Monday, 31 May 2010

TMA02 – Finished at last!

I've just finished TMA02 and I'm so relieved. I found it a really difficult assignment and it's taken me much longer than I was expecting. I've spent most of the weekend on it, and probably a total of two or three days' research and preparatory work prior to that. I think the biggest difficulty I've had is that it really required a lot of personal reflection. I suppose I'm just not used to this type of assignment. In all my previous studies there has never really been this type of work, even in my MSc course which I did about 12 years ago.

I thought TMA01 was challenging but this was one was much harder. I hope that doesn't mean that the remaining assignments are going to be tougher still!

Anyway – now I'm way behind with everything else. I've got exams to mark, and I'm on a job interview panel for three days this week. I haven't even looked at the material for Week 16 yet. The joys of part time study!

Time to mow the lawn now and enjoy what's left of a grey Bank Holiday weekend.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

H800: Weeks 13/14 – Activity 4a – Reading Selwyn (2008)


Reference:
Selwyn, N. (2008) 'An investigation of differences in undergraduates' academic use of the internet',
Active Learning in Higher Education, vol.9, no.11, pp.11–22; also available online at http://learn.open.ac.uk/local/libezproxylink.php?url=http%3A%2F%2Fdx.doi.org%2F10.1177%2F1469787407086744

Key points:
  • The present generation of undergraduate students are digital natives and are completely at ease with the internet.
  • A lot of the literature relating to internet usage in HE is concerned with the potential of the WWW. There is limited research into actual usage patterns.
  • This study was based on a sample of 1222 students, mainly at Cardiff University.
  • The predominant usage of the internet by students is email, social networking, instant messaging, chat etc.
  • Nevertheless, 90% of respondents use the internet some/all of the time for searching information in relation to their studies.
  • There is a small (but not significant) difference between the level of internet usage for studies amongst students who consider themselves expert users and those who consider themselves less competent / novice users.
  • Those students who had private access to a computer were more likely to use the internet for their studies.
  • Female students were more likely to use the internet for their studies
  • There were no significant differences in internet usage for studies in terms of ethnic background, age, educational background or year of study.
  • There were significant differences in terms of subject discipline. The students using the internet least for their studies were those from the creative arts, and from architecture/building/planning
Commentary
The findings in general are not altogether surprising, though a few points deserve closer attention and comment:
  1. Although the paper was published in 2008, the survey was actually carried out during the 2006/7 academic year. It is possible (and even likely) that the same survey carried out now would yield different results. Things are changing very rapidly.
  2. In particular, one of the findings was students who had private access to a computer and internet connection were more likely to use the internet for their studies. I have noticed a significant increase in the number of students who have their own laptop over the past couple of years. One of the reasons for this I think is the major expansion in wireless networking. Students can bring their laptops into university and log on to the university's network wirelessly, and therefore don't have to rely on having access to the university's fixed computing facilities (which has always been a major bone of contention amongst students).
  3. I don't find it surprising that students from the creative arts make less use of the internet for their studies, because much of their output relies on their creativity rather than pure information. Similarly, architecture students, who devote much of their efforts to their design work. It is unfortunate that 'building' gets lumped in with architecture and planning, because building courses are fundamentally different to architecture courses, and rely much more on hard information. I suspect that a more detailed analysis would show that building students' use of the internet is far greater than architecture students. (Incidentally, the subject groupings are based on the categories used by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, so I am not suggesting the author is at fault here).
  4. One final point – Selwyn refers in his discussion to 'subject-based barriers' to students' use of the internet. However, I don't necessarily think there are any barriers as such. If students studying the creative arts don't actually need to use the internet in their studies then this isn't a barrier.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Initial thoughts about TMA02

Although I'm not really up to date with all the activities for Weeks 13 & 14, I'm conscious of the fact that TMA02 is due in on 1st June, which is now just over two weeks away. As I'm going to be really busy at work (mainly marking exams) and I'm going on a field trip for four days from 23rd May, I feel that I really must start thinking about the TMA.

The brief is quite confusing:

From Block 2, choose three activities that have helped you to develop your understanding of:

  • choices that practitioners make about ways of applying technologies for their learners
  • choices that learners make about their own learning, in terms of which technologies they use, why and how.

From my initial look back through Block 2 it's quite hard to select activities that fit the brief and provide sufficient scope to be able to write something worthwhile.

The guidance notes accompanying the brief suggest looking at the learning outcomes at the end of each week and identifying the activities that relate to the relevant learning outcomes, so here are the main options:

 

Relevant Learning Outcomes

Weeks

"Choices that practitioners make about ways of applying technologies...."

"Choices that learners make about their own learning...."

8 and 9

You have explored a range of resources and cases studies; you have looked at how the Cloudworks website might be used to find and share learning and teaching ideas and designs.

 

10

The OER websites you visited present different learning designs and tools.

The activity exploring students' use of blogs.

12

 

Reading the articles by Price et al. (2007) and Richardson (2009) should have encouraged you to think about why different students chose to take courses with online tuition or courses with face-to-face tuition.

13 and 14

 

In Activities 1 and 3 you saw examples of students using particular ICT tools in the context of courses teaching ICT skills. You also saw diverse experiences and personal responses to the challenges of technology as an integral part of course study.

NB: All text in the table is taken from the relevant weeks of the H800 course pages: https://msds.open.ac.uk/students/course.aspx?c=H800_2010B

H800: Weeks 13 & 14 – Activity 3a – Reading vignettes

Vignette A: Student studying an OU Technology Course – CISCO Networking

Vignette B: Student studying a Social Work course – Foundations for Social Practice

In both cases the students are part time and are studying towards a qualification linked directly to their careers.

In Vignette A the student is working in IT so the content of the course is core to his working practice and the way in which the course is delivered requires the student to undertake activities which will specifically develop skills which he will need to carry out his job in the workplace. It is therefore understandable that the student values both the content and the method of delivery.

In Vignette B the student is a social worker. The IT skills she is studying are not the core part of the course – they are generic skills which are considered necessary for her to undertake her role more effectively, and indeed to use in her studies. It is understandable that, even if she recognises the importance of these skills, she will attach a lower value to them than to the core content of the course. She has obviously joined a social work course to develop her career in social work, not to become proficient in IT. Nevertheless, it is clear from the vignette that she does recognise the importance of the skills she has learned, and has appreciated the benefits of doing the course.

In my view there is no longer a debate about whether or not students on courses in higher education should develop IT skills. There is an expectation that all graduates will have highly developed higher education and career management skills, including things like teamworking, communication, presentation, problem-solving and information technology skills. Universities are required to develop skills strategies and each course will be expected to demonstrate how the skills policy is implemented.

I think the overwhelming majority of students would expect their IT skills to be developed as a result of studying at HE level, and would be highly disappointed if they weren't. On the courses I'm involved with about two thirds of the students are part time (day release) students who are all working in the construction industry and its associated professions. Although IT is not their core function they clearly could not function in the workplace without IT skills. Depending on their specific roles these skills will include basic word processing, internet and email, spreadsheets, CAD, project management software, as well as highly specialised packages for cost planning, facilities management, building information modelling and so on. Obviously therefore, our courses have to embed quite significant levels of IT and this will impact on both the design and the delivery of the courses.


 


 

H800: Weeks 13 & 14 – Activities 2b & 2c – LXP/LEX


Based on: Slide presentation
LEX Project Video Clips
I have to confess to being somewhat underwhelmed by the slide presentation, the audio logs (transcripts) and the video clips.

From a data collection point of view the use of recorded audio in itself is hardly an innovation. Qualitative researchers have used voice recordings for decades to gain an insight into peoples' perceptions. It did seem like a good idea to set up a system whereby students could call in and record their views at critical points, but this also raises the question of how representative such views are. As I understand it, students were asked to phone in at intervals with their audio logs. Having had some experience of trying to encourage students to provide feedback through various means, I can imagine how difficult it would be to get regular and reliable data.

Presenting findings in the form of a video clip makes it a bit more engaging than simply reading text, but we have to recognise that the clips are highly edited and obviously professionally produced, so they come across as being more like TV content than credible research findings.

However, the thing which struck me more than anything about this whole research project was that it must have cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to reach a conclusion that students make use of technology in their studies!! In the slide presentation we are provided with a so-called "lovely example" of a student (Jack) using technologies and social networking in new ways which we might never have envisaged. What was this referring to? Jack using his mobile phone to call his friend and ask where the coursework submission sheet could be found on the University's intranet. Wow – earth shattering!! Even the video clips seem to make a big deal about things which are, in reality, the norm for most students at most universities nowadays.

Excuse my cynicism – it's Friday and it's been a long week.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

H800: Weeks 13 & 14 – Activity 2a – Reading Conole et al (2008)

Reference: Conole, G., de Laat, M., Dillon, T. and Darby, J. (2008) 'Disruptive technologies', 'pedagogical innovation': What's new? Findings from an in-depth study of students' use and perception of technology', Computers and Education, vol.50, no.2, pp.511–24; also available online at http://libezproxy.open.ac.uk/ login?url=http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1016/ j.compedu.2007.09.009

When I started reading this paper I think I was expecting it to be about students' perceptions of e-learning in the sense of courses delivered wholly or partially online, or course which make use of cutting-edge technologies. Indeed the introduction to the paper actually makes the point that "the emergence of new forms of mobile, internet and social software technologies, which enable distributed collaboration suggests we are reaching a turning point in the way technology is used for learning."

As it turns out the research is basically concerned with students' use and perceptions of technology in relation to their studies. As such, the focus is largely on fairly well-established technologies including internet searches, word processing, PowerPoint, email, VLEs, instant messaging and so on. There is little consideration of Web 2.0 and social networking.
I didn't really think the findings were surprising. The students who participated in the research were all studying on traditional courses where they would be expected to use the various technologies as tools to help them in their studies. I would expect all students entering HE to have basic competences in the use of these technologies, and I think it is not unreasonable to expect students to use them as an integral part of their studies.

The following points stood out for me:
  • It was apparent from the paper that in most of the courses studied, technology was used as a supplement to a traditional course, rather than as a core part of the course. There were references to e-portfolios on the medical courses, but it seemed that in most cases a VLE was used to store course materials, and students were expected to produce their work using Word and / or PowerPoint. The paper did not therefore consider the perceptions of students who were experiencing a course being delivered wholly or partly online.
  • The benefits in terms of accessibility were highlighted. I think this is a really important aspect of technology – the way in which online access can enable students to engage with course materials at a time and place to suit themselves.
  • It is apparent that students entering HE have different levels of competence in using basic tools such as Word and PowerPoint. Virtually all students will have basic competence but some students will have much more advanced levels of competence. Universities need to consider how they can provide support to those students who need to enhance their skills in these areas. I actually think this is something which can be delivered very easily online, so that those students who need help can follow some basic tutorials, whilst students who are already competent need not undertake the tutorials.
  • Virtually all students who enter HE consider themselves competent in using internet search facilities. However this study (along with other research we have covered previously, such as the CIBER/UCL study) indicates that many students' information skills are not quite as sophisticated as they might think. Again, I think this is something that Universities need to address right at the start of a course by providing support. Online tutorials could also be used for this. (Some of the OpenLearn OER materials could be ideal)

H800: Weeks 13 & 14 – Activity 1b: Reading Salaway et al (2008) and Kennedy et al (2006)

On the face of it both of these studies appear to be looking into similar areas, i.e. the use of ICTs by undergraduate students. However, they are actually quite different in nature and approach.

The Salaway et al. paper seems to be part of an ongoing longitudinal study of undergraduate students' use of IT undertaken by the Educause Center for Applied Research (ECAR). This particular paper presents the findings of the 2008 study. It is based on a large sample (>27,000) of students at American universities and community colleges. Each year the ECAR study gives particular attention to a particular aspect of students' use of ICTs, and the 2008 study focused on social networking sites (SNSs) such as Facebook.

The Kennedy et al. paper describes a proposal for a project to investigate how various ICTs can be successfully used within higher education. The proposal recognises that most students entering higher education are very familiar with a whole range of tools but suggests that many universities are not necessarily equipped to deliver courses in a way which exploits this. The study is based at various institutions in Australia.

A key distinction is that the Salaway paper is part of a large ongoing study, whereas the Kennedy paper is just a proposal. Therefore, the former is obviously able to present lots of findings based on hard data, whereas the latter refers mainly to an intended approach. Another obvious difference is location, but the context for both studies is similar, i.e. undergraduate students in Universities in 'Western' countries. One would expect the ICT experience and competence of students entering HE in both countries to be broadly similar. Both studies recognise that for students of the 'Net Generation' these ICTs are ubiquitous. Students don't necessarily view them with wonder and they are not in awe of them. They are part of everyday life, both for their social lives and for their studies.

There is recognition in both studies that SNSs are actively embraced by students. However, the findings highlighted in the Salaway et al paper seem to suggest that the primary use of Facebook and the like is for communication with friends and family ("staying in touch") and that although there clearly are examples of students using Facebook to communicate with other students about their studies, these tend to be in the minority. Furthermore, this use of Facebook tends to be outside the requirements of the course.

I suppose that the question which emerges from this is whether the power of Facebook can be harnessed to greater effect within education. I think there are at least two reasons why Facebook is not more widely used. In the first instance, it could be argued that some of the tools which are already widely used in education (such as VLEs, discussion forums and other platforms) provide the main facilities offered by Facebook. If that's the case then it is understandable that educational institutions won't rush to embrace Facebook when everything is already available. Another relevant point relates to control. Young people use Facebook so widely because they have complete control over who they connect with, what they say, how they present themselves, and so on. Any attempt by a University to hijack Facebook as a study tool could actually backfire, because students might view it as an institution encroaching on their personal domain. I only have conjectural evidence to support this view, having occasionally discussed this matter with my students and with my own teenage children.

Having said that I feel that there must be ways of exploiting the potential of SNSs to greater effect in education, and I'm sure that with a bit of imagination, an effective approach could be found.

H800: Week 13 & 14 Activity A1a: A vision of students today

Mike Wesch's VideoA vision of students today

I have seen this video before – I think someone posted a link to it in a discussion forum back in Week 5, when we considered Wesch's other videos.

Personally I think the video is excellent, and I have previously emailed the link to several colleagues. I think it contains a very powerful message and is presented in a succinct way. It certainly has more impact in this format than it would in a purely text-based presentation.

The central message I take from the video is that students do engage with learning materials in different ways nowadays whether teachers like it or not. They have access to information from a much wider range of sources and they communicate using different networks. Teachers cannot ignore this, no matter how they might feel personally about it. Some exceptional teachers might be able to engage students using a traditional approach, but in my experience such teachers are actually quite rare. Prior to the widespread availability of ICTs students had little choice but to persevere with traditional learning approaches if they wanted to get through their courses, but nowadays they do have a choice.

I can relate quite strongly to the message of the video. I see students in my own lectures, and in those of colleagues who I observe. I notice that students might be in the lecture room, but they are not 'there'. They have their laptops, their iPhones and so on, and they can be anywhere. The messages from students in the video about buying text books that they never read, and about spending far more time reading Facebook than they do reading course materials also rang true for me.

Deep down, I don't think the attitudes of students have changed fundamentally. The environment of higher education has certainly changed (in the UK at least) so that it has become a mass system as opposed to an elite system. But students have always been reluctant to do anything more than they need to. The big difference is that we do now have these ICTs which provide an opportunity. As a teacher I think the challenge I have is how to harness the potential of the ICTs so that students can engage more effectively with the course. In my view I think the key is flexibility – i.e. that students are not constrained by lecture theatres, timetables, library opening hours, part time jobs and so on.

Monday, 10 May 2010

H800: Week 12 - Activity 5- Technology in your context

Note: This was originally posted in my OU Course Blog on 6th May 2010

The technology I have selected is Wimba Classroom which is a very similar product to Elluminate. It enables synchronous communication between staff and students (or between students and students) so that online tutorials can be run in real time. My university is currently trialing Wimba and has integrated it within our VLE (Blackboard). Thus it is possible to set up Wimba for use within a module's existing Blackboard site. Students therefore do not need to download specialist software in order to use Wimba.

The interface is not dissimilar to Elluminate. There is a 'whiteboard' area in the middle of the screen which can be used to display slides or can be used for sketching. There is a 'chat' area and an area listing all the participants.

We experimented with Wimba on our postgraduate courses because the students on these courses are all part time (evening only) students who have demanding jobs and other commitments. We felt that offering online tutorials would provide an attractive alternative to having to come into the University for a tutorial. Much to our surprise there was an initial negative reaction to the use of Wimba. Some students clearly felt they were being short-changed, and they indicated that they would prefer a traditional face-to-face class. After much discussion with the students a compromise agreement was reached whereby a class would be delivered in a combined mode, so that those students who wanted to attend in person could do so, but the delivery in the classroom would be via Wimba, so that students could also access the session remotely. Although this may seem like a rather messy approach, it actually worked rather well. The tutor leads the classroom discussion and presents any material (such as PowerPoint slides) to the students via the Wimba interface which is projected on to a screen in the room. A microphone is connected to the computer at the front of the room, so students who choose not to attend can hear the proceedings via Wimba. If non-attending students want to ask a question, they can use the 'chat' facility in Wimba. The 'archive' facility in Wimba means that the whole session can be recorded (audio and slides) and is accessible to all students (whether they attended or not) immediately after the tutorial.

Despite what seems like a somewhat clumsy arrangement, this has actually proved quite popular with students. Even those students who were initially quite negative about Wimba have now recognized the value of it, and indeed they have even set up their own Wimba sessions to communicate with one another.

It must be stressed that this approach has not been adopted by all staff on the course, and indeed some members of the team have expressed deep reservations about it. They tend to voice their objections in terms which relate to the quality of the learning experience, but I suspect in some cases their concerns may be simply a manifestation of their discomfort with the technology.

Overall, I think students will come to realize that the use of tools such as Wimba need not mean a diminution in the quality of the experience. I think that once they appreciate the way in which Wimba can provide a flexible means of engaging with the course and with fellow students, they will value it more. It is very early days in our experiment with Wimba but I have quite positive feelings about how its use will develop, particularly for part time students.

H800: Week 12 - Activity 4 - Reading Richardson (2009)

Note: This was originally posted in my OU Course Blog on 6th May 2010

One of the things which stands out in Richardson's 2009 article is that, from quite early on in the paper, he effectively holds up the findings of Price et al (2007) as the starting point for his own research and, by implication sets out to contest those findings. Price et al found that students who received online tutorial support reported poorer experiences than those receiving face-to-face tuition. Richardson concludes that there were no significant differences in students' perceptions of the quality of their academic tuition, regardless of whether they had received online tuition or face-to-face tuition.

Firstly, a minor, and possibly irrelevant point, but nevertheless an interesting one. Richardson was actually a co-author in the Price et al paper, so despite the fact that he appears to distance himself from the 2007 findings, he was jointly responsible for producing them.

On p82 of the Richardson paper he suggests that Price et al's findings were influenced by the fact that the students who participated in the study were on a multi-disciplinary course. Earlier in the paper (p71) he suggests that such students have to "grasp concepts, methods and theories from several different academic disciplines". However, there is no real explanation of why or how this influences students' perceptions, other than an un-referenced claim (p82) that this is "borne out by the results of as-yet unpublished studies carried out in other disciplines". This seems to me to be a rather weak basis on which to question Price et al's findings.

On p76 of Richardson's paper he outlines why students chose their respective modes of study. The most common reason for choosing face-to-face tuition was that the students preferred face-to-face tuition, and similarly the most common reason for choosing online tuition was that students preferred that mode. Whilst Richardson acknowledges this point (on p82) I don't think he gives due weight to it. I personally think that this is a highly relevant factor and offers a strong possible explanation as to why there was no significant difference in students' perceptions of the quality of their tuition. If they had a pre-existing preference for one mode of tuition then it is highly likely that their views are going to be 'coloured' by that preference. In Price et al's study there was no consideration of why students opted for a particular mode of study.

H800: Week 12 - Activity 3: Reading Price et al

Note: This was originally posted in my OU Course blog on 5th May 2010

I wasn't particularly surprised by Price et al's findings. I think that, given the choice, most people would prefer to receive tuition / tutoring in a face-to-face manner. When I have suggested the possibility of online tutorials to my own students (who are on traditional, face-to-face courses) they are quite clear that they would accept them only as a supplement to the traditional methods. They were uncomfortable with the prospect of online tutorials replacing face-to-face tutorials. Having said that, their commitment to face-to-face tutorials does not necessarily extend to actually attending them! In my experience attendance rates for face-to-face tutorials is often quite poor. I think this relates back to a point I made in my previous blog posting about students being 'strategic learners'. Many students (and part time students in particular) have a tendency to focus on the aspects of the course which relate to assessment, so unless the tutorials are associated with marks then they are unlikely to attend. I think this would apply equally to online tutorials and face-to-face tutorials.

Nevertheless, when students are struggling with a subject, being able to talk face-to-face with a tutor is something they clearly value. In this sense, the distinction which Price et al draw between tuition and tutoring is important. I would certainly see 'tutoring' as having a pastoral function, and therefore being heavily reliant on the development of personal empathy between tutor and student. In my view this is much harder to achieve in an online environment, and I think the 'paralinguistic cues' referred to are undoubtedly relevant here.

There is a potentially significant point here. One might assume that anyone who signs up for a course which is delivered entirely online ought to know what they are letting themselves on for. However, for many people who choose an online course over a traditional course, their rationale may be based primarily on the flexibility which online learning offers. They may not even consider the tutorial support they might need throughout their course. Students who are relatively inexperienced learners, or who perhaps lack confidence in their own academic ability, could be disadvantaged by the lack of face-to-face support. Courses delivered wholly online are therefore perhaps more suited to students who are mature, independent learners, and who rely much less on tutorial support.

H800: Week 12 - Activity 2 - Reading Richardson (2005)

Note: This was originally posted in my OU Blog on 4th May 2010

Do you think the innovations described in Weeks 8 and 9 as 'learning design' would induce more desirable approaches to studying on the part of the students?
My understanding of the concept of 'learning design' (from Weeks 8 & 9) is that the focus should be on the learner. Furthermore, the tools we looked at, such as Compendium, Hybrid Learning Model, London Pedagogical Planner etc. were all designed to focus the mind of the 'learning designer' on the activities of the learner. It therefore follows, in my view, that these innovations are intended to induce more desirable approaches to studying.

Compare Marton's idea that some students regard learning as something that just happens to them with Sfard's account that you read in Week 3.

At a most basic level, I suppose Marton's view of 'surface learners' aligns with Sfard's 'acquisition metaphor' in that the learner takes a passive role, and the process of learning is primarily concerned with knowledge acquisition. Similarly, Marton's 'deep learners' take an active role in the learning process, and are therefore more closely aligned with Sfard's 'participation metaphor', whereby learning involves joining and contributing to a community of learners. However, I recall the extensive discussions about Sfard that took place in Week 3, and it was clear that such a simplistic dichotomy was not a very good representation.

Do the concepts, theories and evidence described in my paper fit your own experience as a learner? Which of Säljö's five conceptions of learning best fits your own definition?

I can relate quite strongly to some of the concepts described. As a learner, I think at various times in my life I have viewed learning in accordance with all five of the conceptions. Generally speaking, when I was younger my views were much closer to the first three of Säljö's conceptions, and as I've got older they are much closer to the conceptions 4 and 5. This seems to tie in with research highlighted in Richardson's paper (Rossum & Taylor, 1987) that "older students were more likely than younger students to hold the more sophisticated conceptions".

If you have (or have had) a role in teaching or training, do the concepts, theories and evidence described in my paper fit your own experience as a teacher or trainer?

I first became a lecturer in 1991 and at that time I had no formal training or education as a teacher. When I think about it now, I find it remarkable that we often appoint teachers in further and higher education purely on the basis of their expertise or experience in their subject, without any real evidence of their ability to teach. Thus, my early teaching methods were based largely on the approaches I had experienced myself as a student. Looking back, I feel a little embarrassed about that, since these methods were most closely aligned with Kember's (1997) first two conceptions of teaching, namely "teaching as imparting information" and "teaching as transmitting structured knowledge" (cited in Richardson, 2005).

Nowadays, I would like to think my conception of teaching aligns more closely with Kember's third and fourth conceptions, which refer to "interaction" and "facilitating learning". I would love to think that my teaching brings about "conceptual change and intellectual development in the student" (Kember's fifth conception), but I could not claim that with any confidence.

I was struck by one of the approaches to studying which Richardson refers to, namely a "strategic approach, based upon obtaining the highest grades". My colleagues and I often refer to our part time (day release) students as being strategic learners. Their prime motivation often appears to be simply getting the qualification in order to be able to progress at work. They do not readily embrace the loftier ideals of higher education - they want what they need to pass coursework and exams. With such students it is actually quite difficult to foster an environment in which this deeper intellectual development takes place.

H800 Week 4: Activity 1 - Defining Learning

Note: This post was originally posted on my OU Blog on 1st March 2010

James Atherton, on his 'Learning and Teaching' website attempts to address directly the question "What is Learning?". He starts by citing a 1993 American textbook, Introduction to Psychology (Atkinson et al, 1993):




"a relatively permanent change in behavior that results from practise."




Atherton goes on to expand on this definition, by adding his own comments (paraphrased here):




It's about change ... in behaviour (It may be in a "capacity for" behaviour which is never actually translated into action) ...which more or less sticks .... and is the product of interaction with the organism's environment .... within an organism's lifespan




Atherton's definition focuses on learning as an outcome or an end-product. The infed website (The Encyclopedia of Informal Education) provides an interesting overview of some of the common models of learning theory. In examining the idea of learning as a product, the site refers to an experiment conducted by Säljö (1979) in which he asked adult students what they understood by learning. Their responses fell into five main categories:

  • Learning as a quantitative increase in knowledge. Learning is acquiring information or 'knowing a lot'.
  • Learning as memorising. Learning is storing information that can be reproduced.
  • Learning as acquiring facts, skills, and methods that can be retained and used as necessary.
  • Learning as making sense or abstracting meaning. Learning involves relating parts of the subject matter to each other and to the real world.
  • Learning as interpreting and understanding reality in a different way. Learning involves comprehending the world by reinterpreting knowledge.

The infed website makes the point that the first three of the above are qualitatively different from the other two, and imply a less complex view of learning. I found the reference to Ryle's (1949) idea of 'knowing that' and 'knowing how' quite helpful in appreciating the difference between the first three and the last two. 'Knowing that' refers essentially to propositional knowledge, whereas 'knowing how' is a much deeper understanding. This is point echoed in work by Eraut (1994) who considers how professional people gain knowledge.


The infed website then goes on to present an alternative way of looking at learning, i.e. to see it as a process rather than a product. In doing so it presents four different orientations of learning theory, and their respective view of the learning process:


Behaviourist: Change in behaviour
Cognitivist: Internal mental process (including insight, information processing, memory, perception
Humanist: A personal act to fulfil potential
Social and situational: Interaction /observation in social contexts. Movement from the periphery to the centre of a community of practice

As a final aside, during my searching I noticed that on several websites there is an attempt to use graphical models to represent learning. One common representation refers to Edgar Dale's Cone of Learning, as seen on the Percepsys website.

Further research reveals that this is actually a misrepresentation of Edgar Dale's work. His original work (Dale, 1946) sought to highlight the value of various audio-visual media in the learning process. His original cone had no figures attached to it at all. Will Thalheimer's website suggests that the misrepresentations are actually fraudulent.

Personal perspective:

I suppose my original views on the definition of learning were more closely associated with learning as a product rather than learning as a process. Referring to Säljö's five categories above, I would expect most 'laypeople' to consider learning in accordance with the first three. I think my own view of learning is much more closely linked to the final two.


It is apparent that the learning is viewed differently depending on whether it is looked at from an educationalist's perspective, or a psychologist's perspective. Since I don't have a very deep understanding of psychology, I find some of these views quite difficult to understand. That is not to question the validity or value of the theories, it is simply a reflection of my own lack of experience in the field.

I thought the misrepresentation of Edgar Dale's cone was quite interesting, and should serve as a reminder of the questionable veracity of much web-based information.

REFERENCES

Atkinson R L, Atkinson R C, Smith E E, & Bem D J (1993) Introduction to Psychology (11th edition) Fort Worth TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich:

Dale, E. (1946). Audio-visual methods in teaching. New York: Dryden.

Eraut, M (1994) Developing Professional Knowledge and Competence, London, The Falmer Press

Ryle, G (1949) The Concept of Mind, London, Hutchinson

Säljö, R. (1979) 'Learning in the learner's perspective. I. Some common-sense conceptions', Reports from the Institute of Education, University of Gothenburg, 76.


Welcome to my H800 Blog

I've finally taken the plunge and signed up for my own independent blog. I intend to use this blog to post ideas and reflections in connection with Course H800: Technology-enhanced Learning: Practices and Debates. This course forms part of the Open University's MA in Online and Distance Education.

Having used the course blog on and off for the past couple of months, I thoght it would be nice to set up up my own personal blog, so that I can still have access to it after the course is finished.