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CONCEPTUAL CHANGE Un-learning to Re-learn for Understanding © 2012 Jennifer Groﬀ jennifer_groﬀ@mail.harvard.edu
When a new idea is introduced to a learner, it doesn’t just getpoured into their mind like water into a bucket. e new ideais faced with integrating itself into the learner’s personalcognitive landscape.Each person has their own, unique Cognitive Ecology—knowledge, concepts, experiences, schemas, and beliefs thatmakeup what Kenneth Strike and George Posner call a“Semantic Syntactical Network of Concepts.” [Hang onto thatnotion—we’ll come back to it later]. Generally speaking,people don’t let go of aspects of their Cognitive Ecology easily—if a new idea introduced doesn’t fit into their network ofconcepts easily (known as ‘assimilation’), then the individualmust alter their network of concepts in order to fit this newidea into it (or ‘accommodate’ it). It’s kinda like having atypical two-story home and saying you want to put an indoorpool in the middle of it—successfully doing so isn’t like justadding a wing onto the house, instead you’d have to takeapart the whole thing and rebuild it in a new way.As a result, a person’s current Cognitive Ecology will influencetheir production of a new conception.
For all these reasons, it’s critical to identify the learner’s current Cognitive Ecology before introducing a new conceptual model. Doing so will allow the instructional designer to strategically create an instructional experience (or cognitive journey) for the learner, which increases its chances exponentially of producing a conceptual change. How can you unearth a learner’s Cognitive Ecology? ere’s numerous things you can look to elicit which will give you a sense of the individuals beliefs and conceptions: • Exemplars & Images - can they explain for you an example of what they think, or draw an image of their ideas? • Analogies & Metaphors - can they come up with a metaphor or analogy that demonstrates what they believe? • Past Experiences - can they talk about their past experiences that have led to their current conceptions? • Anomalies - Are there parts of their conception that they can tell don’t quite “add up” in their head? • Other Knowledge - Do they hold other conceptions, that relate to or interact with the one you are concerned with, that might inhibit the acceptance of a new conception?ese are just some of the things to look for and expose in the learner’s current Cognitive Ecology. © 2012 Jennifer Groﬀ jennifer_groﬀ@mail.harvard.edu
To leverage a Conceptual Change, you must create in the learnerdissatisfaction with their current conception, by presenting themconflicting and/or alternative ideas. A good instructional hook willget them to engage in your cognitive journey. © 2012 Jennifer Groﬀ jennifer_groﬀ@mail.harvard.edu
As the instructional designer, your job is to shakethat foundation by creating an experience for themthat generates internal dissatisfaction with theircurrent conception.e neat thing about these instructional experiencesis that they can often expose current conceptions, ifyou weren’t able to decipher them easily before this.What does these instructional experiences need tolook like? e general answer is they need to makethe learner unhappy with their previous conception—which of course will likely be specific to the conceptyou are driving at. However, there are certain thingsyou can strive for. © 2012 Jennifer Groﬀ jennifer_groﬀ@mail.harvard.edu
• EXPOSE current weaknesses in their current conception• create an outright ANOMALY in the mind of the learner—one of the most powerful ways of leveraging dissatisfaction. Is there an experience you can create for the learner that will leave their current conception coming up short?• a NEW EXPERIENCE that is unlike anything they’ve had before can open new cognitive channels for the learner, thereby fitting better into their overall ‘Semantic Syntactical Network of Concepts”. © 2012 Jennifer Groﬀ jennifer_groﬀ@mail.harvard.edu
NOTE: Although ANOMALIES are one of the most powerful mechanisms for leveraging cognitive dissonance, they don’t come easily. Providing the learner with an anomaly leaves their conceptual ecology on very shaky ground. Changing their cognitive ecology to accommodate the anomaly is the most diﬃcult of the learner’s options—it’s much easier for the learner to just reject what they experienced, disregard the experience as irrelevant, or just try to compartmentalize their knowledge so that the new beliefs they are forming do not interact with their prior conceptions. In order for the anomaly to successfully do its job, the learner must: 1. understand why the experience produced an anomaly 2. believe they must reconcile this experience with their previous conceptions 3. have the desire to put the cognitive work into doing this 4. fail at attempts to assimilate the new knowledge It may seem daunting, but the good news is that there is extensive research showing the cognitive dissonance is a powerful mechanism, and many learners will seek to reconcile disconnects in conceptions in order to relieve this dissonance. © 2012 Jennifer Groﬀ jennifer_groﬀ@mail.harvard.edu
Now that the learner’s conceptual foundation is on shaky groundand they seek to re-concretize their conceptual ecology, you canhelp them build the bridge to new conceptions. Presenting the newconception will be successful if that bridge consists of 2 parts: • Minimal Understanding of the new conception, and • Initial Plausibility of the new conception © 2012 Jennifer Groﬀ jennifer_groﬀ@mail.harvard.edu
For minimal understanding, the learner must be given a frameworkthey can digest, or can construct this framework on their own.Metaphors and analogies are useful tools in this area, as theyprovide a familiar onramp for an unfamiliar concept. © 2012 Jennifer Groﬀ jennifer_groﬀ@mail.harvard.edu
For Initial Plausibility, the new concept must at least appear tointegrate with their overall semantic network and consistent withother theories, knowledge, and prior experiences they hold.Additionally, the new concept must appear to resolve the anomaly.It also helps if the new conceptions appears analogous to anotherconception to which the learner is already familiar. © 2012 Jennifer Groﬀ jennifer_groﬀ@mail.harvard.edu
If the learner is willing and able to go this far on thecognitive journey, they are in good position to beginto build a new foundation for their conception.Continued instructional experiences and learningopportunities designed for the new conceptual modelwill result in the building, assimilation, andconcretization of the new conceptual model. By beingable to fit this new conceptual model into theirSemantic Syntactical Network of Concepts, thelearner is likely to have a strong and enduringConceptual Ecology. © 2012 Jennifer Groﬀ jennifer_groﬀ@mail.harvard.edu
REVIEW © 2012 Jennifer Groﬀ jennifer_groﬀ@mail.harvard.edu
REVIEW © 2012 Jennifer Groﬀ jennifer_groﬀ@mail.harvard.edu