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Learning theories intro

  1. 1. J M U L e a r n i n g & Te a c h i n g P r e s s volume 4 issue 1Learning through research:an introduction to the main theories of learningMartyn Stewart Learning Development UnitAt a glance: This article aims to introduce the reader to some of the key concepts arising out of this research. Naturally, given limited space for such a# There is no single, simple explanation for how people learn. vast topic only a brief outline can be presented, but the intention is to This article provides an overview of the main groups of learning provide a feel for the varieties in approach to research and outline the theories. range of key findings along with their implications for teaching.# Different perspectives are highlighted to provide a flavour of how this complex topic has been treated through research. THE APPLIANCE OF SCIENCE# For each group of theories, the practical implications for Behaviourist Research teaching are described. Learning has been studied throughout history, largely focussed on philosophical debates he propensity for learning and adaptation is one of the about the nature of consciousness andT defining attributes of our species: learning is the very essence of being human. Whether we are conscious of itor not, we are actively learning every day and we have been reference to inner thoughts about what it was like to learn (see Palmer, 2001 for an overview). From the early 20th Century,since the day we were born. Furthermore, each person reading however, the advancement of science into the field of learningthis will likely be involved in enabling or supporting learning in behaviour brought a new objective approach based on systematicothers, and will have their own experiences and viewpoints on observation and experimentation under conditions wherewhat appears to lead to effective learning and what does not. variables were controlled. This research was focussed on compiling empirical evidence to establish facts and to construct theories thatBut what does formal research into the processes of learning tell us? demonstrated reliability and predictability.What is effective learning? Knowledge that persists in the mind?Competency in practical skills and mental approaches to problem- Much of this research, referred to as ‘behaviourist’ research becausesolving? Transforming the way a person perceives the world around of its focus on observed behaviours during experimentation, involvedthem? Helping to build an individual’s belief that they can go out there the investigation of animal learning behaviour. Pavlov’s experimentsand make a difference? with dogs and the discovery of learning by association is the most famous example. Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist studying theAnd for those of us who teach or support the learning of others, what digestive system of dogs, noted during the course of his repeatedstrategies are most successful in maximising the effectiveness of experiments (1906) that the dogs began to salivate in anticipation ofthat learning? Clearly structured, integrated and effectively communi- food arriving. Pavlov recognised the significance of this in that itcated subject matter? Using assessment appropriately and providing meant that the dogs were learning to associate food with the sight oftimely feedback? Inspiring interest in the subject? Creating opportu- the oncoming researcher. He conducted more systematicnities for hands-on experience? Taking an interest in students and experiments and taught the dogs to associate food with new,helping to build confidence and self belief? unrelated stimuli such as the sound of bells.The science and nature of learning has been studied since classical Theories arising out of behaviourist researchtimes, and this article presents an outline of the key advances of thepast century that guide the design of learning activities today. Classical conditioning: One of the key findings of behaviouristAlthough referred to as theories it is perhaps more apt to consider the research is the principle of learning by association, as in the case ofprinciples outlined here as descriptions of different aspects of a highly Pavlov’s experiments and illustrated in Figure 1. This type of learningcomplex phenomenon, rather than conflicting theories whose describes how we come to associate two stimuli and thereforeintention was to provide definitive answers to how we learn. In each anticipate events. This automatic associative learning, which whencase, the implications of these theories for the practical design of repeated becomes imprinted in the memory is referred to as classicalteaching and learning strategies are outlined. conditioning.The landscape of research into learningFor those unfamiliar with learning theory, the ‘landscape’ of researchin this field will seem highly complex because human learning andthe factors that shape learning have been studied from a wide rangeof perspectives. Learning has been researched scientifically bypsychologists and biologists in terms of how we, as biologicalorganisms record new information, recall and process this, and howwe mature through different levels of sophistication in the ways thatwe think. Learning has been studied by educators, social scientists,humanistic psychologists and sociologists in terms of pedagogy,personal development and peer, emotional, ethical and culturalinfluences. More widely, learning and education have been Figure 1: Illustration of classical conditioning. A scenario where a romanticinvestigated in terms of philosophy, policy, politics and economics. episode creates a feeling of happiness. This episode occurs in a setting where pan-pipe music is commonly played and the two are subconsciously associated.As a result of being treated from such a variety of research paradigms a This association means that in future, hearing pan-pipe music is likely to jog happy feelings or memories.wide range of methodologies have been employed, ranging from thepure experimental and scientific to phenomenological and subjective.6 Learning Development Unit
  2. 2. Spring 2004 J M U L e a r n i n g & Te a c h i n g P r e s sClassical conditioning forms a major part of our everyday learning and Influenced by early behaviourist principles, educationalthe shaping of our perceptions. It explains many situations, say programmes were characterised by the following features:where we come to develop a fear of spiders from repeated exposure # A teacher-centred approach where the content, delivery andto associated negative emotions we see in others or in the media; we design of learning activities were in the control of the teacherare not born with an innate fear of spiders. The principle is heavilyexploited in the advertising industry, establishing repeated associations # A carefully designed course structure with clearly definedbetween a product and positive imagery. objectives and target learning outcomesOperant conditioning: One of the most influential figures of # Use of trial and error exercisesbehaviourism was B.F. Skinner (1904 - 1990). Skinner famouslyconducted experiments with rats in puzzle boxes, in which the animal # Use of repetition, rote learning and practice to reinforce skillswas required to perform a task, such as learning to open a door by and memory connectionspushing a bar in order to obtain a reward (food). Further experimentswere designed to shape learning by building on these learnt # Use of incentives, rewards &/or punishment strategiesbehaviours (‘carrot & stick approach’), # A step-by-step attainment of learning outcomes # Programmed learning (e.g. computer-based courses where students work at their own pace and need to successfully complete one stage before moving on to the next). Conditioning and associative learning principles are manifest also in our everyday teaching experience. For example: # Some students who have previously performed poorly in earlier schooling may lack self-belief; i.e. they have been conditioned by previous negative experiences of education. # Practical skill training, say for techniques of data collection or use of technical apparatus, is fine-tuned through repetition and continued exposure.Figure 2: Operant conditioning. The shaping of behaviour through positive and negative reinforcers. # Information such as historical dates, the periodic table and the geological timescale, for example, are often learned by rote orSuch experiments led to the discovery of another principle of over time through repeated exposure.behavioural learning that we refer to as operant conditioning. Thisstates that an operator can control or shape a learner’s behaviour # Reward strategies to direct good practice or use of feedback totoward a target outcome through a series of positive or direct behaviour are common examples.negative reinforcers: rewards, punishments or removal ofnegative experiences (Figure 2). The principles arising from this research were very influential and applied heavily in education programmes in the early 20th century.Implications of early behaviourist researchto the practice of teaching Criticisms of teaching basedThese studies have shown how learning occurs by processes of on early behaviourist principlesenvironmental conditioning, through connecting acts with outcomes, The behaviourist school wanted to move away from talking aboutthrough trial-and-error learning, and through imprinting on memory what the experience of learning felt like and to apply scientificthe repeated exposure to associated experiences. They also showed methodology to establish factual evidence about the process andthat learning principles apply across species and illustrated how mechanics of learning. This required an objective, empirical andexternal influences could shape behaviour The fact that subjects’ quantitative approach to generate theories whose findings werelearning could be shaped and directed through a teacher’s intervention generalisable and replicable. This placed the researcher in theleft a great legacy in teaching of the age. One of the key pioneers of position of observer, measurer and analyst, standing back from thethe behaviourist school, John B. Watson famously commented in subject under investigation to look for general patterns of behaviour.1924: Although this led to enormous leaps Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own forward in our understanding of specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take learning processes, the strictness any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist of the methodologies also proved a limitation. Firstly, focussing on the www.cartoonstock.com I might select - doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, generation of generalisable theories penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his tended to make the researcher view the mind of the subject as a blank ancestors. template onto which knowledge and I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the experience could be imprinted. advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years. * At their worst interpretation, these principles led to an authoritarian, content-based view of learning where students were seen to be empty vessels to be filled with knowledge (Figure 3 & cartoon).* Although this claim highlights his belief in the significance of controlledconditioning, to an extent his statement was intended as hyperbole to drawattention to the steadfastness of his opponents in their positioning. learningdevelopment@livjm.ac.uk 7
  3. 3. J M U L e a r n i n g & Te a c h i n g P r e s s volume 4 issue 1 Jean Piaget and constructivism The most well-known of these researchers is the former Swiss biologist, and later child psychologist Jean Piaget (1896 - 1980). He pointed out that the thinking of children often seems illogical to adults, and studied how thinking patterns changed during growth. Piaget proposed that the thought processes of children matured, and they developed different ways of perceiving, interpreting and gaining meaning at different stages of growth. Through observations, analysis of dialogue and simple perception and memory tests, he identified a sequence of cognitive levels through which children Figure 3: Multi-channel pipettes filling identical vials with the appeared to progress as they mature. The implications of this for same substance: an analogy to illustrate how critics teaching in schools were profound, meaning that there was little viewed behaviourist approaches to teaching. point in teaching certain levels of complexity, reasoning or abstraction until childrens’ minds had developed an appropriate level ofThe teacher was perceived to be the owner of knowledge, and the sophistication able to deal with it. These ideas led Einstein tostudents as passive recipients of this, almost as raw materials to be comment that Piaget’s discovery “was so simple, only a genius couldmoulded by the teacher, so there existed moral issue too. have thought of it”.There also existed the danger that, adhering closely to these principles Piaget identified 4 major stages of cognitive development in children.would lead to a belief that, because learning outcomes have been The earliest stage, that he proposed lasted from birth to approximatelyachieved, the education programme had been a success. Techniques 2 years, was characterised by reflex activities and then progressivelylike rote learning are effective at achieving results in the short term, more purposeful activities, but the child performs these actionsbut the long term effectiveness is certainly questionable. Does without thinking about doing so. The second stage, from ages 2 to 7repetition and association alone lead to sophisticated understanding is characterised by symbolic activity (e.g. dolls represent people),and an ability to think critically? egocentricism (e.g. sitting in front of the television unaware that they are blocking the view of others), and centring attention on only oneSecondly, many psychologists saw the use of purely scientific methods aspect of a problem. During Piaget’s third stage (7-11) thinkingand the generalisation of findings from experiments based on animal becomes less egocentric and more organised, symbolic and linked tosubjects to understanding the complexity of human learning as concrete experiences. There is also strong development of logicalsomewhat naïve. Dealing only with observable sense data meant that operations (classifying, serialising). Finally, the fourth stageinternal mental processing and more ‘fuzzy’ concepts like thinking (12 upwards) is characterised by logical and systematic reasoningwere not considered as they could not be measured objectively. Only and the ability to develop hypotheses without being based onthe external behavioural manifestation of thinking could be concrete experience.measured. How could we study learning without reference tomentalistic acts like thinking? They asked, ‘surely we are more than This approach we now refer to as ‘cognitive constructivism’. Centralthe sum of our behaviours?’ to the idea of constructivism is the notion that the maturing brain develops concepts; flexible frameworks into which we assimilate experience. Piaget referred to these conceptual frameworks, or bundles of memory, experience and understanding as ‘schemas’.THE MYSTERIOUS MIND Figure 4, below , illustrates on the left how a toddler may develop aCognitivist & Related Research schema for the concept ‘dog’; in their simple understanding, a living ‘thing’ with 4 legs and a furry body.From the 1920s, psychologists and educators had started toquestion the validity of omitting these crucial mentalisticdimensions from the study of learning purely on the basis theywere unseen and thus unobservable. This school of psychologistswe now refer to as cognitivists.They argued for a need to place more emphasis on the keyquestions not answered through behavioural experiments and theirprinciples. Questions like: Figure 4: The development of schemata# Why does a 5 year old think differently from a 55 year old? As the child grows, sees more animals (‘dogs’) and hears more associations between visual images and names, the existing concept# What of ‘higher order’ thinking, such as moral and ethical of ‘dog’ will need to restructure for these new experiences to be development? assimilated. ‘Dog’ now becomes the specific canine animal, with other schemata for the different animal-forms developing (as shown# What about the different strategies that individuals adopt to in Figure 4, right). By adulthood a person will have developed solve problems? countless classifications and schemata for everything from peeling an orange to sophisticated concepts like love and anger.# How do we go from memorising or associating facts to the generation of new ideas and reasoning? Piaget’s key argument and criticism of behaviourist research is that we can only understand how to improve education once weTheir approach focussed on how we store, retrieve and process understand how we deal with information mentally:information, how we develop cognitively and how we assimilate “To present an adequate notion of learning one must firstnew experiences to make sense of the world. Researching these explain how the individual manages to construct and invent,issues required a less rigid reliance on pure scientific experimentation. not merely how he repeats and copies.” 8 Learning Development Unit
  4. 4. Spring 2004 J M U L e a r n i n g & Te a c h i n g P r e s sHe continued that when we do so, we start to realize that the There are a numerous studies that focus on how active experienceprocess of learning involves active construction, and by implication, fits into a cycle of learning, foremost amongst which are Lewinlearning as an activity should be active itself, not the passive (1948) and Kolb (1984). David Kolb proposed a cyclical model ofreceiving of secondary knowledge. experiential learning that involves 4 stages linked in a progressive upward spiral (Figure 5). The cycle begins where (1) the learner has a “Children have real understanding only of that which they concrete experience, something that (2) makes them take notice, invent themselves, and each time that we try to teach them analyse and reflect on the implications of this observation. There something too quickly, we keep them from reinventing it follows (3) a stage of theorising to understand and explain the themselves.” scenario (referred to as abstract conceptualisation) and a following stage where this theory is tested in practice, leading onto (1) a newPiaget’s work has been criticised on the basis of generalising on small concrete experience.sample sizes and case studies, seeing development as occurring indiscrete stages (most educators today see it as a more transitionalprocess) and for assigning cognitive development to physical age.However, the overall contribution made by Piaget to the wider under-standing of learning as a cognitive developmental process has beenof immense influence. In primary and secondary level education thishas lead to the design of learning activities that align with the level ofcognitive development of the child. Through all levels of education,the importance of focussing on how new learning is integrated withlearners’ existing schemata is highlighted.Other cognitive developmental theoristsMost cognitivists developed theories based on human development. www.cartoonstock.comKohlberg (1986) developed a stage theory for moral development,suggesting that an individual passes from an early stage of ‘stickingto the rules’ through to later stages of following their own principlesregardless of whether or not they conflict with laws. Lev Vygotsky(1962, 1978) highlighted the influence of culture and language andthe influences of human intervention on a learners development. Research into cognitive diversityVygotsky also highlighted the importance of recognising the potential and learning preferenceof a person to develop, and of identifying an individual’s zones A major strand of research in psychology has focussed on the natureof current capabilities and potential for improvement. Basically, left of differences in individuals’ cognitive style or preferred approach toto their own devices a person may get so far but with a degree of learning.intervention and ‘scaffolding’ support that individual could achievemore. He argued that it is within this zone of potential that learning First, the concept of intelligence is difficult to define. Gardner (1983,activities should be focussed. 1993) argues that there are multiple intelligences of which individuals will possess different types in varying degrees. These intelligencesExperiential learning include linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, and interpersonal intelligence amongst many others. In contrast, Sternberg (1985,American philosopher and educator John Dewey (1859 - 1962) was a 1996) conceives intelligence not so much as phenomena that can bekey figure in highlighting the importance of students’ experience in measured by psychometric tests but as the success with which anthe role of education and recognising that no two individuals share individual selects, adapts to, and shapes the real-world environmentthe same past experience. In order to understand how to design through the integration of various practical, analytical and creativeeffective learning programmes, he argued, we need to understand skills.how people have the experiences that they do. Rather than achievinglearning in terms of outcomes, it would be better achieved as a Second, it is clear that individuals will adopt markedly differentprocess, a continuous process that is grounded in experience. strategies for doing the same thing. For example, some may preferEncouraging learners to reflect on experience through active learning to plan a project by going out for a walk for inspiration while othersshould be a key process. will bury themselves in books. Riding & Rayner (1998) have critically reviewed the wide range of studies into individual cognitive style and learning preference and concluded that the findings of this collective research could be grouped into two dimensions, as illustrated in figure 6. An Analyst-Wholist dimension: This describes two end-member ways in which a person may deal with information or a concept. An ‘analyst’ would tend to break information into constituent parts and deal with these separately. In contrast, a ‘wholist’ would tend to deal with a concept as a complete entity. A Visualist-Verbaliser dimension: This describes two end-member ways in which a person thinks – in images or in words. The majority of learners will be multi-modal rather than fall into any one of these distinct categories. But the value of this research is that it can identify where an individual sits and allow the teacher to reflect Figure 5: David Kolb’s cycle of experiential learning. on their own style and consider whether this is at odds with the way the students in their class learn. learningdevelopment@livjm.ac.uk 9
  5. 5. J M U L e a r n i n g & Te a c h i n g P r e s s volume 4 issue 1 Figure 6: Figure 7: End-member Blocks of Inca-worked stone categories of seamlessley blended onto acognitive style natural granite bedrock (Riding & foundation, Temple of the Sun, Rayner, 1998) Machu Picchu, Peru. A metaphor for constructivist principlesAn interesting extension of this might be the relationship betweenlearning preferences and subject disciplines. Are architects morevisual and linguists verbal, for example, or does a complete range of Based on research into cognitive development and constructivistpreferences and styles exist in these discipline cohorts? Simple principles, an educational programme would be strongly flavoured by:inventories are available from these studies to allow a reader to applythese studies to their own class. Examples include: # A strong focus on active exploration to develop existing and new schemata, through use of strategies such as # VARK: http://www.vark-learn.com/english/index.asp # Project work / exploration / hands-on research # Honey & Mumford: http://www.peterhoney.com/main/ # Active practical or laboratory workResearch into variations in understanding # Problem-based learning / active simulation of real-world problemsSwedish educationalists Marton and Säljö developed a qualitativeresearch methodology that explored the subjectively different ways # Work-based learningthat people experience the same phenomenon. They applied this # A focus not just on the product of student thinking but onapproach (called phenomenography and based on interviewing the processsubjects and analyzing the dialogue) to the ways that students read # Strategies that encourage students to be aware and reflect onbooks, and distinguished between ‘surface’ approaches where the existing understandings and new learning (e.g. reflective logs orstudents were reading simply to memorise facts to gain sufficient diaries, ‘ideas’ workbooks or simply writing down developingknowledge to pass a test, and ‘deep’ approaches, where the reader ideas in existing lab-books, field note-books etc)was concerned with understanding the meanings of the text. # Assigning equal emphasis to all of the stages of the learningFrom the mid 1980s this approach has been applied widely across cycle (e.g. in project work).the Higher Education sector (e.g. Prosser et al, 1994) and has proved # Emphasising learning-to-learn skills, critical thinking,valuable and highly relevant because it is grounded directly in the creativity / explorationhigher education setting, unlike many other theories that have beendrawn from general studies in psychology and applied to education. # Using group-work to explor the perceptions of othersMore recent manifestations of phenomenography are primarily through active discussion and debateconcerned with identifying how many different levels of understanding # A focus on recognising and developing potentialthe students within a particular class take from a concept or reading,and then the teacher reflecting on how his or her teaching may be # Providing ‘scaffolding’ to support development within amodified to ensure all students reach a deeper level. person’s zone of potential. This includes directing attention to new parts of the problem and helping with the sequencing of activities before gradually removing supportImplications of findings from cognitivist and # Using group-work and collaboration with students of differentconstructivist research to the practice of teaching levels of performance to aid one anotherThe main contribution of this research is the view that learners are # Providing opportunities for students to express and developnot passive, empty vessels into which we can pour secondary creativityknowledge & experience. Individuals possess different cognitivestyles, will have different perceptions and understandings of the # Recognition and awareness of individual differencessame phenomenon and different levels of background knowledge. # Being aware that students from different backgrounds and cultures will have different schemata (constructed understandings)The key implication is that learning is most effective if the learner is # Identifying the teacher’s own learning / teaching preferenceactively involved in the primary construction of understanding. For (e.g. using a study-styles inventory) and if polarised into anthe teacher, the importance is recognising that this construction extreme type, modifying teaching style to include variety tooccurs onto an existing foundation of knowledge, understandings and cater for individual differencesbeliefs, a foundation that differs from individual to individual.Therefore exploration of the links between the existing and the new # Helping students to identify and exploit particular cognitiveis paramount (Figure 7). styles or learning preference # Acknowledging that the memory can only take so muchThis emphasis on individual difference is also important in the context in one goof recognising potential and designing and supporting activities thathelp the individual realise this - the role of the teacher gradually # Avoiding overloading the student with too much informationletting go to allow the individual to realise their own capability. An and making good use of early parts of sessions when theimportant implication is to help the learner become aware of their attention is freshthinking, reflect on existing understandings and how new ideas form # Helping memory connectivity by clearly linking new material towith the learning of new material, and to help them take control of existing knowledgetheir learning & thinking strategies (metacognition). # Reinforcing memory using frequent summaries10 Learning Development Unit
  6. 6. Spring 2004 J M U L e a r n i n g & Te a c h i n g P r e s s Box 1 outlines some more group concepts, many of which we wouldTHE SOCIAL SCENE know as peer pressure. Peer pressure, or the pressure to conform is another major aspect of social learning. Turner (1991) argued that weResearch into Social Learning may often feel pressured into imitating others because of a range of Behaviourist, cognitivist and related research has factors: we lack self confidence in our decisions when faced with received criticism from social psychologists and opposition, we feel uncomfortable standing out, and/or we get sociologists for focusing on how individuals learn. carried along with the collective thinking of a group having Instead, they argued, we rarely learn in isolation and established an identity within it. therefore must focus attention on the effects and influences of social and cultural interaction, which Situated Learning can have a profound impact. Lave & Wenger (1991) argued that learning should be regarded not so much in terms of being educated as part of a formal programme,They also pointed to what is sometimes referred to as the ‘hidden but as a largely social act that occurs in everyday life. When viewedcurriculum’, the benefits of learning that include forming relations in this way, they suggest it involves the process of engaging withwith others, developing communication, negotiation and debating ‘communities of practice’. A community of practice refers to theskills, developing empathy with others, a sense of community and differing situated contexts in which an individual experiences learning.appreciation of others’ viewpoints. For example, consider a typical student. He or she will likely be a member of:Research into the social side of learning has explored numerousdimensions: the way that an individual’s approach to learning is # A project group within a programme moduleinfluenced by the presence of others, the way we adapt in different # The wider programme cohortsocial contexts, and the socially constructed nature of knowledge. # The family homeThe research methodologies employed in this research have variedfrom objective, controlled group experiments and observations to # A hall of residence communityqualitative methodologies such as interviewing, ethnographic and # A sports clubphenomenological studies. # The workforce in a part-time or seasonal jobIndividual behaviour within group settingsMuch research into social aspects of learning has focussed on howan individual’s performance or approach to learning is influenced bythe presence of others. Research into compliance considered thosestrategies that an individual employs to encourage others to complywith a request. Brehm & Kassin (1996), for example, have reasonedthat people are more likely to comply under favourable conditions:when they are taken by surprise, when the request soundsreasonable, when the person feels indebted to the requester, orwhen that person feels guilty about refusing an earlier, larger request. Figure 8: Situated learning - becoming established in a community of practice.Box 1: Group learning concepts Lave & Wenger argue that their learning is situated in each of these distinct contexts and that success in any one of these is a function Social facilitation / inhibition: The tendency of how well that individual fits in and learns to become competent in for an individual’s performance to be strengthened that context. To illustrate, consider the characteristics of any one of or inhibited due to the pressure of performing in these communities, for example, a student joining a sports club. front of an audience. There will be characteristic features of that social environment: # Shared activities and interests Social loafing: # Collective motivation to move forward The total being less than sum of it’s parts. # Club motto and style tradition The tendency for individual input to be reduced when working in a team. # A particular structure through which advancement is possible # Technical language used # Club rules and regulations De-individuation: # Home & symbols The phenomenon whereby an individual acts out-of-character when carried along They explain how the individual enters this community at the on a bandwagon periphery (Figure 8) with the aim of gradually moving towards the centre as s/he becomes an established member with increasing competency (however competency is defined in that setting). Their key point is that, rather than acquire structures or construct models Group polarisation: to understand the world, as implied by research described earlier, we Viewpoints tend to become more polarised participate within and adapt to frameworks that already possess and extreme following debate structure. The implication therefore is that we should refocus emphasis on the social process to consider: Group-think: ‘Decisions designed by committee’. # How do we become active participants in these communities ? A phenomenon occurring in group situations where # Are there barriers to entry poor-decision making occurs. Group-think describes the scenario where the desire to maintain harmony # How do we develop identities within these communities? exceeds that to reach an ideal, albeit unpopular, “The purpose is not to learn through talk but to learn to talk solution. to legitimise their position in a community”. Lave & Wenger learningdevelopment@livjm.ac.uk 11
  7. 7. J M U L e a r n i n g & Te a c h i n g P r e s s volume 4 issue 1Criticisms of situated learning THE RIGHT CLIMATEExcessive application of this philosophy has been criticised alongseveral lines. First, in the context of employee professional Humanistic Researchdevelopment where these principles are often applied, the value offormal education is downplayed in favour of the real-life workplace as Other schools of thought have been critical of thea learning environment. This causes tensions with those who try to way that learning has been treated throughpromote the value of lifelong learning and an expansive approach to research and have rejected the notion that humansapprenticeship by opening access to learning at formal educational are simply biological objects to which everythinginstitutions, say through part-time study. Second, it presumes that can be explained by networks of causes. They ask:communities of practice are reasonably stable and the learner adapts ‘What about being human, dealing with phenomenato a structured, self-contained environment. Critics point to the fact such as freedom, choice, and meaningfulness ofthat we live in a world of increasing change where such communities existence?’are unstable, evolve rapidly, and within which membership is highlymobile. It has also been argued that the process of crossing Humanist psychologists emphasise peoples’ inherent potential forboundaries between these situated communities in itself provides a self-fulfilment. They try to direct attention away from mechanisticstimulus for learning (Engestrom et al. 1995). and environmental conditioning and emphasise the human condition and personal growth. Their perspective is on explorating the self andOther social dimensions to learning: Gender & Culture asking such questions as:Others have questioned the way ideas of learning have been socially # What motivates an individual to succeed?constructed. For example, have psychologists over-generalised with # What are the emotional dimensions to learning?their findings by presuming that cognitive development is common # Where do episodes of frustration, boredom, anxiety, achievementfor men & women, and for people from very different cultural and fulfilment occur and why?’.upbringings? Studies by Gilligan (1982) imply that women find identitymore within relationships and, on issues of moral development, place Such concepts cannot be researched and treated in a conventionalstrong emphasis on a care & responsibility dimension unlike men scientific manner, they argue, but these phenomena are very real andwho tend to emphasise issues of rights. There have also been many any study of learning that ignores these dimensions must paint anstudies comparing cultural influences. Biggs (1996), for example, has incomplete picture.considered differences between the teaching traditions and learning “The concepts of psyche and soul, of course, have longphilosophies in Europe and those Confucian-heritage cultures in east been discarded by a disenchanted science. It is not surprisingAsia (see Jarvis et al. 2003, chapter 8). that many psychologists are now suggesting that it is time for the reenchantment of science.Implications of findings from social learning researchfor teaching practice It is ultimately a matter of integrity and, in conventional scientific terminology, validity. Are we studying somethingAn educational programme strongly influenced by findings of social of value and studying it comprehensively? My common-learning research would likely be characterised by a focus on team- sense definition of the validity of a study is that it must tellbuilding skills, reflecting on those processes that lead to success in the whole truth about an experience. To study with integrityeveryday working life, on emphasising awareness and reflection on the full measure and depth of human experience, even ourthe processes of group interaction, awareness of differences in methodologies must face on the full enormity of being fullyculture, avoiding stereotyping and so on. It might be characterised by human”a focus on: Rosemarie Anderson (1998)# Valuing the real-world as a learning environment and making The basis for research is the exploration of the self; studying learning relevant through simulations and role play phenomena not through the eyes of the researcher but through those of the subject, viewing the real world as they see it. The# Emphasising group-work and collaboration research methodologies employed typically take the form of interviews, case studies or phenomenological first-person accounts.# Exploiting collaboration and valuing networking, communication The aim of this research is less to provide factual evidence to generate and negotiation skills universal laws as in science, but more to explore and illuminate a situation or poorly understood phenomenon. Verification of theories# Building cohesive groups and highlighting management of group is often sought by comparing a narrative with similar accounts by work through establishing unity of purpose, defining individual other researchers. Critics from a scientific tradition might question roles and accountability to negate ‘loafing’ the validity of these case studies on their lack of generality and thus applicability. Those of the humanist tradition would instead maintain# Using group discussion to help foster empathy with others’ and that we are all unique and as such, there can be no general understanding of others’ perceptions explanations or theories of behaviour.# Work-based learning / placements Humanist researchers are thus interested in the reflective analysis of real life experience, i.e. understanding learning as seen by the# Problem-based learning student. They maintain that in order to understand how an individual can fulfill their potential we must see the complete rich picture of the process of learning in all of its cognitive and emotional dimensions. Their belief is one in which we are unique individuals who exercise free will over our behaviour. We choose who we want to be. Clearly the humanist perspective is concerned more with personal development and growth than the mechanics of how we think or acquire knowledge acquisition. 12 Learning Development Unit
  8. 8. Spring 2004 J M U L e a r n i n g & Te a c h i n g P r e s sKey studiesAbraham Maslow and motivation # Provision of choice and control in how an individual goes aboutAbraham Maslow (1908-1970) was a pioneer of the humanist learning (e.g. through strategies like learning agreements,tradition in psychology and at the forefront in directing attention to student-directed learning).the growth potential of people. He developed a theory (1943, 1970) # Encouraging the learner to define their own goals and purposes.stating that humans are motivated by unsatisfied needs and thatonce a need has been satisfied it no longer becomes a motivator. He # An emphasis on reflection strategies and personal developmentidentified a hierarchy of need categories, defining lower order needs # Recognising the importance of emotion factors and providingthat required satisfying prior to that person becoming motivated to supportfulfil higher order needs. From low to high order, these are physiologicalneeds, safety needs, a need to belong and be loved, esteem needs, # Developing a positive, encouraging learning climate where thea need to know and understand, aesthetic needs and finally, highest views of the student are valued and exploredorder being the need to fulfil one’s potential (self actualisation). As a # A focus on the learning process and critical self reflectiontheory of motivation this has great implications for education:if students do not feel that they belong, they will not be motivated # Variety and choice in learning methods and accessibility toto learn for learning’s sake, or ultimately to fulfil their potential. materials and support # Accessibility to plentiful resourcesCarl Rogers and personal growthCarl Rogers is perhaps the most well known ‘father’ of humanisticeducation, psychotherapy and counselling. Like Maslow, he believedthat people possess a natural propensity to learn and to fulfil their SUMMARYpotential. This has major implications for the organisation of education The complexity of learningand the role of the teacher. His theories imply that the teacher shouldnot be there to control and dictate learning but rather to facilitate and The different theories described here relate to general principles ofmake possible learning by creating a climate that is most conducive learning and illustrate how different philosophies for researchingto allowing personal growth. Therefore the role of the teacher is more learning have collided in a search to find ‘The Answer’ to understandingto enable the learner to find the route that is most likely to see them how people learn. Today, however, we tend not to see these studiesfulfil their potential. As well as creating the right climate, the key role and their findings as competing theories but rather descriptions ofof the teacher should be to make clear the purposes of learning, to different aspects of an immensely complex concept (figure 9). Thisensure that the necessary resources are in place, and to comprises more mechanical aspects of the working of the mind inacknowledge and balance the emotional dimensions. terms of memory processing and thinking development (a cognitive domain), and at the other extreme the more emotional dimensions ofMalcolm Knowles and adult learning consciousness (affective domain). There are also individual and socialHumanist principles influenced work on adult learning by the dimensions. In a higher education context there is also the elementforemost adult learning theorist, Malcolm Knowles. He introduced of preparing the student to cope with and contribute to a super-the term ‘andragogy’ to mean adult learning, as distinct from complex world. (e.g. Barnett and Hallam, 1999).pedagogy which usually refers more specifically to the education ofchildren. SocialKnowles (1980) argued that there are key differences in the way thatadults learn compared to children. He suggested that, with increased Affective (Emotional)maturity, adults: Cognitive (Mental) # become more problem-centred, unlike children who are more subject-centred # need to identify why they need to learn something beforehand - it needs relevance # prefer autonomy and to be treated as capable of self-direction # have an enormous resource of experience on which to draw # are more motivated to learn by intrinsic factors (i.e. desire rather than need) Individual # are more task-oriented Figure 9: Dimensions to learning and fields or researchImplications of findings from humanist The challenge of applying research findingsresearch to teaching practice to practiceResearchers of this school might argue that in many strictly struc- This article has focussed on studies that have attempted totured learning environments, or those where there is little variety in understand the learning process and direct educators to thoselearning methodology, some students will be doomed to failure, not strategies most likely to yield high quality learning. In an ideal worldbecause they lack motivation or ability, but because they are not where we could start with a blank sheet to design a brand neweducated in a manner which best suits them. Central to these course informed directly by findings of learning research, a world instudies are the implications of creating the right conditions and which there were no limitations on how courses could be resourced,environment to maximise the likelihood of successful learning taking where tradition and innovation were not in conflict and where learnersplace. Designed with humanist principles in mind, an educational responded in the ways that researchers had predicted they wouldprogramme would be strongly flavoured by: through their studies, we might see curricula that looked very different from those that we are familiar with. learningdevelopment@livjm.ac.uk 13
  9. 9. J M U L e a r n i n g & Te a c h i n g P r e s s volume 4 issue 1In the real world, however, formal learning occurs within an Biggs, J. (1996) Western misperceptions of the Confucian-heritageeducational setting that needs to be responsive and accommodating learning culture, in The Chinese Learner, ed D. Watkins & J. Biggs,of a wide range of needs. Programme design will be constrained or University of Hong Kong Comparative Education Centre, Honginfluenced by curricular structures imposed by institutional policy and Kong.regulations, by limitations in material and staffing resources, byindividual, departmental and / or discipline traditions and by demands Engestrom, Y., Engestrom, R., and Karkkainen, M. (1995)of learners, employers and professional bodies. Last, but by no Polycontextuality and Boundary Crossing in Expert Cognition,means least, students are not perfect plastic learners who respond in Learning and Instruction, Vol. 5, pp 319-336.the way we would necessarily like but real people with different Gardner, H. (1983) Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multipleexpectations, motivations and who have preferences for different Intelligences. New York, Basic Books.learning activities, and many of whom will be strategic and selectiveabout how they go about and engage (or not) in their studies. Gardner, H. (1993) Multiple intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York, Basic Books.The value of research and detailed evaluation therefore, as it is in any Gilligan, C. (1982) In a different voice: Psychological Theory andother context, is that it provides a grounding informed by extensive Womens’ Development, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.investigation to enable us to understand the world around us, in thiscase to shed light on the complex processes and influences that we Honey, P. and Mumford, A. (1982) Manual of Learning Styles,encounter in the act of teaching and enabling student learning. Each P.Honey, London.reader may ‘connect’ with a particular perspective outlined here, Jarvis, P., Holford, J. & Griffin, C. (2003) The theory & practice ofperhaps because of personal philosophy, experience or alignment learning, Second Edition. Kogan Page, London.with one’s own discipline philosophy. Perhaps certain findingsoutwardly, and given the benefit of hindsight, appear common-sense Kohlberg, L. (1986) The philosophy of moral development,or to state ‘the obvious’, but common-sense and intuition alone can Harper & Row, San Francisco.be fallible based on subjective experience. Illumination from findings Kolb, D. (1984) Experiential learning, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.of such studies provide direction for making best use of the situationsand resources available and to design those activities most likely to Knowles, M. (1980) The modern practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy (2nd Edn) Cambridge Book Co. New Yorkyield a high impact in ‘deep’ learning over the long-term. Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning, CambridgeFor more information University Press.There is a growing resource base of accessible literature on formal Lewin, K. (1948) Resolving social conflicts; selected papers onevaluation and research and the University subscribes to many of the group dynamics. Gertrude W. Lewin (ed.). New York: Harper & Row,key HE journals, most of which are available in electronic form (see 1948.the Learning Information Services web-site for full details). Marton, F. & Säljö, R. (1984) Approaches to Learning, in TheAlso there are new opportunities to network and engage in evaluation Experience of Learning, F. Marton, D Hounsell & N Entwistle (Eds),and pedagogic research: Edinburgh, Scottish Academic Press. Maslow, A. H. (1943) A Theory of Human Motivation, Psychological# The Research into Learning and Teaching Forum: research Review 1, pp 370-396. methods workshops, newsletter. Contact the author for futher details. Maslow, A. H. (1970) Motivation & Personality (2nd Ed). New York, Harper & Row.# The proposed Centre for Educational Research and Evaluation: Palmer, J. A. (2001) Ed. Fifty Major Thinkers on Education, London, see page 15 for details. Routledge. Piaget, J. (1932) The moral judgement of the child. New York,Would you like to comment on this article? Harcourt, Brace & World.Any comments on or arising out of this article are welcomed andquestions or comments raised can form the basis for discussion Prosser, M., Trigwell, K. and Taylor, P. (1994) A phenomenographicthrough for a seminar later in the year or an online discussion study of academics’ conceptions of science learning and teaching.(through the Research into Learning and Teaching Forum). Please Learning & Instruction, Vol. 4, pp 217-231.send any comments to the author (details below) Riding, R. & Rayner, S. (1998) Cognitive styles and Learning strategies: Understanding style differences in learning and behaviour. David Fulton Publishers, London.Martyn StewartLearning Development Unit, 2 Maryland Street, Liverpool L1 9DE Sternberg, R.J. (1985) Beyond IQ, New York, Cambridge UniversityM.Stewart@livjm.ac.uk, (0151) 231 3290 Press. Sternberg, R.J. (1996) Successful Intelligence: How practical and creative intelligence determine success in life. New York,References Simon & Schuster Turner, J.C. (1991) Social influence. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.Anderson, R. (1998) Foreward, in R. Valle (Ed), ‘PhenomenologicalInquiry in Psychology: Existential and Transpersonal Dimensions’, Vygotsky, L. (1962) Thought & Language. Cambridge,A. MIT Press.New York, Plenium Publishing Vygotsky, L. (1978) Mind in Society, Harvard University Press,Barnett, R. and Hallam, S. (1999) Teaching for Supercomplexity: a Cambridge MApedagogy for higher education. In P. Mortimore (Ed) Understanding Watson, J.B. (1924) Behaviourism, New York, Norton.pedagogy and its impact on learning. London. Paul ChapmanPublishing. 14 Learning Development Unit

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