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
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.
THE BOOK OF PROBLEMS
(or what we don't know about learning)
Proposal for a Workshop with Interactive
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
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
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) Divid 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
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 &
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),
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),
Ulam, S. M. (1991). Adventures
of a mathematician. Berkeley, CA: University of California
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.
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
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.
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
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,
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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 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.
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.
Learning Development Institute & Florida
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
Yusra Laila Visser
Learning Development Institute & Florida
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.
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.
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
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,
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"
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"
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
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
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?
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.
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).
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).
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).
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
Merleau-Ponty, M. (1968). The
visible and the invisible. Evanston, Il: Northwestern University
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,
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
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.
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).
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,
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
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,
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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?
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
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.
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.)
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Are there reliable means to
identify experts in complex domains? Is doing so a worthwhile
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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,
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
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.
1- Digital citizenship and
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
(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.
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
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
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,
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 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),
Hacker, F., & Van Dijk, J.
(2001). Digital democracy: Issues of theory and practice. London:
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.
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,
Van Dellen, A., Blakemore, C., Deacon, R., York, D., & Hannan,
A. J. (2000). Delaying the onset of Huntington's in mice. Nature,
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 short report on the 2002 meeting
of members of the Book of Problems Community of Scholars in Dallas,
TX, was produced in the form of an article on "Talking
about the unknown" for the special issue of TechTrends
on the Dallas convention. The published version of the article
(to be used for reference purposes), authored by Jan Visser and
Muriel Visser, can be found in TechTrends, Volume 47, Number
1, pages 5-8.
a follow-up to the above mentioned initial activities that took
place in the framework of the AECT International Conference in
2002 in Dallas, Texas, a second workshop took place at the 2003
AECT International Conference
from 22 to 25 October, 2003, in Anaheim, California. In addition
to continuing the explorations started a year earlier, the focus
of the workshop was more specifically on the question of how
to operationalize the ongoing development of the Book of Problems.
The workshop was followed by a special 120-minute panel session
that aimed at - and successfully resulted in - extending the
dialogue beyond the group of workshop participants to the conference
attendees at large. The following members of the BOP community
(listed alphabetically) contributed to this process: Ron Burnett,
Leon Lederman, Michael Spector, James Spohrer, Jan Visser, Muriel
Visser, and Yusra Visser.
other matters, it was decided during the Anaheim workshop to
move ahead regarding a proposed multiple-author book - likely
to be published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates - to serve as
a companion volume to the dynamically developing Web-based BOP
initiative. A collective generative framework, to be developed
initially by a small subset of the BOP community, will serve
to generate the various chapters. The book is intended to expound
visionary frames of reference for the development of human learning
and to inspire research that relates to such development.
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.