as it relates to living with and in the presence of HIV and AIDS. In the context of her research she is also asking herself questions regarding research methodological issues (particularly how we best get to know what we want to know in non-traditional research settings).
- Yusra Laila Visser
Learning Development Institute & Florida State University Yusra Visser spent the first 18 years of her life in southeast Africa, learning much from growing up amidst the wonders and the difficulties of postcolonial states, witnessing both the splendor of the diversity of lifestyles and cultures in those regions and the ravaging effects of war, poverty, and disease. While as a teenager at the Waterford-Kamhlaba United World College in Mbabane, Swaziland, she learned about the values of a solid education as well as the importance of political action and consciousness, about social service, and about the use of systematic inquiry for interpreting the attributes of the surrounding world. Those early experiences set the stage for some of her later choices, such as her specialization in Africa Studies and Political Economy while doing her undergraduate work at American University in Washington, DC, and her later focus on problem based learning for her graduate work at Florida State University. Yusra in Principal Investigator for the development of the Problem-Oriented Learning focus area at the Learning Development Institute as well as a researcher active in LDI's the Meaning of Learning (MOL) and The Scientific Mind (TSM) focus areas.
INPUTS INTO A COLLABORATIVE DIALOGUE
In preparation of the Dallas workshop mentioned above, members of the BOP community have been requested to elucidate what, from their point of view, are the important questions to be addressed regarding what we do not know about learning. Following are the responses of the various contributors posted in the order in which final versions were received and preceded by a linked alphabetically organized list of the authors and titles.
- John Bransford: Just a "pipe dream."
- Ron Burnett: Shifting the ground for our conversations.
- David Cavallo: Questions and searches.
- Alison Gopnik: Beyond what and when, Understanding learning mechanisms.
- Susan Greenfield: Brain, mind and consciousness.
- Vera John-Steiner: Learning as systematic modification of shared experience.
- David Jonassen: Thoughts about learning.
- Leon Lederman: Can we know too much?
- Federico Mayor: Learning to be: Transforming information into personal knowledge.
- Basarab Nicolescu: The mental, the feeling and the body.
- David Perkins: Ten problems about learning.
- Nick Rawlins: Learning, rather than education
- Rita Richey: The learning cloud: Some thoughts.
- Gavriel Salomon: The acquisition of values and dispositions: Are there lessons to be learned from socialization and acculturation?
- David Scott: A new epistemology
- Jan Servaes: Constraints to 'learning' in the knowledge society.
- John Shotter: Joint action, and the chiasmic inter-relating of spontaneously responsive, bodily activities.
- David Solomon: Knowing beyond the five senses?
- Michael Spector: What I do not know about learning.
- John Stein: Why the dyslexic brain finds reading difficult: My two-penny worth of bullet points.
- Jan Visser: Can we see the puzzle, rather than the pieces?
- Yusra Laila Visser: Questions about learning across the individual and the social, and across institutional and non-institutional settings.
Joint action, and the chiasmic inter-relating of spontaneously responsive, bodily activities John Shotter
Department of Communication
University of New Hampshire
Durham, NH 03824-3586
Let me begin with a quotation from Vygotsky (1986): "The general law of development says that awareness and deliberate control appear only during a very advanced stage in the development of a mental function, after it has been used and practiced unconsciously and spontaneously. In order to subject a function to intellectual and volitional control, we must first possess it" (p. 168).
As I see it, the main unsolved problem in learning and teaching is the spontaneous, expressive responsiveness of our bodies to events that matter to us in our surroundings - to those events that, as Bateson (1972) so famously put it, are a difference "that makes a difference [to us]" (p.286).
I want to emphasize the importance of our spontanous, bodily responsiveness, because I want to draw attention to how the chiasmic (i) or dialogical-intertwining of influences from two or more distinct sources of embodied living activity makes possible a special kind of first-time creativity, the creation of new forms of living activity, not possible in any other way. Only in this way is it possible to develop a way of acting in response to, or in relation to, the unique character of our current surroundings, to develop a practical way of "going on," in Wittgenstein's (1953) terms, in relation to the concrete world around us (Shotter, in press).
In referring to a "first-time" creativity, I have in mind a phrase of Garfinkel's (1967). In his discussion of a community's shared "accounting practices (ii)," he remarks that by their use, a member of a community "makes familiar, commonplace activities of everyday life recognizable as familiar," and that, on each new occasion, it is done for yet "'another first time'" (p. 9). This is because, as well as being known to us as the objects they are, we also require a shaped and vectored sense of their presence (see Shotter, in press again), i.e., how in their otherness they act as agencies in our lives inviting us to act toward them in some ways while discouraging us from acting toward them in others. Not only is this apparent to us in our physical movements - that those around us have a valency for us in that we must avoid them - but especially in our utterances. Indeed, as Bakhtin (1986) puts it: "...the word is expressive, but... this expression does not inhere in the word itself. It originates at the point of contact between the word and actual reality, under the conditions of that real situation articulated by the individual utterance. In this case the word appears as an expression of some evaluative position of an individual person..." (p.88, my emphasis).
This means that when someone acts, their activity cannot be accounted as wholly their own activity - for a person's acts are always partly 'shaped' by the acts of the others around them - and this is where all the strangeness of the dialogical begins (see Shotter, 1980, 1984, 1993a, 1993b). This kind of continuously occurring, first-time, unpredictable, and unanticipated but nonetheless (once it has occurred) intelligibly evaluative creativity, has not yet, I want to claim, been adequately appreciated and characterized in our social thought.
Indeed, the pervasive Cartesianism (Taylor, 1955) at work in our everyday accounting practices, has led us both to locate the sources for all our social activities as cognitions inside the heads of individuals (iii) and to characterize these sources in terms of rules, or laws, i.e., in terms of regularities and repetitions within single, systematic orders of connectedness!!! It has led us also, to ignore precisely those events which occur not only between people and which occur only once without repetition, but the importance also of all those complex events involving the chiasmic intertwining of influences from different multiple sources (Merleau-Ponty, 1968).
Why is such chiasmic intertwining of such importance? Both Merleau-Ponty (1962, 1968) (iv) and Bateson (1979) take binocular vision as a paradigm. Bateson, in his discussion of the question of "What bonus or increment of knowing follows from combining information from two or more sources?," notes that it takes the unmerged combining (v) of "at least two somethings to create a difference" (p.78 ). In particular, something special happens, he notes, in the optic chiasma (the crossing of the optic nerves from the two eyes in the hypothalamus of the brain): "the difference between the information provided by the one retina and that provided by the other" works to help the seer add "an extra dimension to seeing" (p.79), the dimension of depth. Instead of seeing things as just large or small, we see them as near or far.
But in considering seeing with two eyes, are we, perhaps, getting just a little ahead of ourselves, and moving to a higher level of complexity before considering seeing "something" with just one eye? Perhaps we should consider, first, what is involved, even with one eye, in scanning over a face and seeing it - with all its changing expressions - as the same face, only now as a smiling face, now as frowning, now as sad, as welcoming, as threatening, and so on? How do we join together all the different fragments collected at different moments into a coherent, unitary whole, into the "seeing" of a person's face? That seeing a person's face as a face - evaluating it as a face - is an achievement in which it is possible to fail, is shown by Sacks's (1985) Dr. P. Although he knew perfectly well what eyes, noses, chins, etc., were, he could not spontaneously recognize people's faces as such, and thus it was that he mistook his wife's face for his hat.
Thus, to understand what is possible for us within such dialogically-structured events, and only within such events, we must think of such relations in some radically new ways. Indeed, as we shall see, we must think of them in extra ordinary terms, in terms that can perhaps shock us into spontaneously responding to the events occurring around us in uniquely new, first-time ways.
What is at work here, as I see it, is the kind of understanding that Wittgenstein's (1953) characterized as that which "consists in 'seeing connections'" (no.122). It is a kind of understanding that we might call a "relationally-responsive" form of understanding, to contrast it with the "representational-referential" forms of understandings more familiar to us in our intellectual dealings with our surroundings.
But these relationally-responsive forms of understanding all entail our seeing connections and relations within a living whole, a whole constructed or created from many different fragmentary parts, all picked up in the course of one's continuous, living, responsive contact with a particular circumstance in question, whether it is a text, a person, a landscape, or whatever. So, perhaps we were not so ahead of ourselves in seeing the kind of chiasmatic interweaving that occurs in binocular vision, as paradigmatic of the creation of many further "relational dimensions" in other spheres of understanding. For, as Merleau-Ponty (1968) points out, this kind of chiasmatic interweaving seems to be involved in all our bodily understandings of our relations to our surroundings. "There is a double and a crossed situating of the visible in the tangible and of the tangible in the visible; the two maps are complete, and yet they do not merge into one" (p.134). Indeed, "my two hands touch the same things because they are the hands of one same body... [and] because there exists a very peculiar relation from one to the other, across corporeal space - like that holding between my two eyes - making my hands one sole organ of experience" (p.141).
These understandings - the creation of these relational dimensions - might range all the way from simply "seeing" a person's facial expression as a smile or their utterance as a question, to 'seeing' quite complex connections between people's behaviors in their lives - as, for instance, Margaret Schegel in E.M. Forster's Howard's End 'saw' connections between her forgiveness of Herbert Wilcox's sexual peccadillos and his lack of forgiveness of those of her sister. But all such understandings have their beginnings in those moments when something occurs which "moves" or "strikes" us, when an event makes a noticeable difference to us because it matters to us. "There is, it seems to us," remarks T.S. Eliot (1944), "at best, only a limited value/ in the knowledge derived from experience. The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,/ for the pattern is new in every moment/ and every moment is a new and shocking/ valuation of all we have been" (p.23).
In other words, for something to make a difference that matters to us, something must surprise us, be unanticipated, unexpected, fill us with wonder. But, as Fisher (1998) notes:
The experiential world within which wonder takes place cannot be made of unordered, singular patches of experience. We wonder at that which is a momentary surprise within a pattern that we feel confident we know. It is extra ordinary, the unexpected. For there to be anything that can be called "unexpected" there must first be the expected. In other words, years or even centuries of intellectual work must already have taken place in a certain direction before there can be a reality that is viewed as ordinary and expected" (p. 57, my emphasis).
In other words, taking into account both Eliot's and Fisher's comments, wonder occurs when something which we took to be not only complete but also finished in its growth or development, suddenly exhibits a yet further inner articulation. And it is when such an unexpected change as this occurs against the background of our orderly, everyday, shared understandings and accounting practices, that such events can 'strike us with wonder', can 'move' us, and can make a difference to us 'that makes a difference'. These are the moments when, as George Steiner (1989) puts it, "the 'otherness' [of the other]... enters us and makes us other" (p.188). It is our passion for wonder - a gift made available to us by our shared, chiasmically or dialogically-structured, accounting practices, by our shared expectation that the future will be an orderly continuation of the past - that distinguishes us from all other living animals.
The emphases here, then, on the importance of our body's expressive responsiveness to events occurring in our surroundings that make a difference to us, and the dialogically or chiasmically-structured nature of such momentary 'moving' events, suggests the following set of questions about the nature of learning:
- To what extent does our learning depend on our bodily involvement in (and vulnerability to) events that can provoke surprise and wonder, as well as anxiety and risk, in us?
- To what extent is it important that those teaching us have that kind of continuous 'in touchness' with us, so that at various crucial points in their teaching, they are able to say to us: "Attend not to 'THAT' but to 'THIS';" "Do it 'THIS WAY' not 'THAT WAY'"?
- To what extent is our living involvement in a whole situation necessary for us to get an evaluative grasp of the meaning for action of a small part of it - as when a music teacher points out a subtle matter of timing, or a painter a subtle change of hew, or a philosopher a subtle conceptual distinction, such as that between, say, a mistake and an accident?
- Is learning possible without the bodily risk of, at least, disorientation and confusion, and without the surety of being able "to go on" (Wittgenstein), as guides to inform us as to the value of our relations to our surroundings?
- And finally, is the individual pursuit of truth possible, without being immersed in an ongoing, unending, chiasmically-structured dialogue with the others and othernesses about us - given that we all must continually re-evaluate our values as the world around us changes and develops, and the order of multiple values we once thought adequate begin to reveal themselves as inadequate?
(i) In using the term chiasmic, I am following the lead of Merleau-Ponty (1968) who entitles chapter 4 - in his book The Visible and the Invisible - "The Intertwining - The Chiasm." I cannot pretend to say what "chiasmic or intertwined relations" in fact are. But what is clear, is that here is a sphere of living relations of a kind utterly different from any so far familiar to us (such as causal or logical relations) and taken by us as basic in our intellectual inquiries. All I can do here, is to begin their exploration.
(ii) As is well known, early work by Mills (1940), followed by Scott and Lyman (1968), directed attention toward the importance of all members of a speech community being trained into an extensive network of normative "background expectations." It is these anticipations that work to hold all the different actions within that community together as an intelligible whole. Members failing to satisfy such background expectations in their actions, will puzzle, bewilder, or disorient other members who will then question their conduct. An account is a linguistic device that prevents "conflicts from arising by verbally bridging the gap between action and expectation" (Scott & Lyman, 1968, p. 46).
(iii) Descartes (1986) discounted the spontaneously expressed 'intelligence' of our bodies entirely. As a result of his meditations, he claimed, that "I now know that even bodies are not strictly perceived by the senses or by the faculty of imagination but by the intellect alone, and that this perception derives not from their being touched or seen but from their being understood" (p.22).
(iv) Typical comments by Merleau-Ponty are as follows: "The unity of vision in binocular vision is not, therefore, the result of some third person process which eventually produces a single image through the fusion of two monocular images... it is not of the same order as they, but is incomparably more substantial... We pass from double vision to the single object, not through an inspection of the mind, but when the two eyes cease to function each one its own account and are used as a single organ by one single gaze. It is not the epistemological subject who brings about the synthesis, but the body..." (1962, p.232). And elsewhere: "The binocular perception is not made up of two monocular perceptions surmounted; it is of another order. The monocular images are not in the same sense that the things perceived with both eyes is... they are pre-things and it is the thing" (1968, p.7).
(v) I.e., not an averaging, or mixing, or fusing, or blending, but something emerges out of the relations occurring within their unmerged intertwining that is a new and unique living form with, so to speak, a 'life of its own', and furthermore, a life shaped by all the influences that went into its creation.
Bakhtin, M.M. (1986). Speech genres and other late essays. Trans. by Vern W. McGee. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Bateson, G. (1979). Mind in nature: A necessary unity. London: E.P. Dutton.
Descartes, R. (1986). Meditations on First Philosophy: with Selections from Objections and Replies. Translated by J.Cottingham, with an introduction by B. Williams. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Eliot, T.S. (1944). Four quartets. London: Faber and Faber.
Fisher, P. (1998). Wonder, the rainbow, and the aesthetics of rare experiences. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.
Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962). Phenomenology of Perception (trans. C. Smith). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Merleau-Ponty, M. (1968). The visible and the invisible. Evanston, Il: Northwestern University Press.
Mills, C.W. (1940). Situated actions and vocabularies of motive. American Sociological Review, 5, 439-452.
Sacks, O. (1986). The man who mistook his wife for a hat. London: Duckworth.
Scott, M.D., & Lyman, S. (1968). Accounts. American Sociological Review, 33, 46-62.
Shotter, J. (1980). Action, joint action, and intentionality. M. Brenner (Ed.) The structure of action, (pp. 28-65). Oxford: Blackwell.
Shotter, J. (in press). "Real presences:" Meaning as living movement in a participatory world. Theory & Psychology.
Shotter, J. (1993). Cultural politics of everyday life: Social constructionism, rhetoric, and knowing of the third kind. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.
Steiner, G. (1989). Real presences. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press.
Taylor, C. (1991). The dialogical self. In Hiley, D.R., Bohman J.F. and Shusterman, R. (Eds.) The interpretative turn. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. pp.304-314.
Taylor, C. (1995). Philosophical arguments. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Vygotsky, L.S. (1986). Thought and Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Wittgenstein, L. (1953). Philosophical investigations. Oxford: Blackwell.
Learning as systematic modification of shared experience
Vera John-Steiner Presidential Professor of Linguistics and Education
University of New Mexico
At the most basic level, learning is the ability of humans to improve the conditions of our existence. This shared and distributed process implies both profound cognitive interdependence and individual capacities for growth and change. Starting with children's early dependence on their care-givers to the collaborative activities of knowledge construction, learning is a profoundly social activity. It takes place simultaneously between and within individuals. Even in solo endeavors like preparing this short paper I am engaged in dialogues with the organizer, the other contributors to the Book of Problems initiative, members of my cultural-historical (Vygotskian) community, and the texts and conversations that help me abandon traditional definitions of learning. These definitions invariably focus on the individual's acquisition of skills and information and on the individual brain/mind. An alternative definition may be as follows: that learning is a systematic modification of shared activities and practices as a consequence of previous experience on the part of communities and individuals. Or, put more broadly, human learning is a necessary aspect of human survival in coping with powerful natural, social, economic, political and technological challenges.
In our work in Native communities in the Southwest as well as with creative collaborators in the arts and sciences we have identified different types of learning.
A. Observational Learning.
Among the Hopi people planting corn is a difficult task of placing seeds carefully to be protected in an arid climate with little water. Young children observe their elders in this activity as well as in pottery and jewelry making. This form of observational learning is also common in apprenticeship situations as well as in scientific laboratories. Novices are part of the broader social practices of their communities and their growing knowledge becomes a resource for the group. (Lave, J. and Wenger, E. 1991).
B. Innovative/Exploratory Learning.
When confronted with unexpected challenges such as hurricanes, wildfires, 9/11 or AIDS human beings engage in new forms of problem solving. They draw upon the vast traditions of innovation where most inventors are anonymous. Exploration and a search for solutions start at a very young age. (See Gopnik et al, 1999) Data gathering and hypothesis testing is most fully documented in scientific work but it is a mode of learning that cuts across community, educational and family environments.
C. Institutional Teaching/Learning.
As Jan Visser wrote, most people see learning as "limited to what happens in a purposefully structured learning environment in which desired attitudinal or competence goals are to be achieved along the lines of well designed processes" (2002). The large majority of studies on learning focus on this restricted range of activities where the teaching process is primarily verbal or where children's activities are narrowly focused. In attempting to broaden our sense of learning we need to go beyond the confines of traditional classroom environments.
These three modes of learning form a dynamic functional system within a set of problems or within a particular context. The most important tests of learning are not those administered to frightened children but to whole societies whose ability to build on the consequences of their past experience will lead to innovative change. And, while individual learning is part of the process it is not limited to it. In summary, learning is not restricted to an individual trait but is a social activity. It is in building upon each others knowledge through dialogue, collaboration, and the effective use of humanly crafted artifacts that we develop resilient communities that can address the increasingly complex challenges of our times.
Based on the above considerations the question thus becomes: How would our understanding of learning be transformed if its purpose were joint discovery and shared knowledge rather than competition and achievement?
Gopnik, A., Meltzoff, A. N. & Kuhl, P. K. (1999). The scientist in the crib: Minds, brains, and how children learn. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company, Inc.
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate periperal participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Visser, J. (2002). The book of problems (or what we don't know about learning). Proposal for a Workshop with Interactive Discussion Session for the International Conference of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, Dallas, TX, November 12-16, 2002 [Online]. Available http://www.learndev.org/BOP-AECT2002.html.
The acquisition of values and dispositions: Are there lessons to be learned from socialization and acculturation?
University of Haifa, Israel
The truth is that we have quite a bit of expertise in the field of learning. But our expertise is limited to mainly scholarly learning, particularly the acquisition of facts, concepts, formulae and organized bodies of knowledge. This kind of expertise we have is badly limited in three respects: (a) We know how information is acquired but know far less about how it is being transformed by the solo learner and by a team of learners into meaningful knowledge. Only recently have we come to realize that information is not knowledge and that the acquisition of the former is hardly a necessary and surely not a sufficient condition for the latter. (b) We know even less about ways of turning knowledge into usable, rather than inert knowledge. (c) Most importantly, though, is the fact that we know how intellectual stuff is learned, but we know far less about acquiring human values and learning to live by them. There is expertise out there about the acquisition of values through authoritarian indoctrination, on the one hand, and on the effects of life-long socialization, on the other. However, the former counters our own democratic values while the latter is not in the hands of educators. So, no wonder that the domain of value education is not one in which we have enough expertise.
More specifically, I am concerned about two learning (inter)related issues of which we know very little. The first follows directly from the last point made above: What does it mean to acquire a stable, positive value disposition toward peace and peaceful ways of resolving painful conflicts? What does it mean to acknowledge the "contribution" of one's own party to the conflict in which it is involved? What does it mean in terms of one's sense of collectively-rooted identity? What does it mean in terms of adherence to one's own collective narrative? We seem to have some fair and empirically grounded approaches to attitude change. But is this all that constitutes the kind of value disposition alluded to here?
Related is the question of acquiring value dispositions - peacefulness, honesty, responsibility, social commitment - via teaching and coaching versus socialization and acculturation. This is one of the major questions about learning in general: How does the acquisition of knowledge, attitudes, skills or dispositions via deliberate teaching differ from their acquisition via subtler routes of slowly and gradually progressing socialization. The difference between the two is analogous to that between the slow drip effect whereby rocks become shaped by dripping water, versus the quick shot-in-the-arm effect caused by a deliberately applied instructional force. Smedslund's old research of the sixties on the acquisition of Piaget's concept of conservation showed that the "natural route" is far more resistant to misleading information than the instructional route. But there isn't much additional research to show what underlies the two routes more deeply.
The issue is of lesser concern when it comes to the acquisition of academic knowledge and skill, since these are more within the domain of instruction-based learning. Reading, geography and violin playing are among the disciplines the acquisition of which is a matter mainly of teaching and coaching. But what about values and dispositions? Are these learnable via direct instruction? Such acquisitions more likely belong to the domain of socialization. One acquires one's values mainly through the slow processes of socialization and acculturation. However, society cannot rely on this "natural route" of socialization for the acquisition of desired values such as commitment to a community. Thus, what we'd need to study is what makes socialization and acculturation so effective and how their "active ingredients" could be incorporated into instruction.
Smesdlund, J. (1961). The acquisition of coservation of substance and weight in children III: Extinction of weight acquired "normally" and by means of empirical control on a balance scale. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 2, 85-87.
Can we know too much?
Leon Lederman Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy
Suppose, just suppose a serious scholar of learning poses a question to a man of science, one who has spent a lifetime in trying to understand the workings of the physical universe at its most fundamental level.
The scientist who also teaches his graduate students and learns from them (or so he thought) and he also, by preference, teaches undergraduates the various sub-disciplines of his science over the years and learns from that activity (or so he thought). Now he is faced with a new question, a question somewhat like the child who asks: "Mother, what is a "phase"?" "A phase," responds Mother, "is something you go through." "Ah!" says the child, "I am going through a phase!" (Mrs. Miniver) Learning? To a scientist, learning is "French" or "Algebra", i.e. a mastery of a new language or a method of solving quartic equations or how to use the fork and knife. (An Episcopalian's greatest learning transgression is when he uses the salad fork for the meat.) But then there is another kind of learning that, in my ignorance and naïveté, would seem to deserve a different word. From Howard Gardner and his colleagues (Gardner & Boix Mansilla, 1994, Winter), it is "learning for understanding." Here the test is more difficult: it is an interview, the giving of a colloquium, and the writing of a thesis. Rethinking this, I realize that the learning of a new language may indeed involve some of the most complex of brain functions but this I really don't know. I am not sure I want to know.
So, two types of learning, let's distinguish: learning, as in French-and learning, as in science. Both must be learned mostly in classrooms, but also in "life" e.g. the laboratory. The learning we are to discuss in Dallas is (is it?) largely in the classroom or classroom-like settings in which I include museums and even educational TV (an oxymoron?). It makes sense. I learned my science early on, in classes, supplemented by lectures, books, corridor and barroom conversations with peers. Then came ideas generated by puzzles presented by scientists working at the boundary of knowledge. Why can't we find a decay of the muon into a neutrino and a gamma? Is it forbidden? If so, what law of nature would be violated? Can it have been missed in the experimental searches?
What takes place is a mélange of creativity rising up out of the morass of one's knowledge and experience base. Also supposed is the profound and intense desire to know. This struggle for ideas is typical of science. One must organize what is known and what is assumed but not known. Were it not for misconceptions, science would find fewer puzzles and go faster. There is one other interesting factor in science knowing and learning. For certain types of minds, mostly in theoretical physics, too much knowing is a disadvantage, "intellectual baggage", which blocks access to fresh new insights. Wolfgang Pauli, at age 18, wrote a definitive and critical essay on general relativity-but at age 30, he wailed, "Ach, I know too much!"
But what is the connection to learning? I believe that one can structure learning processes that train the mind to make this clear separation between what we do know and understand and what we have casually included as knowledge but which is knowledge faux. In the misconceptions of younger children: light doesn't travel, it shines. Heat doesn't flow, it feels. Misconceptions abound.
It would seem as though the powerful combination of educational technologies and our increased knowledge of cognition science would have radically changed the classroom in our schools. But it has not and this is a major burden on education.
It is astonishing how little the technologies of computers, of graphing, of simulation and imaging are used in the classroom. They are used here and there in spotty applications that someone has packaged. However, the technologies and the power of "problem-based learning", which is stressed at IMSA (Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy), should have had the role of reorganizing the entire school curriculum. Surely, as an important example, sixth graders should already have learned something of the structure and function of atoms. Knowing this, it would then be eminently sensible to deepen and strengthen that learning in ninth grade physics thereby revolutionizing how one learns tenth grade chemistry and eleventh grade biology.
To summarize, my entry into the BOP is how to construct a dossier of misconceptions, of "natural" assumptions that must be viewed with suspicion. One should, if one knew how, add the ability to recognize and delete irrelevant (ah, but how to identify?) knowledge, which blocks creativity. Perhaps, the mind-in-training needs a rating system for knowledge: "A" is good stuff, tried and tested, safe to use and to re-examine for new ratings only under the most dire of crises. "B" is useful in working hypotheses, rarely re-tested. All lower ratings are caveat emptor, e.g. "well, just for the sake of discussion . . ." and delete, delete. Implementing such a rating system would, at the least, provide full employment for a new cadre of educators. The hope is voiced that educational technologies and advances in "how we learn" will help with these classifications. But who really knows? And how many of us "know too much".
Gardner, H., & Boix Mansilla, V. (1994, Winter). Teaching for understanding in the disciplinesand beyond. Teachers College Record, 96 (2), 198-218. Paper prepared for the Conference on Teachers Conceptions of Knowledge, Tel Aviv, June 1993.
Knowing beyond the five senses?
David L. Solomon BBDO Detroit & Learning Development Institute
Humanity has the ability to experience life beyond the five senses (Zukav, 1989) . In his book, The Seat of the Soul, Zukav describes an eternal force which he believes is the next step in our evolutionary journey; although, the vocabulary to address it is not yet born.
Zukav uses the term "multisensory" to describe human capabilities, which he believes opens up opportunities for growth and development. His premise is that five-sensory human beings have come to know the world in concrete ways - to perceive physical reality. The perceptions of a multisensory human extend beyond physical reality to the larger "dynamical systems" of which physical reality is a part.
Zukav distinguishes between personality and soul. The personality is a reflection of the five-sensory human being - a characteristic that a person is " born into, lives within, and will die within time" (p. 29). He posits that every person has an immortal soul and he suggests that the larger frame of reference of the multisensory human allows learning to occur in a way that is not limited to the five senses.
Gary Zukav asks some important questions which are germane to the Book of Problems:
What does it mean to say that an "invisible" realm exists in which the origins of our deeper understandings are located? What are the implications of considering the existence of a realm that is not detectable through the five senses, but that can be known, explored, and understood by other human faculties?
When a question is asked that cannot be answered within the common frame of reference, it can be classified as nonsensical, or it can be dismissed as a question that is not appropriate, or the person who is asking the question can expand his or her consciousness to encompass a frame of reference from which the question can be answered. The first two options are the easy way out of a confrontation with a question that appears to be nonsensical or inappropriate, but the seeker, the true scientist, will allow himself or herself to expand into a frame of reference from which the answers that he or she is seeking can be understood.
Zukav, G. (1989). The seat of the soul. New York: Fireside Books.
Beyond what and when, Understanding learning mechanisms
Alison Gopnik Dept. of Psychology University of California at Berkeley
Over the past thirty years we have learned more about children's spontaneous learning than in the 2000 preceding years. In particular, we know that even infants both know more to begin with, and learn more, than we ever would have thought before. We also know that much learning seems to involve powerful capacities for theory formation and change, analogous to the capacities of sophisticated adult scientists. However, most of that new knowledge has still consisted of knowing what children learn when, rather than why and how they learn what they do. The nature of the underlying mechanisms for learning, in children or in science, is still obscure.
This general obscurity about mechanisms leads to several specific questions and mysteries. First, there are still descriptive questions. How domain-specific versus domain-general are learning mechanisms? Traditionally, there has been an opposition between more nativist accounts of learning which emphasized domain-specific triggering mechanisms, and more empiricist accounts that included forms of associationism or connectionism. It is increasingly clear that neither of these approaches is correct, but the right balance between domain-generality and specificity is still obscure. Similarly, the relations between learning in "natural" contexts and learning artificial skills such as those acquired in school is also still not clear empirically. Are these two types of learning fundamentally similar or different? And in a related vein, the relation between learning in young children and in adults is not clear. Do these types of learning involve the same underlying mechanisms or different ones? Finally, though it seems clear that social influences play an important role in much human learning, their exact contribution is still very obscure. How much do human children have to rely on implicit tuition from others to accomplish their feats of early learning?
There are even more profound questions about the computational mechanisms that underly learning. In the past, learning has been one of the chief weaknesses of existing computer systems, though again the advance of connectionist modeling has begun to remedy this. Still there is an enormous gap between the sort of learning that involves the acquisition of structured hierarchical types of knowledge and the sort that involves extracting patterns from input. Moreover, there are no computational accounts currently available that seem at all realistic given the likely restrictions on human memory and information-processing capacities. And finally, no computational systems that we know of seem capable of the kinds of qualitative conceptual change we routinely see in young children
Finally, there are profound unanswered questions about the biological mechanisms for learning. Unlike other cognitive capacities, learning is not localized in the brain, and it seems unlikely that, for example, current imaging techniques can be very illuminating. Instead, understanding how neural plasticity and cognitive change are related seems to require much deeper and more fundamental new insights into brain function. This is even more true when we try to consider the apparently paradoxical relationship between genes and learning. What is there in our genetic instructions that itself leads us to be able to overcome those genetic instructions and routinely invent radically new forms of behavior and interaction? How are our learning capacities related to the more generally difficult questions of gene expression and morphological development? In both cases we know that a limited handful of genes somehow interacts with the environment to construct new structure, but we do not know in either case, what these mechanisms might be like or how or whether they are related to one another.
The mental, the feeling, and the body
Basarab Nicolescu Centre International de Recherches et d'Études Transdisciplinaires
The following seven questions come to mind:
- If we distinguish three types of learning, the mental (cogintive), the feeling (affective) and the body (instinctive), how important are, for a given type of learning, the other two types?
- How can one reach an equlibrium between the mental, feeling and body learning? Can we assert that this equilibrium corresponds to a new type of learning (a learning that is "all comprehensive")?
- What is the role of the traditional methods of meditation and relaxation for the process of learning?
- Can we imagine that, in the future, learning through initiatives outside formal institutional settings will be more important than in institutional settings? How can one help the development of such an evolution of learning?
- Are questions more important than answers in the process of learning? How can one generate a science and an art of questioning?
- What is the practical role of the included middle (paradox, oxymoron, etc.) in the process of learning ? How could the included middle build transcultural and transreligious attitudes?
- Could life stories stimulate the process of learning?
Shifting the ground for our conversations
Ron Burnett Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design
I am concerned with the evolving role of the disciplines within universities and the challenges that a new context is introducing into the environment. What is that new context? Well, it is not one thing or one phenomenon; rather, I believe that we are in the midst of a 'sea change' in our understanding of the communication's setting that is the underpinning for learning, pedagogy and education. This is a bold claim. For example, it is not possible, in my opinion to examine what we teach without linking that to the networked world. Information now flows from so many venues that what we mean by content needs to be examined from many different and sometimes-conflicting perspectives. Educational institutions are becoming one of many possible places that learners can seek information and knowledge. An interesting phenomenon which exemplifies this point and which is enhanced by using the Internet is auto-didacticism, people who teach themselves. A good example of this is in the computer sciences where students as hackers learn programming from each other as well as from sources that are sometimes legitimate and other times not. Or the many different ways in which young people alter the computer games that they play. There is a vast movement of gamers who have learned how to 'patch' games and introduce 'mods' which transform not only the aesthetic of the game, but often its intentions. The marvel of auto-didacticism is the extent to which at least in the digital era, learning turns into networked dialogue among anonymous individuals who dedicate themselves to projects that they are working on. The development of the LINUX operating system is a further example of this growing and important shift in how ideas and information are exchanged.
The digital revolution has disrupted and will continue to disrupt what we mean by learning and how we organize our disciplines. Suffice to say, that to think about interdisciplinarity in a networked world is to think about disciplines in a different and evolving context. The fluidity is sometimes startling, but a necessary if not creative condition which can transform the exchange of ideas. Or, put another way, the agora no longer needs the particular forms of dialogue to which we have grown accustomed and new forms will have to be developed, which doesn't make universities redundant as much as it shifts the ground for the conversations that we can have and even has significant implications for the classroom as a place and space of interaction.
Learning to be: Transforming information into personal knowledge
Federico Mayor Fundación Cultura de Paz
The methodology regarding learning to know and to do is widely developed. Teachers all around the world have a treasure of experience and best practices in these fields. However, we know far less about learning to be, to transform information into personal knowledge, to reflect and to elaborate ones own answers, to behave according to ones own conclusions elaborated from thought.
Such is, from my point of view, the widening vacuum in current learning, particularly in the so-called developed countries. Communication tools are available in excess, yet learners are too often mere receptors of information, as they have no time to think, to argue in favour of their own ideas. They are spectators, not authors. As José Saramago, the Literature Nobel Prize Laureate, puts it: A moment will come when technology will score 100 versus thinking 0.
Ten problems about learning
David Perkins Harvard Graduate School of Education
Four Very General Questions about Learning
Here are the four most general questions about learning that I could think of, each really several questions in one.
1. The Question of Mechanism
When we learn, in what form is that learning captured in us and our physical, social, and symbolic surround? -- in the form of mental representations, the weightings of neural networks, conditioned reflexes, runnable mental models, priming or expectancy and different degrees of primability, distributed cognition, etc.? What do these and other forms of capture have to do with one another? Which seeming conflicts in accounts amount to substantive clashes and which amount simply to choices of nomenclature and grain of analysis?
How is the learning captured? What are the processes that put it "there," wherever the "there" is? Also, how is the learning mustered from its "there" to inform occasions of thought and action in the future?
How does the answer change with different kinds of things to be learned? This acknowledges the possible role of specialized learning modules in the mind-brain as well as the suitability of different forms of capture for different kinds of things to be learned. ("Things to be learned" is meant to be fully general, and might include conditioned reflexes, facts, skills, habits, concepts, attitudes, dispositions, professional roles, cultural norms, personality attributes, and, beyond the individual, groups, teams, and organizations acquiring culturally embedded patterns of expectation, coordination, etc.)
How does the answer change when the entity that learns is not a human being but an animal, not an individual organism but a group, a team, a community, an institution? How does the answer change when the entity that learns is a genetic code, an immune system?
2. The Question of Difficulty
When learning is hard, what makes it hard? When learning is easy, what makes it easy?
Answers would have to deal with the match between mechanism and the things to be learned.
Answers would also have to deal with what the learner (individual, group, etc.) already has learned, and whether the new learnings can connect with what the learner has already learned, and whether the new things to be learned align or clash with prior learning.
Answers would also have to deal with the complexity of the things to be learned in roughly an information theoretic sense. No matter how adroit and flexible the learning mechanism, no matter what it has already captured in some fashion, enough complexity will challenge its reach.
Answers would also have to deal with the supportive or not-so-supportive conditions around the learner -- whether the conditions provide occasions to learn the things in question at all, whether they provide trials, feedback, models, tips, or any of the many factors that might help.
3. The Question of Design
What can we do to make learning something easier? This is the problem of instructional design taken broadly, not just for schools but for groups, teams, families, societies, even for immune systems and genetic codes.
Answers here would take cues from answers to the questions of mechanism and difficulty, seeking to establish supportive conditions, anticipating synergies or clashes between whatever is to be learned and what has already been learned.
Answers here would also need to reflect the practicalities of the learning context -- what learners, how many, at what cost, with what time available, etc. The problems of mechanism and difficulty call for theory building, although of course the theories may be built with practical ends in view. In contrast, the problem of design is not fundamentally abstract but concrete. Designs are more like bridges than theories -- they suit particular cases, this river, or classes of cases, this kind of river, meeting conditions of practical implementability and cost-benefit.
4. The Question of Worth
What's worth learning, for whom, for what purposes practical or ideological, at what cost? Do we find the guide to what's worth learning in it in Adler's great books, in Dewey's pragmatism, in Socrates' insistence that we know our own ignorance, in more humble crafts and skills of the kitchen, the tailor's shop, the chemist's laboratory, the accountant's spreadsheet, in the ancient human modes of love, parenting, friendship, ownership, command, peace, war?
Arguably this question is not a problem of learning at all. From a purist standpoint, problems of learning are howish. They concern how things gets learned, how easily, and how to help, all theory building and engineering to specs.
However, in various ways learners themselves are tuned for some things to be learned more than others, because of seemingly greater adaptive worth, as in rats' very rapid learning of associations between kinds of food and stomach pains, a smart adaptation. Moreover, people have notions, often strong ones, about what they want to and ought to learn and why, sometimes good notions, sometimes not so good. Parents, politicians, professional societies, priests, advertisers, advocacy groups, and even to some small extent educators influence selections of what's to be learned in formal settings, only sometimes with enlightened agendas.
What's worth learning by whom, according to whom, at what cost, and for what sort of supposed worth seems a fundamental matter, whether it's strictly speaking a problem of learning or not. Like the problem of design, what's worth learning is a concrete question situated in specific contexts and kinds of contexts.
Six Particular Puzzles about Learning
Many looks at learning focus on what's conceptually hard -- fractions and irony for many youngsters, how heat works and what the poems of Ezra Pound say for many college students. There's a world of fascination in understanding such challenges and how to help learners with them.
However, for many slices of life, what's hard is not conceptually hard in the academic sense. It's hard in another way, a matter of seeing what's going on, often as it happens, often in the midst of clutter and distraction, and maintaining an improvised flow of behavior that deals with it. The following six puzzles reflect life's ordinary turbulence, outside of any formal educative context, although they also have relevance to schools. They deal with matters of how we throw together everyday behavior, notice circumstances that need attention, follow through or not on our best judgment, form intentions and exercise our will, and learn or fail to learn in everyday circumstances.
I note parenthetically where the four questions of mechanism, difficulty, design, and worth come up in these particular cases, to show how pervasive they are.
5. The Puzzle of Improvisation
A great deal of behavior is improvised, thrown together for the occasion. It may not be notably inventive, though sometimes it is, but neither is it stereotyped. It may not be virtuosic, though sometimes it is, but neither is it awkward or clumsy. We all perform in the improvisational theater of our days, and much of the time pretty well.
How should we understand improvised behavior? One can spell out some portion of the knowledge involved in particular situations through observation and debriefing procedures. However, the articulated knowledge does not appear to be what drives the improvisation. So what does? (A question of mechanism.) The articulated knowledge also serves learning poorly. Acquiring piles of conditionalized rules in an explicit way seems unmanageable and unbearable. (Questions of difficulty and design.)
Few conventional educational settings set up situations where learners engage in flexibly improvised behavior. For the most part, practice runs on well-ordered rails. Some sports learning is an exception. How can we make more room for sustained improvised behavior in important areas in educational settings, and make it reasonably effective and efficient? (A question of design).
When do we want behavior fluently thrown together and when do we want something more regimented, as in NASA countdowns or diagnostic screenings? (A question of worth.)
6. The Puzzle of Noticing
The newspaper article reports a large-scale study concluding that people who sleep less live longer. It intimates that maybe we should cut down on our sleep. You're just reading casually, but you're taken aback. "Wait a minute. Correlation isn't causation." You realize that many factors might lead to the correlation. You decide not to mess with your sleep habits.
Or your son and daughter-in-law are visiting. She looks just a little plump. It wasn't on your mind at all, but could she be pregnant? You decide to ask in a roundabout way.
A great deal of thought and behavior depends on picking up subtle cues on the fly in the midst of the general clutter of experience when we're not particularly looking for them. We even have an everyday term for this -- noticing. When we're looking for something and find it, we don't speak of noticing. It's when we are not looking for something but find it that we say, "I noticed such-and-such."
Noticing is hit or miss. Although we hit from time to time, we miss a lot that might be worth detecting, and some people miss far more than others, even when they know "in principle." For instance, someone reading the aforementioned newspaper article might know very well that correlation isn't causation but not detect the fallacy in action.
It's far from obvious how people develop the sensitivity to notice various kinds of situations. (A question of difficulty.) Academic learning and skills training occur for the most part in contexts of focused activity. You're not just casually reading a newspaper article, but examining a report critically, not just conducting a negotiation but trying to follow a protocol of negotiation techniques. In some sense, it's logically impossible to practice real noticing, since systematic practice implies that you know what you're engaged in, and that in itself would give the activity a focused intentional context -- looking for rather than noticing in passing.
There are many areas where noticing is very important -- detecting shortfalls in an editorial or a politician's statements, picking up social cues, spotting dangers-in-the-making, as with the proverbial ball rolling across the street in front of a driver. How do we learn to notice certain things when we do? (A question of mechanism.) How can we be helped to learn? (A question of design.) What sorts of things do we need to notice, and what are so strongly cued that it's not a practical problem? (A question of worth.)
7. The Puzzle of Follow Through
People often fail to follow through on their best judgment. Familiar problem areas include quitting smoking or drugs, taking medications reliably, practicing safe sex, changing teaching styles, changing managerial styles, and controlling one's temper.
Let's set aside situations where practical barriers or shortfalls of ability get in the way. Let's stick to circumstances where, people at some level judge it's thing to do, and, one would think, could simply do it. The problem is, they can't get themselves to do it. One might ask, "Do they really want to?" but, since their explicit judgment says yes, what "really" means is part of the puzzle.
How can we best understand such gaps between one's best judgment and action? (A question of mechanism.) When does trying too hard get in the way of success, as by striving so hard to inhibit a behavior that you prime it? (A question of difficulty.) What kinds of learning might help to bridge such gaps? (A question of design.) After all, individuals and groups do from time to time succeed. And when is it worth the bother, versus simply accepting a personal quirk and getting on with the rest of your life? (A question of worth.)
8. The Puzzle of Will and Intention
As folk concepts important to everyday talk about behavior, will and intention have an elegant logical relationship to one another akin to the direction and magnitude of a vector. When we speak of intentions, we refer to what someone aims to do and say little about how persistent the person will be. When we speak of will, we refer to the energy the person can muster to pursue whatever intentions he or she has. Of course, other drivers besides will power can fuel our pursuit of intention -- love, hunger, avarice, or curiosity, for example. Will power provides a boost when other drivers don't suffice or, worse, nudge us in the opposite direction. Recalling the previous puzzle of follow through, will power can help us follow through on our best judgment, even when other parts of our psyche resist.
Although they tell an orderly story, will and intention are vexed constructs. Well-known studies by Libet and others argue that conscious adoption of an intention is a kind of illusion. The choice has already been made at preconscious levels. In the same spirit, the notion of the will as a potentially boundless source of energy is suspect. It's glib, although commonplace, to blame poor impulse control on weakness of will and suggest that people need to try harder, mustering latent will power or building it up like a muscle.
How then can we better understand will and intention and their relationship, or reconstruct these concepts in a way that aligns them with deeper models of the mind while preserving something of their functional significance? (A question of mechanism.) It certainly seems to make sense to cultivate more discerning intentions, but does it make any sense to speak of cultivating a stronger will? (Questions of mechanism and difficulty.) How might this be done, if it's possible at all? (A question of design.) Clues about such questions may lie in notions of priming and expectancy as potentiators of behavior.
9. The Puzzle of Nonlearning
My parents played bridge almost weekly for many years with friends and, as far as I could tell, never got much better at it. Some teachers teach for years with very little development in their craft. Many years ago, a doctoral student of mine conducted a study of three first year second term algebra classes and discovered (incidentally -- this was not the main focus of the study) that in the course of the semester the students' net learning was zero. Their scores on an algebra test were on the average the same, pretest and posttest.
Sometimes -- far more often than we would like to think -- not much learning happens, even though the context appears to afford plenty of learning opportunities. People reach plateaus and get little further.
How are we to understand this? (Questions of mechanism and difficulty.) Certainly there are many factors that might stand in the way -- developmental barriers, lack of investment in learning, no practical press to learn, absence of feedback mechanisms to fuel learning, forgetting at about the same rate as you learn (which might have been the case with the algebra students) etc. Still, would one not expect a fair measure of incidental learning that sticks? When can one expect considerable incidental learning and when not? (Questions of mechanism and difficulty.)
Elaborate instructional efforts aside, how can one structure physical and social settings to foster learning as a strong side-effect of whatever's going on anyway? To put this another way, how can one tune settings for "learning in the moment," where considerable opportunistic learning occurs? (A question of design.) For example, certain styles of professional conversation are information rich, others information lean. Feedback can be global and vague or pointed and supportive. Discussions can foreground position taking and sweeping statements or systematic analysis of the problem at hand. On the other hand, what's not worth learning, so who cares? Probably, for lots of kids, second semester algebra. (A question of worth.)
10. The Puzzle of Unlearning
Generally, old learning builds a trellis for new learning. Additional facts, concepts, and practices attach themselves neatly and efficiently to what's already been learned. As is well known, what you already know in an area is a fine predictor of how readily you will learn more.
Generally, but not always. New learning may conflict with previous learning. This is one reason why fine violin teachers like to get their pupils young, before they've been spoiled with bad habits missed by less discerning teachers. This is one reason why in-service development in areas such as teaching and management is such a bear. The deeper frameworks, the more subtle practices, the further visions that the professionals are supposed to learn very often conflict with well-established systems of belief and behavior.
In such circumstances, it's common to say that learning involves unlearning. The prior learning in some manner has to get out of the way. What, then, is it to unlearn in various circumstances? (A question of mechanism.) However the previous learning has been captured, is that incarnation literally dismantled somehow? Is it bent into a new shape?
Learning in situations that call for unlearning can be difficult. For one problem, backsliding is commonplace. Is this because the prior learning hasn't been dismantled but only overlaid or inhibited? (A question of difficulty.) How can one help the unlearning along? (A question of design.) From an adaptive perspective, unlearning should be a little hard, because otherwise the lessons of the past would be too easily knocked aside by some passing circumstance. So when is it a good thing that the challenges of unlearning stand in the way of some new we're supposed to learn? (A question of worth.)
Questions about learning across the individual and the social, and across institutional and non-institutional settings
Yusra Laila Visser Learning Development Institute & Florida State University
I am using the opportunity of the Book of Problems (BOP) dialogue to present some of the problems and questions that I consider as I go through my days as a human, a citizen, a learner, a teacher, and a friend. Like most people, my interactions with teaching and learning take place at many different levels, and in each of those interactions the questions and concerns that are raised are slightly different. I have opted to steer away from a more clinical approach to this activity (referring to current and prior research, ongoing intellectual debates at various levels of society, and so on). Instead, I make an attempt at writing from the heart, addressing the fundamental problems I sense as a participant observer in the many facets of the teaching and learning world.
I begin my contribution with some opening remarks that may not directly connect to my specific contributions to the Book of Problems, but that do perhaps give a context for interpreting my contributions. This is followed by some of the specific questions that I wish to contribute to this activity in the context of the learning experience and disposition.
Some nebulous opening remarks
There is a strange and pervasive feeling that has plagued me throughout my efforts in the learning and education fields. A feeling that, in spite of our best efforts, we -- as researchers, practitioners, and policy makers -- are placing our communal hammer just a few degrees to the left or the right of the nail we intend to hit. A feeling that we often know what we mean at an intuitive level, but that we do not know how to express it or have it match our research and objective efforts. A feeling that, when presented with questions such as "what is learning?", and "what is teaching?" we really do know what we mean, but we know it as a feeling, as a state of being, rather than a 3-4 line all-encompassing definition. A feeling that, in our genuine efforts to strengthen and validate the various fields we work in, we have created an unbridgeable gap between the fundamentally human part of experiencing and studying learning, and the detached, scientific way in which we seek to present and perpetuate our field. It is as a result of this, in my opinion, that we have focused on breaking learning and instruction into compartments for inquiry, without considering the beauty and complexity of the reassembled whole; that we have chosen to study exceptional performance in terms of replicable performance rather than in terms of creative bursts that defy replication; that we study children as adults-in-training, rather than as independent, valid learning entities in their own right; and so on.
In the 20th century the right to education became recognized as a fundamental human right. In addition, participation in the formal education system became a citizen's responsibility for some 10 to 20 years early in life. With the development of the formal field of education, we formed the profession of educational specialist -- a profession that encompasses researchers, policy makers, and practitioners dedicated to the development of an informed understanding of learning in the classroom context, and to the implementation of classroom-based learning that is both effective and efficient. To respond to this challenge we constructed definitions for concepts, defined salient variables for research, and gathered data that -- mostly -- objectively confirmed what we subjectively experienced in teaching and learning. We concluded among other things, that there is an important relationship between learning and behavior, that motivation is an important aspect of learning, that authentic contexts for practice yield positive learning results, that there is a limit to the number of students a teacher can simultaneously work with if her efforts at teaching are to be effective, and that both outcomes and processes of learning are important. Yet, in spite of these gains in experience and understanding, we remain with the unsettling feeling that we are looking at only a detail of a much larger structure. Consider learning as one would a sculpture. We have come to understand somewhat the sculptor's technique for creating the physical features of the learning sculpture. We have not, however, come to understand the overwhelming sense of emotion, of life, that is expressed through the sculpture as a whole. Nor have we learned to anticipate the effects of additional sculpting and adaptation on that structure before us.
Questions for consideration at the Dallas meeting
The questions I have constructed as a contribution to the Book of Problems workshop in Dallas relate to learning at both the individual level and the social level. In addition, some of the questions relate to learning in formal institutional settings, while others relate to elements of learning that extend beyond these formal settings.
1. A critical consideration on determining the effectiveness of a learning experience is the ability to apply the learned skill/knowledge/attitude in a transfer setting. What is transfer, how do we learn to transfer, what are the true conditions for transfer, and how do we systematically study the phenomenon of transfer?
At the beginning of my doctoral program I expressed to one of my instructors the desire to focus my dissertation research on the study of the transfer of learning. My instructor, rather discouragingly, noted that the late Robert M. Gagné had consistently expressed that the development of a scientific understanding of transfer was one of the most critical needs in learning research, but that in all his years as a researcher, Gagné had been unable to make substantive progress in understanding transfer.
In the years that have passed since Gagné was actively involved in research on learning, researchers have developed a more profound understanding of the role of practice in "authentic" contexts on the ability of learners to apply acquired knowledge and skills in novel situations (e.g. CGTV, 1996). Furthermore, distinctions between near transfer and far transfer have been made (Klausmeier, 1985). However, it appears that we have made little progress in terms of understanding a more fundamental transfer.
The push for "authentic contexts" has focused on creating learning environments that include realistic situations where specific skills or knowledge can be applied. For example, learners of mathematical estimation skills might be placed in an "authentic" context where the learner has to estimate how many shopping carts fit in a given space. The only authentic trait of such activities is that the skill is being practiced outside of the decontextualized, abstract mathematical problems! Is it really promoting relevant transfer when there are remarkably few learners who face real-life situations where they would opt to engage in estimating the number of shopping carts fitting in a given space? The transfer that is being enabled is in a context that may be authentic to the instructional designer (it represents a physical reality recognized by both the learner and the instructor), but it fails to recognize the complexity of the learner, the learner's interaction with the world, and the idiosyncratic decision-making involved in determining how to solve problems.
It is my opinion, that, in reality, the most critical situations for transfer of knowledge are ones where the "spirit" of the learning process is somehow replicated, rather than situations where acquired knowledge and skills are re-applied. However, there is little understanding of the nature of transfer, and as such we seem to be in real need of more understanding of the nature of insight and its relationship to learning. In particular, it appears that the concept of transfer has remained somewhat elusive from a research standpoint because the accepted research methods for learning and instruction cannot adequately study the phenomenon of transfer. Thus, it appears that we need to consider significant changes in our research and inquiry paradigms so that we can better study transfer of learning.
2. What are resilience, creativity, passion, and idealism? What are they not? How do each of these concepts interact with the learning and development process? How can we enable the development of these traits in learners in a way that is flexible and ensures autonomy of the learner?
Plato, Shakespeare, Grotius, Erasmus, Einstein, and Meitner. These are people who are generally considered to have constructively contributed to developments in their time despite great adversities. They have demonstrated resilience, creativity, passion, and idealism. We have little consistent understanding of these concepts, yet these concepts appear to be an integral part of the continual learning and development process. They are critical to the ability for humans to constructively interact with a continually changing environment (J. Visser, 2001). Indeed, they are attributes not only of relevance to the "great minds" of the academic and political worlds, but also to children and adults throughout the world facing challenging and depressing external conditions.
In years gone by we appear to have developed educational curricula that teach an "accepted" brand of idealism, that teach steps for becoming resilient and procedures for thinking creatively. Motivational tactics have been a lower order substitute for passion. These highly complex phenomena have been placed in the "transfer of knowledge" paradigm of learning and instruction, as if they can be passed along from one person to another. People who have developed genuine and sustained resilience, passion, creativity and idealism appear to have done so in spite of the education they received, rather than because of it. Yet, the inherent value of these traits is increasing as the world becomes more complex, and as the rate of change continues to change. It appears, thus, that there is a need for better understanding of each of these concepts.
As was noted earlier, the lack of reliable research methods for studying these phenomena appears to be one of the critical barriers to further exploration at this time. What, then, can we do as researchers to gather valid information on learning in the context of creativity, idealism, resilience, and passion?
3. It has been argued by some (e.g. J. Visser, 2001) that learning is more than a process, and that it is in fact a disposition. What are the characteristics of the learning disposition, and how can we study it?
The definition of learning is becoming broader. In the past, we considered learning as the means to an objectively-identifiable end state. Now, however, we are more inclined to recognizing that learning is both a process, and an end in its own right. Learning is a disposition. As such, there appears to be a need to systematically study the nature of the learning disposition, just as we are studying the nature of the scientific disposition, the artistic disposition, and so on. In fact, I might argue that the learning disposition is a meta-disposition of sorts, overarching and encompassing the inclinations toward certain types of thinking or engagement, and allowing us to look at the transdisciplinary nature of the human existence.
4. How can we enable learning in a context that recognizes the challenges of the human existence, while instilling a sense of hope and dedication for meeting the challenges?
Education is a highly political issue. We often promise marginalized groups of society that they are able to meet the challenges they face by engaging actively in the education system. Politicians present education as the service of the society to allow every person to have a fair chance at functioning in society. Education outlines core competencies and core knowledge every learner should acquire so that he or she is able to function in society. Putting aside obvious and documented inequities in the distribution of resources for education throughout the society, it appears that there is a more fundamental problem. Education -- the society's only protected place for nurturing learning and growth -- has become loaded and entrenched in a system that reinforces the inequities in society. An extreme example of this is during the Apartheid regime in South Africa when schools were not permitted to teach non-white children the curriculum in a language that connected to their cultural heritage. This practice was widely condemned, and has been removed in recent years. However, a similar practice seems to define the public schooling system in many nations across the world. In the US, the plight of the inner-city schools is well-documented. However, what appears to get little attention in the debates among educators and policy makers is the daily damage that is done by institutionalizing a school system that fails to recognize the reality of the inequity of the society. Children in gang-ridden communities are expected to have an equal chance at succeeding in their classes as children from more privileged backgrounds. A cloak of silence is thrown over the schools, and an impasse is reached as youth silently or not so silently revolt against the school system that they feel enslaves them further, while educators continue to deny the highly political situation they find themselves in. "Schools where I learned, they should be burnt. They are poison," says rapper Nas (2001). Notorious Big (1990) sings "Considered a fool because I dropped out of high school, stereotypes of a black male misunderstood". The 1995 film Dangerous Minds nicely portrays the anger and hatred that fills the hallways and classrooms in an inner-city school in Los Angeles, where children fight for their safety everyday, yet they are taught to focus on their standardized test scores.
The sentiment herewith expressed is not limited to the social ills faced in the highly developed societies. Shikshantar (http://www.swaraj.org/shikshantar), a not-for-profit organization founded by people well-versed in the rhetoric and practice of international development and educational policy, carries a similarly critical message of the colonizing power of the school system in India and elsewhere, for example. I hesitate to bring this issue up for the participants' discussion, since it extends beyond problems of learning at the individual level, and because it positions formal learning in the center of political and social controversies. It must be understood that I do not question the integral role that education plays in fostering learning and development for entire societies. I wish only to have us consider, as intellectuals nestled away in the comfort of an inspiring meeting session, what is being done wrong such that children can grow up attending schools and still come out feeling angry, defeated, and destructive. What can we do as educators to recognize the specific challenges our children face, and to begin with simply impacting the children's resilience in confronting the challenges? How can we first ensure that children do not grow up desiring to use their abilities for destructive purposes, before we worry about the student's ability to recite the alphabet?
CTGV - Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt. (1996). Anchored instruction and situated cognition revisited. In H. McLellan (Ed.), Situated learning perspectives (pp.123-154). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Educational Technology Publications.
Klausmeier, H.J. (1985). Educational Psychology (5th ed.). New York: Harper and Row.
Nas (2001). What goes around. On Stillmatic [CD]. New York, NY: Sony.
Notorious Big (1994). Big Poppa. On Ready to Die. New York, NY: Bad Boy.
Visser, J. (2001). Integrity, completeness and comprehensiveness of the learning environment: Meeting the basic learning needs of all throughout life. In D. N. Aspin, J. D. Chapman, M. J. Hatton and Y. Sawano (Eds), International Handbook of Lifelong Learning (pp. 447-472). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Thoughts on learning
David Jonassen School of Information Science and Learning Technologies University of Missouri
Although we work as educators, there is so little that we truly understand about learning, and learning is presumably our primary product. There are many reasons for this.
Although learning should be our primary product, content is the coin of the realm. The only ontology that schools and universities use is subject matter oriented. We don't care what, if anything, students learn, so long as we transmit content. There are occasional exceptions to this phenomenon, such as problem-based learning. However, those exceptions affect such a tiny portion of learners that they have no real effect on society.
As psychologists, we understand many of the cognitive components of learning. For example, we understand such cognitive performances as inferencing, causal reasoning, making predictions, and so on. What we lack is any unified theory of learning that accommodates and organizes these cognitive performances into meaningful learning performances.
In the past decade, we have been informed more by anthropologists and sociologists than by psychologists. Theories of situated and everyday cognition have significantly altered out conceptions of learning, emphasizing the social co-construction of knowledge conceived by Vygotsky and others several decades ago. Unfortunately, no attempt has been made to accommodate these in any unified theory of learning. Rather they stand in opposition to each other, another artifact of our dualistic society. That is, formal learning and informal learning are conceived as oil and water.
Teachers, professors, and those responsible for formally educating students know virtually nothing about what it means to learn. They are subject matter specialists, so they attempt to transmit their knowledge without realizing that is impossible.
One of the reasons for the lack of understanding about learning is the way that we teach about learning. I am presenting a paper at AERA entitled "The Case Against Learning Theories," in which I assail the subject matter orientation of learning courses. Students study about behaviorism and cognitive psychology. Those theories become the object of learning, so students learn about learning but do not learn what it means to learn in any meaningful way.
We know virtually nothing about meaningful learning. Concepts such as conceptual change and metacognition provide rational goals, but we know little about how to support either of these phenomena. There is very little known about the most meaningful of learning outcomes, problem solving. That is why I am devoting the remainder of my career to better understanding problem solving processes and developing methods for supporting how to learn to solve problems (ergo, the in-press book, Learning to Solve Problems).
Not only does ignorance about learning suffuse formal learning contexts, everyday learning is culturally anathema. In our society, learning has little value. Watch any sitcom on television if you want to understand the value (or lack thereof) that intelligence is accorded in our society. Therefore, as a society, we discourage learning and encourage ignorance in our everyday settings. The U.S. is a hopelessly dualistic society that lacks the ability or willingness to accommodate multiple perspectives. Witness any political campaign to instantiate this phenomenon.
My brief analysis of learning in our society is bleak. As a child of the sixties, I continually try figure out how we can encourage a social revolution in learning. We need a renaissance in thinking where learning is willfully and willingly embedded in every activity in our culture. I am open to suggestions.
What I do not know about learning
Michael Spector IDD&E, Syracuse University
These remarks are being composed after having read the first ten contributions to "Inputs to a Collaborative Dialogue" initiated by Jan Visser and the Learning Development Institute. My conclusion from a review of those postings, aside from the fact that they are insightful and provocative, is that I know much less about learning than I am normally inclined to believe. I know less than I am inclined to believe. What do I know about learning?
I used to believe that I knew how to tell if learning was occurring. Many teachers are inclined to hold this belief. If one can tell that learning is or is not occurring in particular cases, then one can adjust learning activities and other instructional supports appropriately. In short, it is worthwhile to be able to tell if learning is occurring, especially in structured learning situations. Otherwise, the enterprise of designing instruction and the craft of teaching are without the means to produce replicable and reliable outcomes. A fundamental assumption of instructional design research is that what we know about learning should inform the process of instructional design (Reigeluth, 1983). Furthermore, what we know about learning is intertwined with what we have learned from a variety of disciplines. Knowledge about the human brain, the nervous system, neuropsychology, psychology, sociology, and so on inform what we know about learning. There has been much progress in each of these areas in the 20th century, so one might be inclined to believe that we know a lot about learning.
However, instead of building steadily and systematically on progress in these domains, the picture has been clouded by claims that we are in the midst of dramatic changes in learning and instruction. There are claims that new paradigms of learning and for the design of instruction have emerged to replace old, worn out methods and beliefs (see Jonassen, Hernandez-Serrano, & Choi, 2000 for a reasoned presentation of this position). While these claims are compelling, the net result has not been a significant improvement in learning or in instruction. The most observable result of such claims is the division of educators into two opposing camps -- traditionalists and modernists -- with much brow and breast beating on both sides. The net result of the progress of educational research in the 20th century appears to be a move away from scientific research towards advocacy-based argumentation. I find this to be a disturbing tendency and hope that my perceptions are not accurate in this particular case.
I am among those who have put forth arguments that "the times are changing" (Spector, 2001a). I have argued that the traditionalist model of learning was based on a combination of rationalism and atomism (Spector, 2001b; Spector, Wasson & Lindström, 1998). In the traditional model:
- The unit of analysis is the individual human learner;
- Human learners are viewed as rational, with the ability to identify goals, consider alternative means of achieving those goals, and select means which appear likely to achieve goals;
- The learning situation is typically a structured learning situation which can be manipulated with regard to conditions and methods so as to help learners achieve desired outcomes.
Moreover, in research conducted in accordance with this traditional model, it was often assumed that the goals of instructional designers, teachers and learners were consonant and constant.
The modernist approach to learning and instruction challenges all of these views. The unit of analysis may be regarded as a learning community rather than as an individual learner. Learners are regarded as less than purely rational, with complex and occasionally conflicted motivations. Learning situations may be structured or unstructured with increasing interest and emphasis on the latter. Goals, methods and approaches are dynamic and not always in concert among those involved in teaching and learning. Such an approach to learning is more holistic than atomistic, more systemic than systematic, and more social than individualistic.
I find myself with a foot stuck in both of these imagined and perhaps imaginary camps. I suspect that there are others who find value and substance in both of these approaches to learning and educational research. We have witnessed much progress in our understanding of learning and instruction associated with the traditional approach. To deny this is to discount an important part of our recent past. Nonetheless, we sense that much more is possible -- must be possible if we are to survive. Issues pertaining to improved learning have a sense of urgency in light of circumstances around the world, ranging from threats to our environment to threats to our freedom. We must do better in educating our children. This sentiment is widespread.
I am reminded of a passage in Dewey's Experience and Education (1938):
" the fundamental issue is not of new versus old education nor of progressive against traditional education but a question of what anything whatever must be to be worthy of the name education. What we want and need is education pure and simple, and we shall make surer and faster progress when we devote ourselves to finding out just what education is and what conditions have to be satisfied in order that education may be a reality and not a name or slogan."
This is the backdrop for the problem that I wish to contribute to this dialogue. The problem goes like this. Many of the domains in which we seek to improve learning are complex in the sense that they involve many interrelated variables, with relationships among some of these variables not easily predictable (e.g., nonlinear relationships, delays among causally related variables, ill-defined variables, and so on) (Sterman, 1994). Such complex domains can be found in crisis management and conflict resolution, environmental engineering, human health and physiology, macro-economics, management science, social and political planning, and so on. We appear to have an obligation to educate children and young adults so that they will become better able to solve complex problems in these domains. In order to make progress in improving education in such complex domains, it appears that we need to be able to assess progress of learning in such domains. The problem is that many of the problems in these domains lack well-defined solutions and the process of solving problems in these domains is often the task of teams of people with varied expertise and backgrounds. How will we know that the learning and instruction that we contrive towards such an end is achieving the intended outcome? Moreover, how can we determine that educational systems, instructional methods and learning activities are succeeding in improving understanding in complex domains in a timely manner and with sufficient detail so that we can alter those systems, methods and activities in ways that are likely to facilitate improved understanding?
Perhaps there are others who know how to do this. I do not. I would like to know, because I happen to believe that experiential, collaborative learning environments (especially those that provide learners with the means to manipulate conditions pertaining to a complex problem, to construct alternative representations of a complex problem, and to engage in socially-situated hypothesis testing and policy formulation) are likely to promote understanding of complex problems (Milrad, Spector & Davidsen, in press). In short, what I do not know but would like to learn is how to assess progress of learning in and about complex domains.
Here are specific questions related to the problem of assessing the progress of learning in complex domains:
- Are there reliable means to identify experts in complex domains? Is doing so a worthwhile enterprise?
- Are there reliable means to indicate how those new to a complex domain are thinking, solving problems and interacting in comparison with experts? Is doing so a worthwhile enterprise?
- Can we provide learners in complex domains with meaningful feedback with regard to how they are improving their understanding of and ability to solve problems in those domains? Is doing so a worthwhile enterprise?
The fact that I have appended a second question to each of these (Is doing so worthwhile?), indicates just how little confidence I have come to have in what I have learned about learning over the years. I am looking forward to reactions, critiques, additions, subtractions, multiplications and divisions of the problems that I have tried to pose pertaining to the assessment of progress of learning in complex domains.
Dewey, J. (1938). Experience & education. 10th Kappa Delta Pi Lecture. Touchstone edition published in cooperation with Kappa Delta Pi Publications. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Jonassen, D. H., Hernandez-Serrano, J., & Choi, I. (2000). Integrating constructivism and learning technologies. In J. M. Spector & T. M. Anderson (Eds.), Integrated and holistic perspectives on learning, instruction and technology: Understanding complexity (pp. 103-128). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.
Milrad, M., Spector, J. M., & Davidsen, P. I. (in press). Model facilitated learning. In S. Naidu (Ed.), Learning and Teaching with Technology: Principles and Practices. London: Kogan Page.
Reigeluth, C. M. (Ed.) (1983). Instructional-design theories and models: An overview of their current status, Erlbaum, Mahwah, New Jersey.
Spector, J. M. (2001a). Philosophical implications for the design of instruction. Instructional Science, 29, 381-402.
Spector, J. M. (2001b). Tools and principles for the design of collaborative learning environments for complex domains. Journal of Structural learning and Intelligent Systems, 14 (4), 483-510.
Spector, J. M., Wasson, B., & Lindström, B. (1998). A Theoretical foundation for the design of online collaborative learning environments. Discussion Paper for VITAL '98. Available at http://www.trainingplace.com/vital98/papers.html.
Sterman, J. D. (1994). Learning in and about complex systems. System Dynamics Review 10(2-3), 291-330.
Can we see the puzzle, rather than the pieces?
Jan Visser Learning Development Institute
Preliminary observations about human learning
Gell-Mann (1994) refers to learning as a process in which complex adaptive systems, such as human beings, interact with other complex adaptive systems, making sense of regularities among randomness and allowing them to mutually adapt. In a similar vein, but within a more restrictive view of school-based learning, the report of the Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning (Bransford, Brown and Cocking, 1999) affirms that "learning is a basic, adaptive function of humans" (p. xi). I quote these sources to put into perspective my own view that human learning is both an individual and a social phenomenon. I thus view a learning society as a conglomerate of individuals and dynamically developing communities which all engage in adaptive behavior through continuous interaction with one another. Consequently, cognition is complex cognition, a feature that characterizes agents at different levels of complex organization in an environment of interacting complex adaptive systems. A similar argument could be built regarding emotion, which also transcends the level of the individual beholder of particular feelings to become something socially shared in the interplay between complex adaptive entities.
There can obviously be no social entities without there being individual entities and it therefore makes sense to start of thinking about human learning at the level of the smallest possible entity, i.e. the individual human being, and extrapolate from there to higher levels of complexity. Putting myself in that position, it appears to me that human adaptive behavior occurs at at least the following four levels:
Level 1: Interaction with threats and opportunities in the environment through genetically transmitted preprogrammed responses, e.g. fight and flight responses.
Level 2: Acquisition of essential environment-specific abilities, such as mastery of the mother tongue, driven by an inherited predisposition to do so.
Level 3: Deliberate acquisition of specific skills, knowledge, habits and propensities, motivated by individual choices or societal expectations, usually by exposing oneself to a purposely designed instructional - or self-instructional - process.
Level 4: The development and maintenance of a lifelong disposition to dialogue with one's environment for the purpose of constructively interacting with change in that environment.
The above four levels of learning-related adaptive behavior in human beings represent a progression of increasingly higher levels of consciousness about one's role in life and in the world. The four levels are not entirely distinct from each other. For instance, as will become clear from the description below, it requires consciousness related to Level 4 adaptive behavior to be motivated towards embedding one's preprogrammed impulses in socially accepted and appreciated interactive behavior. Hereafter I elaborate on each of the four levels.
At the most basic level we find that an organism is able to react to changes and opportunities in its environment through preprogrammed responses that are genetically transmitted from generation to generation and that are reflective of the evolutionary history of that organism. Fight and flight responses pertain to this domain. So do the behaviors related to feeding and sexual reproduction. While such behaviors may be perfected over time through some form of learning, the level of perfection with which they appear in the organism at the stage of development at which the organism has reached the level of maturity appropriate for the display of the behavior, is such that these behaviors are basically adequate to start with. In the case of humans, more serious learning is, however, involved in developing attitudes and values, as well as related cognitive and motor skills and the ability to moderate emotion, that allow them to embed such atavistic responses in socially accepted patterns of human interaction and to display the behaviors in ways that are socially appreciated. The latter kind of learning typically takes place at both the individual level and at the level of communities and socio-cultural contexts to which people pertain. For instance, as far as human fight and flight responses are concerned, entire nations and political groupings of nations and cultural groupings of peoples are involved in this learning process. One sees this idea reflected in, for instance, the work of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the preamble of whose constitution asserts: "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed." Clearly, the mind referred to here is not only the mind of individuals but particularly also the mindset expressed in national power structures and cultural dispositions. Thus, a concept such as "a culture of peace" has gained prominence in recent times [see e.g. the relevant Web pages of UNESCO (no date) and the Fundación Cultura de Paz (no date)]
A second level of adaptive behavior in human beings is equally related to what is genetically transmitted from one generation to the next. However, in this case it is not the expression of particular patterns of behavior that is being genetically transmitted but rather the predisposition to acquire the behavior. Pinker (1994), for instance, argues that such a predisposition, which he calls the language instinct, exists in human beings for the development of their linguistic abilities; Burnett (in press) makes similar assumptions regarding the human ability to process images. Having, at birth, the predisposition to acquire specific behavior rather than the behavior itself has the obvious advantage of enhanced adaptability to conditions prevalent in the environment in which one is born. Thus, we humans acquire the tongue spoken by our mothers rather than some sort of generic human language. The - possibly also instinctive - predisposition of mothers to elicit the acquisition of the mother tongue in their infants through a form of communication that starts at the level of so-called motherese and then gradually and quickly develops towards mature use of the native language through interaction with an increasing number of other human beings in the infant's environment, is crucial to how this works. This mechanism embeds every human being in his or her own linguistic environment, thus maintaining diversity of languages. Given the link between language and the human ability to operate in symbolic space, the diversity of languages still present on earth should be considered acutely important for the development of the mind at the level of humanity as a whole. There is a simple reason for this. Such diversity, namely, allows for interaction among different symbol spaces. Just as in the biosphere diversity is the conditio sine qua non for continued growth and the emergence of new forms of life, so is the diversity of thinking patterns and symbol systems as expressed in linguistic plurality an essential condition for the generation of newness in how we, as humans, experience the world around us and interact with it. The importance of the preservation and continued development of linguistic diversity, including stemming the current trend of rapid disappearance of languages, can therefore not be overstated.
A third distinct level of adaptive behavior, and thus of learning, involves the deliberate acquisition of specific skills, knowledge, habits, and propensities for purposes defined by the personal and social choices people make regarding what they see as their role in life. Gagné (1985) has made a major contribution to our thinking about this level of learning - and about the conditions through which it can best be facilitated - by categorizing learning outcomes at this particular level into five different domains, namely those of motor skills; verbal information; intellectual skills; cognitive strategies; and attitudes. Gagné (2000) asserts that these domains are "orthogonal to content" (p. 91), i.e. they do not coincide with the unhelpful (from the point of view of the learning process) proclivity to divide learning up according to content areas such as history, language, arithmetic, or masonry. Instead, they have been identified using as a criterion that, from the perspective of the seeker of knowledge about what must be done to facilitate learning, "within . . . [these domains] generalizations of findings can be made" (p. 91), independent of such things as subject-matter, age, or particular conditions that surround the situation in which one learns (e.g. a classroom or a distance education/online learning setting). It is this third level of learning that gets most prominently identified with what people generally think that learning is, namely that which one does in school, or, slightly more widely defined, that which results from some instructional process. There is no doubt that this Level 3 learning is important. However, I contend that it is merely an important part of a wider learning concept and that it is essential to seek to connect learning at the four different levels that are here being specified. Another reason why this third level stands out in people's perception of learning is that it is a very visible and usually explicitly organized activity in which human beings engage during significantly lengthy periods of their life. While reaching maturity they become increasingly more conscious of their participation in it and will, ideally, adapt their Level 3 learning activity to important life choices they then start making.
The fourth level at which one can distinguish human adaptive behavior situates learning in the perspective of lifespan development and in relation to the most fundamental questions human beings ask themselves about themselves and about those who share their passage through life with them: Why are we here? What is this world, the universe we are part of? What meaning do we want to give to our existence? It is the ability to ask such questions that elevates the human species above the rest of the living world and that gives humans a risky edge in the evolutionary process over the rest of nature. Humans have developed a socially shared and historically evolved sense of what is right and wrong, good and bad, beautiful and ugly. They use it in the conscious process of developing themselves as individuals and as humanity as a whole, constantly intervening with their environment while doing so. Over the, in evolutionary terms, short time span (several million years) that hominids and humans have populated the earth they have gradually become involved in ever more intensive ways in processes of changing their environment and adapting to, or sometimes coping with, the changes they themselves cause. At this level of adaptive behavior, humans, as well as the social entities they constitute, must be seen to be integrated in all kinds of complex adaptive structures or systems at different levels of organizational convolution. Learning, then, at this level is no longer restricted to the acquisition from time to time of some particular skill or piece of knowledge. Rather, it translates into a permanent disposition to be in dialogue with one's changing environment - human, social, biological and physical - for the purpose of interacting constructively with that same environment. It is within this overall disposition, for instance, that specific choices regarding learning at Level 3 are being made or that one develops a generic stance as to how one lives with one's genetically transmitted preprogrammed responses and natural predilection to acquire basic human abilities (Levels 1 and 2). Only in the sense referred to here under Level 4, as I have argued elsewhere (Visser, 2001), can learning be seen as truly lifelong.
Questions about human learning and about how we live with our ability to learn.
A question that stands out from the above analysis is the following one:
When thinking about and dealing with human learning, how can we ensure that the focus be on the whole puzzle, rather than on just one or a couple of individual pieces?
Learning, in the broad sense of the word, is an incredibly complex phenomenon. Not only does it relate to the four levels of adaptive behavior specified above, it also takes place in a whole lot of different settings; often prompted by events that can hardly be predicted, let alone planned; and people engage in it in myriad different ways, involving both their emotional and cognitive faculties. While everyone learns, we also are all involved in facilitating other people's learning - for instance as parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, members of the same community (sports league, professional association, religious gathering, informal group of friends who meet regularly, street gang, chamber music ensemble, Internet community, rural village, etc.), or as professional educators. The first thing that seems to have gone wrong is that interacting with other people's learning has gradually come to be perceived as the the exclusive business of professionals. This has created a clear bias towards Level 3 learning, an area in which, it must be recognized, important advances in the understanding of the processes involved have been made. However, it has also shifted the emphasis in dealing with human learning in the direction of the cognitive to the detriment of attending to the affective. To the extent that the affective domain gets considered at all, it is usually as something separate that requires to be managed with a view to more effectively engender cognitive development, emotional development remaining a matter of, at best, secondary importance. So, part of my question translates into a subquestion: How can we ensure that those who teach, in addition to their instructional competencies, are passionately involved with what they teach as well as passionately involved with the learning of those whom they teach? An obvious complementary question is: How can we ensure that those who interact non-professionally with the learning of others - i.e. everyone - recognize that those with whom they interact do indeed learn, thus developing a sense of responsibility and a disposition to care for the learning of others? Such a disposition and sense of responsibility, for instance, seem to be largely absent in a significant portion of the media as well as in families where interaction by parents with their children has been reduced to ensuring that kids get their daily dose of TV, video, or computer game offerings. If one really has a constant disposition to care for the learning of one's fellow human beings - i.e. for one's personal learning environment - one would always have opportunities in mind at all four levels of adaptive behavior and not just the level that one would, for instance professionally, be expected to interact with.
At the level of research the focus on the whole puzzle gets translated into the need to consider varying granularity of the research perspective in choosing one's units of analysis. Research traditions are biased towards units of analysis that hardly ever show the whole person - let alone a comunity - and that hardly ever show the whole process - let alone an entire human life history. On the other hand, a focus on what happens inside the human body, particularly the brain, as it relates to learning, is only recently getting attention (e.g. Gopnik, Meltzoff, & Kuhl, 1999; Greenfield, 2000). Naturally, choosing different units of analysis has implications at the methodological level as well. I contend that more creativity is required in inventing the processes through which we build knowledge about such complex, essentially transdisciplinary, phenomena as lhuman learning. So, the question here is:
What is it that keeps us from being more relevant in conducting research as we often choose inappropriate units of analysis? What is necessary to foment fundamental change in our research traditions? What must be done to overcome existing research biases?
Another effort that requires enhanced attention is the need to reflect on and bring together in the framework of larger perspectives significant more detailed research. A good example of such work is the Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (Eds) 1999 report on How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school.
As more such work is required, how can we ensure it gets done?
At the onset of the third millennium, humanity faces problems of a kind way beyond the complexity and potential long-term impact of the problems that existed, i.e. were brought to the level of consciousness at the time, half a century ago. Few of the deliberate efforts to promote and facilitate learning addresses the need for constructive interaction with the global issues and concerns of our time (see also Visser, in press). This concerns such questions as to how we can live harmoniously and sustainably together with six billion people on a small planet, sharing its resources and opportunities. Or how we can interact in a balanced manner with our physical and biological environment. Or, indeed, how we can cope with the awesome power of our own ingenuity. Regarding such questions more is needed than adding dedicated pieces of curriculum to what happens in schools. The self-preparation of humanity for an increasingly more complex, uncertain and potentially dangerous future has more to do, I guess, with how we learn than what we learn. My question here is thus:
How must the learning landscape be adjusted to take account of the increased complexity and non-linearity of the world?
I am now by far overstepping the scope of a one-to-two-pager, but let me add just one more concern: the human mind. Susan Greenfield (2000) refers to the human mind as the "personalization of the physical brain" (p. 14) through the accumulation of experience, which gets reflected in the ever-evolving configuration of cell circuitry as we live our lives. It turns us into who we are and expresses itself in an overall way of being in the world, which equally evolves as we grow older. To the extent that we deal with human learning (our own and that of others) I am afraid we pay far too little attention to the mind, sacrifycing it to our concern with competencies. There is a clear need to take experience seriously, for instance in the context of educational processes, but equally when thinking about how we keep - or don't keep - ourselves in shape generally, often replacing real experience by surrogates that dramatically reduce the diversity of what we get exposed to. So, here is my last question:
How can we find a healthy balance between mind and competency that recognizes the superior importance of mind while considering that mind without competency is useless, but competency without mind dangerous?
 The complete formal definition of learning at this level reads as follows: "Human learning is the disposition of human beings, and of the social entities to which they pertain, to engage in continuous dialogue with the human, social, biological and physical environment, so as to generate intelligent behavior to interact constructively with change" (Visser, 2001, p. 453).
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L. & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.) (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Report of the Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning, Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, National Research Council. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Burnett, R. (in press). How images think. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Fundación Cultura de Paz (no date). No title. Website of the Fundación Culture de Paz [Online]. Available: http://www.fund-culturadepaz.org/ [2002, November 3].
Gagné, R. M. (1985). The conditions of learning (4th ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Gagné, R. M. (2000). Domains of learning. In R. C. Richey (Ed.), The legacy of Robert M. Gagné. Syracuse, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information & Technology. Also online. Available http://www.ibstpi.org/Legacy-Gagne/legacy.htm [2002, October 24].
Gell-Mann, M. (1994). The quark and the jaguar: Adventures in the simple and the complex. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman and Company.
Gopnik, A., Meltzoff, A. N. & Kuhl, P. K. (1999). The scientist in the crib: Minds, brains, and how children learn. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company, Inc.
Greenfield, S. (2000). The private life of the brain: Emotions, consciousness and the secret of the self. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
Pinker, S. (1994). The language instinct: How the mind creates language. New York: William Morrow and Company.
UNESCO (no date). Peace is in our hands. Website of the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World [Online]. Available: http://www3.unesco.org/iycp/ [2002, November 3].
Visser, J. (2001). Integrity, completeness and comprehensiveness of the learning environment: Meeting the basic learning needs of all throughout life. In D. N. Aspin, J. D. Chapman, M. J. Hatton and Y. Sawano (Eds), International Handbook of Lifelong Learning (pp. 447-472). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Visser, J. (in press). Distance education in the perspective of global issues and concerns. In M. G. Moore and B. Anderson (Eds.), Handbook of distance education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Brain, mind and consciousness
Susan Greenfield University of Oxford, Dept. of Pharmacology & Royal Institution of Great Britain
Although brains in gross aspects can vary from one individual to another, they offer no clue as to who is kind, witty, cruel and good at cooking. Let us consider how the brain is organised. Within each macro brain region, there is no single isolated complete function. We know, for example, that vision is divided up into colour, motion and form processing and, in turn, the function of vision can preoccupy over 30 brain regions. Similarly, any one brain region, like the prefrontal cortex, can participate in more than one function. So brain regions are bit players on the brain stage, and not autonomous units. Within each area we know that there is complex brain circuitry, finally boiling down to the synapse, across which we find all the biochemical baggage needed to operate a system of chemical transmission: in turn, this baggage of enzymes, receptors, and uptake mechanisms, are the result of gene expression. Moreover, we know that in our whole body there are merely some 30,000 or so genes, so that even if every single gene in your body was devoted to a synapse, one would still be out by 1010, (assuming some 1015 connections approximately in the brain). So, we can no more attribute autonomous functions to the most basic level of brain function, genes, than we can to the most macro, that of the brain regions. In both cases, there is very little room for manoeuver, and therefore hard to see how the personalisation of the brain, the mind, might develop.
A stronger candidate for providing the physical substrate of developing 'mind' is the interim level, that of brain connections themselves. Not only are these brain connections highly dynamic, but they actually reflect experience. This plasticity of the brain is particularly conspicuous in the first few years of life, when the growth of the connections accounts for the growth of the brain and, indeed, can allow for compensation for damage. A particularly amusing example of plasticity in the adult brain, was of London taxi drivers (Maguire, et al 2000), who are renowned for their 'Knowledge' whereby they have to memorise the streets of London and how to navigate them. In taxi drivers part of the hippocampus is larger than in non-taxi drivers of a similar age. Experiences, then, are reflected in the strength and extension of brain connections, and it is this process whereby connections so exquisitely mirror what happens to us, that I would call the 'mind'. Hence even if you are a clone, ie an identical twin, you will have a unique configuration of brain cell connections. As we learn, so we develop a personalised brain, - a mind.
Now consider 'losing the mind', or 'blowing the mind'. Because we are still conscious when these often much sought-after events occur, I would suggest that it is wrong to conflate 'mind' with 'consciousness'. Just think a little more about being 'out of your mind'. In such situations, the individual is no longer accessing personalised cognitive perspectives, the world no longer has a personalised meaning, and one is instead the passive recipient of incoming sensory information. For a participant of a rave, for example, a premium is put on a world stripped of all cognitive content, where the strength of the abstract stimulation, - the beat, the music, the heat, - is the dominant feature. It is a little like returning to the booming, buzzing confusion of William James's infant. However, consciousness still prevails. What could be happening within the brain? Clearly, the genes haven't changed, nor the macro brain regions, nor even the physical and potential connections that make up the 'mind': instead it is how the connections are or, more particularly how they are not, being accessed.
The only way one could change states so dramatically would boil down to how easily, or otherwise, one accesses working brain connections, and in turn that would depend on chemicals within the brain. Hence, if we are considering this raw sensory consciousness, we need to consider what transmitters are doing from one moment to the next. Transmitters are best thought of as the essential part of neuronal circuitry, often perhaps erroneously likened to a computer: but we need to remember that certain very well-known transmitters, more particularly the amines (serotonin, histamine, dopamine and noradrenaline), as well as their chemical cousin, acetylcholine, emanate from primitive parts of the brain, almost as fountains, by sending diffuse projections to the higher centres (Woolf, 1996). We are learning increasingly that these neurons, - because of their diffuse projections, dubbed 'global neurons' - can act in a modulatory function: as it were, they put neurons on red alert, rather than transmit all-or-none signals. In view of the primitive and pervasive locations of these chemical systems, it is, perhaps, not surprising that they participate in the most basic functions of arousal, sleep, being awake and dreaming. I would suggest that the most subtle influences of modulation at the physiological level work perfectly for modulating these phenomenological states, to predispose cells to working efficiently together, or otherwise. If the modulating fountains are malfunctioning, as with the use, say, of Ecstasy, then the modulation will not be as efficient as normal, and the neuronal circuits won't work together quite so quickly: working assemblies may be smaller. These working assemblies, in size, may resemble those therefore of a small child, where the connections are simply not there or, indeed, as when dreaming, the lack of a strong sensory stimulation would not recruit a very extensive working assembly of cells.
'Consciousness' then, I suggest, can be differentiated from 'mind' in that it is that mysterious, subjective, first-person world as it seems to you, that no-one else can hack into. It can, however, be dissociated from the 'mind', which could also, in turn, be closely related to the concepts of personality and self-consciousness. Just how, however, the water is turned into wine, - how the bump and grind of the neurons and the shrinking and expanding of assemblies, actually translates into subjective experience, - is, of course, completely another story. For the purpose of this debate, I suggest that 'mind' occurs as a result of human learning, and as such learning, both overt and covert will influence every moment of consciousness.
Maguire, E. A., Gadian, D. G., Johnsrude, I. S., Good, C. D., Ashburner, J., Frackowiak, R. S. J., & Frith, C. D. (2000). Navigation-related structural change in the hippocampi of taxi drivers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 97 (8), 4398-4403.
Woolf, N. J. (1996). Global and serial neurons form a hierarchically arranged interface proposed to underlie memory and cognition. Neuroscience, 74, 625-651.
The learning cloud: Some thoughts
Rita C. Richey Wayne State University
To tie a rock to a cloud - is this possible:
And if it is, does the cloud descend to meet the rock
or does the rock rise to meet the cloud? (Elliott, 1995, p. 1)
Many scholars have long tried to tie rocks to the learning cloud, for the most part by trying to bring the cloud down to the concrete earth. We try to understand the cloud by specifically describing and explaining what it is, and predicting exactly what we can do to produce it. We have discovered much about learning, and know much about teaching and designing instruction. Yet still, many feel that we have not yet "tied learning to a rock". So we keep trying.
This question has now been posed: What are the main areas in which we fundamentally lack knowledge about human learning? Answers are likely to vary depending upon one's conception of learning. Variations in learning have previously been explained in terms of content outcomes (e.g. Gagne, 1985; Gagne and Merrill, 1990; Jonassen, 2000). However, learning variations can also be explained in terms of process outcomes. Is it traditional knowledge acquisition and retention, or changes in behavior and habit, or changes in values and attitudes, or neural connections, or is it an increased potential for growth and change? Or, as many would suggest, can learning be all of these things? It is this complexity that likely creates the dilemma.
There may be some factors that transcend each of these legitimate views of learning, even though the roles they play may vary with different types of learning. These are a few of the areas in which I am most interested and think might be useful to explore:
- What human characteristics impact learning? These may relate to one's previous experiences, gender, age, expertise, attitudes, or interests. Ability and prerequisite skills have been previously explored in depth. The more interesting factors at this point seem to be less content-related.
- What are the contextual issues that impact learning? These may relate to the setting, the climate, and the influence of others?
- How do language and culture impact a variety of processes related to learning, such as concept development, visualization, and thinking patterns?
- What cognitive conditions foster creativity, invention, and insight?
- What is the impact of "attitude crystallization" upon learning when viewed in its broadest sense?
This question development process is possibly one of the most difficult aspects of the exploration of learning, since questions are unlikely to be asked until the underlying concepts are already somewhat shaped, and until an idea has already attracted the attention of a discipline. Even more importantly, problems are not likely to be viewed as problems until a solution is feasible (Richey, 1997). Consequently, this list is undoubtedly limited. Nonetheless, perhaps it can serve as another start in our attempts to tie the learning cloud to a rock. Hopefully, our deliberations will pull the rock to the cloud, rather than cause the cloud to descend.
Elliott, W. (1995). Tying rocks to clouds: Meetings and conversations with wise and spiritual people. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books.
Gagne, R.M. (1985). The conditions of learning (4th ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Gagne, R.M. & Merrill, M.D. (1990). Integrative goals for instructional design. Educational Technology Research and Development, 38(1), 23-30.
Jonassen, D.H. (2000). Toward a design theory of problem solving. Educational Technology Research and Development, 48(4), 63-85.
Richey, R.C. (1997). Agenda-building and its implications for theory construction in instructional technology. Educational Technology, 37(1), 5-11.
Constraints to 'learning' in the knowledge society
Jan Servaes Katholieke Universiteit Brussel & European Consortium for Communications Research
1- Digital citizenship and Information inequalities
Surveys like the Measuring the Information Society (MIS, see Ricci, 2000; or Servaes & Heinderyckx, 2002) show that large segments of European societies are not "inside" the so called "knowledge society" but "next to it" or simply "outside" it. This is at the same time a scientific finding and a political issue. The evolution of the Measuring Information Society survey results shows:
(a) that a multi-faceted media and communications system is in place in Europe - this new system is the sum of the traditional and innovative media all coexisting and all conflicting with one another to acquire a larger share of the financial/time budget of Europeans; and (b) that different kinds of 'user groups' coexist today in Europe that use in different proportions different clusters of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs).
One of the hottest issues in debates on the knowledge society is the digital divide between the 'information haves' and 'have-nots' (the so-called 'information underclass'). According to Hacker and van Dijk (2001), there are four main hurdles of access to the information society producing these inequalities: (a) Lack of basic skills and 'computer fear'; (b) No access to computers and networks; (c) Insufficient user-friendliness; and (d) Insufficient and unevenly distributed usage opportunities. However, for policy makers in the Information Society, the important issue is how to mitigate information inequalities and possibly to prevent them. This becomes a very crucial task when there is some evidence that the prevailing tendency in the European Information Society is ('pleonastically') exclusive. Therefore, it is very important to understand the role of ICTs in relation to people's ability to participate in society. The observed phenomena of social exclusion in the Information Society are pretty close to the conjecture that technologically richer media might imply poorer democracy, in the sense that the corporate media explosion could result in a corresponding implosion of public life.
Furthermore, socio-political differentiation might be generated by either intended or non-intended processes of integration. The latter (unintended consequence) is known as 'informational Balkanization'. The former is related to the two contradictory trends of globalization simultaneously producing both fragmentation and integration: In another paradoxical operation of cyberspace, it enlarges the public sphere and political action through the virtual world and reduces them in the real one.
The impact of new ICTs on civil society, participatory democracy and citizenship is of immense contemporary concern. This impact is usually associated with the demand of universal access. But universal access/service alone does not suffice. The way Stephen Coleman puts it, "if citizenship requires universal access, democracy needs trustworthy channels of information and deliberation if it is to prosper" (2001, p. 124). In other words, modern European citizenship needs the demand for and provision of information in order to develop the proper rights and responsibilities in the conditions and complexities of the Knowledge Society of eEurope.
2- Fears and hopes of our society
Every major innovation in communication related technology, from the printing press on, has always given rise to a mixture of hopes and fears. As an example, the development of radio in the 1930s, then of television in the 1950s, in a context of international tension and of escalating propaganda, made observers fear that large populations would become vulnerable to potential manipulators of opinion, attitudes and behaviors. Others, however, saw an unprecedented opportunity for mass marketing and the advent of mass consumption. It took functionalist theories to turn things around and shift from a vision of vulnerable audiences potentially manipulated by all powerful media to critical and organized audiences faced with weak media having no choice but to seduce audience or disappear. As often, it now appears that truth lies somewhere in between.
The potential effects of the divided evolution we are witnessing could be of particular magnitude for at least two reasons. Firstly, the trend towards convergence implies that many, if not most or all cultural activities may, at some point, be deeply affected by innovation. Secondly, while television, for example, was developed then gradually entered households with only continuous innovations (today's television set is functionally that of the 50s), the so-called new technologies are being used by an increasing number of people, at the same time as these technologies are still evolving rapidly and indeed barely taking shape. Any research or indeed thinking in the matter is like predicting the pattern of the flue epidemic: given the constant mutation of the virus, public health authorities can only make educated guesses as to its viral profile and how it will propagate and with what effect.
3- From non-users to new illiterates
In spite of the recurrent claims of evermore user-friendliness, information and communication technologies use remains strongly subordinated to a set of specific skills. These evolve along with innovation, but tend to grow in importance as the complexity of the technologies as well as the scope of their applications extends. These set of skills go well beyond managing the interfaces needed to operate them. Broadly speaking, new media are increasingly associated with new writing, hence of new reading, not to mention new ways to organize, treat, retrieve and control information in its broadest sense.
The so-called new literacy will soon lead developed societies into difficulties comparable to that of illiteracy in the 19th century. Like the illiterate of those times, the new illiterate will be, as we can clearly see from the diffusion patterns of new technologies, of lower social status, with the associated lower income and level of education. Medium term developments may lead to a dichotomized social body made of, on the one hand, wealthier, better educated and new-literates having the skills and the means to access and use information and communication technologies and, on the other hand, poorer, less educated and new illiterates kept out of the new tech scene and deprived of most technologies and hence denied access to an increasing amount of information and culture. Therefore, Francis Bacon's
famous saying - Knowledge is Power - could be replaced by 'the capacity and speed to access, select and reproduce knowledge will determine power in the 21st century'.
4- What's new about the Internet?
The question of whether new media will grow at the expense of traditional media is of particular importance to the industry. Unsurprisingly, the first tangible signs of decreased television viewing among Internet heavy users are now showing in the United States. Also the MIS 2000 survey shows the impact of Internet browsing on people's time-budget: a 73 percent reduction in time spent on TV viewing, 46 percent reduction in book reading, 34 percent in newspaper reading, 29 percent in radio listening, 28 percent less family activities,27 percent in sports, and 24 percent less time spent with friends (Servaes 2002b). However, at the same time one also notices a rise in television viewing behaviour among certain sociodemographic groups as well.
One core characteristic of many new technologies makes any kind of prediction even more audacious: integration. The Internet in its most popular form (the World Wide Web) seems to bear characteristics which might grow into true media integration. All forms of media (broadcast) and interpersonal communication are likely, sooner or later, to be transposed or accessible via a unique interface organized around the Internet. In theory, a device that would be small enough to be portable, yet large enough to ensure perceptive comfort, could well replace everything from personal computer to walkman, telephone to television and video recorder, fax and answering machine, newspaper and radio, cinema and advertising posters, bookshop and libraries, shopping centres and town halls. Integration of all existing vectors of communication (and much more) would also give rise to an endless number of hybrid combinations prompting changes in behaviour of such a magnitude that it would, if accessible to a large population, deeply reorganize social structures, as we know them. In this sense, the Internet can be considered as emblematic of the new technologies.
Given that it takes skills (learning) and money (equipment and running costs), using the Internet is to be viewed as a major landmark in new technologies penetration. Internet users have indeed gone over the hurdle that is most likely to keep people away from technology, and having done that are likely adopters of downstream technologies, as long as these remain within continuous innovations. Surprisingly, however, there is no linear relationship between proportions of non-users saying they are interested and of those saying they are planning to purchase an Internet connection within six months. Finland shows the highest proportion of interested non-users and near highest proportion of purchasers within six months. This is to say that the diffusion pattern of Internet can be seen, at this stage, as animated by a snowball effect or marketing hype. However, at the content side, it remains to be seen whether the Internet will not become another divide comparable to the 'old' media. As is usually the case with new technologies, it remains to be seen how much ICTs will be used on top of existing devices and/or will gradually replace them.
Coleman, S. (2001). The transformation of citizenship. In B. Axford and R. Huggins (Eds), New media and politics, London: Sage.
Ricci, A. (2000). Measuring information society. Dynamics of European data on usage of information and communication technologies in Europe since 1995. Telematics and Informatics, 17 (1/2), 141- 167.
Servaes, J., & Heinderyckx, F. (2002). The 'new' ICTs environment in Europe: Closing or widening the gaps? Telematics and Informatics, 19 (2), 91-116.
Servaes, J. (2002). The European information society: Much ado about nothing. Gazette: The International Journal for Communication Studies, 64 (5), 433-447.
Hacker, F., & Van Dijk, J. (2001). Digital democracy: Issues of theory and practice. London: Sage.
Just a "pipe dream"
John Bransford Learning Sciences Institute at Vanderbilt University
Maybe my problem is: How do we deal with the "there's not enough time in a day" problem? One possibility might be to begin to seriously investigate "sleep learning". Based on everything I know about attention, etc., this can't be solved by methods that are sometimes advertised---for example, placing a microphone under the pillow that plays materials to be learned (e.g. vocabulary items, foreign language words, etc.) But there might be other ways to proceed.
One might be to explore how to help people guide their dreams so they highlight compelling problems that learners need to solve, etc. Ideally, the dreams could serve as "virtual reality" simulations for working through issues and exploring creative approaches while also getting totally restful sleep.
I know, it's just a "pipe dream".
Learning, rather than education
Nicholas Rawlins University of Oxford, Experimental Psychology Department
When people discuss learning, they are often really thinking about education, rather than thinking about learning more generally. Although I am an educator, my own interests in neuroscience are concerned generally with learning rather than with the restricted domain of education. Learning is something that goes on throughout life, and includes incidental as well as intentional learning. Two major questions that I think deserve attention are: (1) How do we ensure that our brains are optimised for learning (insofar as we can do this)?; (2) How does learning itself contribute to the overall condition of our brains? There is a steady increase in experimental evidence showing that environmental conditions can modify the state of the adult mammalian brain, both for better and for worse. If we can understand how both these effects are brought about we will be better able to try to ensure that we maximise our potential. Two illustrative references are given below.
McEwen, B. S., & Magariños, A. M. (2001). Stress and hippocampal plasticity: implications for the pathophysiology of affective disorders. Human Psychopharmacology, 16(S1):S7-S19.
Van Dellen, A., Blakemore, C., Deacon, R., York, D., & Hannan, A. J. (2000). Delaying the onset of Huntington's in mice. Nature, 404, 721-722.
A new epistemology
David Scott University of Massachusetts at Amherst
I believe that a great challenge for learning is how we educate for a world that is a living, breathing organism rather than a hiearchical machine. Our approaches to learning are still very much rooted in the ideas of the 16 th and 17 th centuries when the entire Universe was viewed as a machine. Over the last 350 years this world view has permeated almost every branch of knowledge, although paradoxically discoveries in science have long abandoned this philosophy. Learning must overcome the dualisms created by scientism of the earlier era -- dualisms of mind and matter, of science and religion, truth and meaning, facts and values. In some modern theories, the Universe and life within it are an interconnected system with an implicate order. Adoption of this philosophy would bring about a revolution, possibly as far reaching as that ushered in by Descartes and the Enlightenment philosophers. After all, this philosophy established a particular characterization of the human mind and its relation to the Universe, in particular a separation of the two. The problem of learning may reside in our theories of the mind, but it is also possible that the mind has not been allowed to play with all the cards the evolution of the Universe built in. A more integral approach might help to overcome some of the fragmentation and polarization in our society, in disciplines, in institutions.
When a new epistemology emerges there always seems to be a phase lag before the idea is accepted universally. How can approaches to learning accelerate the incorporation of the newest discoveries about the nature of the world and the human mind? We should not have to wait for a century before the new knowledge shapes our approach to learning - - - - i.e. we should not repeat the history of the last 300 years. A new theory of a holistic Universe and a holistic mind is forming. Application of these ideas in learning could accelerate the discoveries on levels of consciousness, which appear to demonstrate increased capacity for more people to think in more integral ways. Instead of insisting that learning must focus almost exclusively on cognitive, rational intelligence, we should be exploring the full potential of a human being through cognitive, rational, kinesthetic, aesthetic, emotional and spiritual intelligence. Such an approach to education is not entirely new of course; it was implicit in the ancient Greek paideia principles of learning. The difference today is that we have theories of the brain and of the Universe to support the application to learning. Young children experience the world much more holistically than adults who have undergone the long journey through the educational system. They do not distinguish mathematics and poetry, physics and religion, history and biology. How can we reinforce this innate tendency, particularly in light of discoveries that perhaps the human mind is constructed this way, and that there may be a deep relation between the structures of the mind and of the Universe.
I believe that the greatest unknown about learning is possibly already known, but we do not seem to know that we know it. Perhaps the work of this group will be able to accelerate our progress to more integral levels of consciousness, to more integrative human beings and to a more just, caring and connected world.
Why the dyslexic mind finds reading difficult: My two-penny worth of bullet points
John Stein University of Oxford, University Laboratory of Physiology
- 5 - 10% of children have developmental dyslexia - serious difficulties with learning to read despite normal intelligence and teaching.
- Dyslexia is a potent cause of individual and family misery; it is a serious educational problem and may explain much disaffection with school.
- Because fluent reading is so essential for the generalisation of skills from one area to another, poor readers feel thoroughly disempowered in modern society and react with depression, frustration, and, all too often, violence.
- Dyslexia is partly due to inherited genetic differences, but also partly to adverse conditions in utero, that affect the development of the brain.
- These make reading and spelling difficult; yet often dyslexics also have strong compensating talents in fields such as the Arts, theatre, engineering, computing and finance.
- We are now beginning to understand the brain basis of literacy. Reading requires active visual analysis of the form of words, their orthography, together with auditory analysis of the sounds in words, phonology. Most dyslexics have both visuomotor and phonological problems.
- Achieving visual/orthographic skill depends on a person's underlying visuomotor capacity to see letters accurately and in the right order. Most dyslexics have unsteady visuomotor control. But this can be remedied. If identified early enough we can return many dyslexics' reading to the normal range.
- Achieving auditory/phonological skill depends on a person's ability to hear the letter sounds in words accurately and in the right order. Most dyslexics have lowered auditory sensitivity to these cues.
- These visuomotor and auditory skills required for reading probably depend on the performance of a system of large nerve cells in the brain, magnocellular neurones.
- Visual magnocellular sensitivity plays a major role in determining how well orthographic skills develop and auditory magnocellular sensitivity helps to determine how well phonological skills develop.
- Dyslexics seem to inherit a genetic tendency for their magnocellular neurones to be vulnerable to damage during development. They may also produce more cytokines that facilitate antibody attack by the immune system during development in utero especially if mothers are deficient in nutrients such as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), as found in fish oils.
- Understanding that dyslexia has a biological basis does not mean, however, that dyslexics are under a life sentence to perpetual failure. The brain differences are mild, and recent research has led to the development of techniques for helping most dyslexics to greatly improve their reading ability by appropriate visuomotor and auditory/phonological training and by giving them PUFA (fish oil) supplements.
Questions and searches
David Cavallo Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute
1) Deep structure
We can see a child playing with blocks, or a child sharing stories with a parent, and know that something important is happening. It clearly has affective elements but that is not all. There is clearly specific learning happening (about blocks, stacking, the topic of the story, etc.) but that too is not all. In these and other situations there can be much more. We can see large gains in understanding when there is this "more." How can we better understand such deep structures? How can we think about them? Can we see if it is happening and can and should we try to determine how well it might be happening?
2) Social discourse and individual construction of meaning
We can feel that there are stimulating intellectual environments. We can feel we can begin to understand things better, think in new ways, develop better habits of mind by being in these environments. How can we better understand this dynamic?
3) Search for mediating the conflict between discourse and practice
In schools it is very common to hear people say that children are not just sponges soaking up the information from teachers, that we do not learn best by being told, that we learn best by active engagement, and so on. Yet when we look at the practice in some of these places with such discourse, we see that the practice is based upon lecture, giving information, children remaining relatively passive, and trivial activities that belie the depth of learning by doing. How is such a gap between discourse and practice possible? How can we say one thing about learning and do another? What does this mean for our learning about learning?
4) Search for other plausible metaphors for learning
As we live in cultures and meanings develop within them, we cannot avoid popular images deeply embedded in culture and language. Through time images of knowledge as stuff and learning as the acquisition and storage of this stuff are rampant. This easily leads to an information transfer model of learning. If learning is experientially based, and if so many of our formal situations provide experiences formed in an information transfer model, this model becomes all the more solidly embedded. What are other plausible models that lead to other types of practice?
A CORNUCOPIA OF PROBLEMS
Following the workshop and open dialogue session at the 2003 AECT Convention in Anaheim, CA, a short invited article with the title A Cornucopia of Problems was prepared by Jan Visser, Muriel Visser and Ron Burnett for publication in TechTrends. The linked PDF file contains the text as submitted for publication. For reference purposes the published version in TechTrends, Volume 48, Number 2, pages 70-72, should be used.