David H. Jonassen, with his colleagues Chad Carr and Hsiu-Ping Yeuh in Computers as Mindtools for Engaging Learners in Critical Thinking, (1998) proposes that learning is an active and creative process in that information is processed “mindfully” (p.30), since the learner not only collects information but also constructs a format for representing that information and transforming it into knowledge rather than merely aggregating units of information. This active creation of knowledge reflects the learner’s particular understanding and conception of the information, their own act of [knowledge] creation requires a relevant, environmental context.
Jonassen argues that while there are
numerous solutions to over-reliance on single formalisms for knowledge representation, an effective method (though not the only method) for supporting the representation of learner knowledge through multiple formalisms is to use computers as Mindtools to represent their knowledge. Mindtools are knowledge construction tools that learners learn with, not from. In this way, learners function as interpreters, organizers, and designers of their personal knowledge. Each Mindtool uses a different formalism for representing learners’ knowledge, engaging a different set of critical cognitive skills.
He posits that technology, and particularly networked computers provide an appropriate environment for Mindtools to function. Jonassen (1994) identifies eight characteristics of the constructivist learning environment (see Table 1). Computer-based technologies should be used to keep learners active, constructive, collaborative, intentional, complex, contextual, conversational, and reflective (pp.28-32) (see Figure 1).
Figure 1 the cognitive web (“Design of constructivist learning environments,” 2007)
Carr, C. Jonassen, D. H. & Hsiu-Ping, Y. (1998) Computers as Mindtools for Engaging Learners in Critical Thinking [Internet] TechTrends 43(2). pp.24-32. March 1998
December 06 2013 | e-learning and learning theory | Add a Comment »
In 2001, David Jonassen argued that “most e-learning replicates the worst features of face-to-face instruction. So, it may be cheaper to ‘deliver’ knowledge over the Internet, but it will not be more effective” (“Interview with Professor David Jonassen”, 2001). He correctly identified that at the time e-learning was on the ascender of the hype curve, and that e-learning was being perceived as the latest panacea for all of businesses ills (2001). He considered that one of the elements of “substantive change in businesses and universities is to care enough about learning to invest the effort to truly understand its requirements and to create meaningful learning experiences to engage them” (2001). However, as businesses in particular, but also third-level institutions operate from the demands of the “bottom line …meaningful learning” (2001) was seen as being simply too expensive to produce. “So, both entities tell their learners about the world and expect them to fill in all of the gaps required to be able to practice” (2001). His analysis and experience of the e-learning industry in the period 1995-2002 reflects Jonassen’s observations; many, if not most, e-learning content production organisations approached the process of producing content as simply ‘webifying’ extant static content.
To digress for a moment I’d like to give you an example of this approach. The Irish e-learning company the Educational Multimedia Group (EMG) – where I worked as Digital Media Manager from 1999 until 2002 – developed Microsoft Office User Specialist (MOUS) and European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) courseware. Significant resources in the company were dedicated to the task of extracting static content from tests published by content partner Pearson Publishing and their subsidiaries Que Books and SAMS and ‘making it move.’ Content was authored in Macromedia Authorware 5 and adhered to a very linear learning model: The learner was ‘locked in’ to the content delivery mechanism with little opportunity to explore the content except via the channels facilitated by the format of the content. In many ways, the content replicated a textual approach to information delivery – the learner could move forward or backwards (as one does with a book), could navigate between lessons and so forth, but the real potential inherent in multimedia and multimodal delivery of content was not actualised.
The learner typically used the courseware in isolation, with little interaction with fellow learners, and while an attempt was made to integrate an electronic performance support system (EPSS), it was not integrated into the actual application the learner was studying, but into a simulacrum of the application available on a CD-ROM that needed to be loaded into the system and launched as a separate program to be utilised. While this approach represented the state of the art at the time, the learner was presented with non-contiguous, fragmentary and even arbitrary (in that the designers were constrained to develop within the limitations of the resources at their disposal) courseware that did not provide the level of learning reinforcement and support – the authenticity that constructivists deem a prerequisite for effective learning – as from this perspective, there was an implicit assumption thatlearner could abstract the appropriate knowledge into an environment where it could be used (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989, p.32). This “breach between learning and use” (p.32) is, the authors of Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning contend, is a consequence of the “didactic systems” (p.32) operated by educational institutions, where knowledge is treated “as an integral, self-sufficient substance” without contextual meaning.
Brown, J. S. Collins, C. & Duguid (1989) Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning [Internet] Educational Researcher 18(1), pp. 32-42, Jan-Feb 1989. Available from: http://tiger.coe.missouri.edu/%7Ejonassen/courses/CLE/index.html [Accessed 12th November 2013]
Exclusive Interview with Professor David Jonassen (2001) IN: elearningpost [Internet] Available from: http://www.elearningpost.com/articles/archives/
exclusive_interview_with_professor_david_jonassen [Accessed 12th November 2013]
December 04 2013 | e-learning and learning theory | Add a Comment »
In terms of a learner’s cognitive development, Vygotsky argues that learning precedes development. As developmental processes lag behind learning processes, less experienced or developed individuals can often carry out tasks with the help of others when they could not accomplish these tasks independently. The knowledge, behaviours and skills that learners demonstrate when assisted are actually in the process of becoming internalised in the learner’s schemata – the script is being written.
As in Kolb’s and Fry’s four-stage cycle, this is a recursive process: unlike the experiential model though, the dialectic “tension” is a social discourse between the learner and the MKO, rather than the modes described in the experiential model. Vygotsky (1978) maintains that cognitive development occurs in this area of the learning continuum in what he calls the “zone of proximal development” (ZPD). The ZPD is the gap between a learner’s actual development level and the learner’s potential level of development. Vygotsky described the ZPD as “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers” (1978, p.86). This process of learning and encoding knowledge is analogous to some of Gagné’s Events of Learning (1985), where the MKO presents a learning stimulus, guides learning through example, elicits performance from the learner and provides feedback. Similarly, it provides a theoretical foundation for Bruner’s concept of instructional scaffolding – the learner current level of knowledge can an edifice that represents their cognitive abilities. Mayes and de Freitas (2005) describe the scaffolding as “a means of exploiting the ZPD” (p.19). The cognitive scaffold surrounds what is already known and can be done. The new is built on top of the known as the learner develops, and over time the supports can be removed as the learner can independently actualise the knowledge, behaviour or skill. Each new learned skill asset becomes a level in the learner’s constructed schema and this becomes the foundation for extending the learner’s ongoing development.
Figure 1 Zone of Proximal Development
The concepts of the ZPD and scaffolding are central to how individuals develop using e-learning: how these concepts can be implemented will be explored ina later blog entry.
de Freitas, S. & Mayes, T. (2005). JISC e-Learning Models Desk Study Stage 2: Review of e-learning theories, frameworks and models. [Online] London, JISC. Available from: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/uploaded_documents/
[Accessed 15th January 2013]
Fry, R. & Kolb, D. A. (1975) Toward an Applied Theory of Experiential Learning. IN: Theory of Group Processes. (Cooper, C. ed). New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc
Gagne, R. (1985). The Conditions of Learning (4th ed). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978) Mind in society. Edited by Cole, M. John-Steiner, V. Scribner, Souberman, E. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press
December 02 2013 | e-learning and learning theory | 1 Comment »
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