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2. A Learning Framework
The purpose of this section is to describe a framework for learning in which the developing role of telematics in education can be understood. The components of the framework are:
The learning model, at its most basic level, can be described as an iterative process of seeking understanding. This process involves a re-conceptualisation cycle. Effective learning lies in experience with
- A model of learning, described at both cognitive and social levels of analysis.
- A mapping of current technology onto this model.
- A description of institutional and organisational factors which lie outside the
This process consists of three fundamental components:
- the active construction of knowledge,
- peer interaction and the development of oral explanation skills,
- exposure to different learning styles and
- the motivating feedback received from others.
The process becomes cyclic through reificiation (creating re-conceptualisations). This process is illustrated in Figure 1.
- conceptualisation (structuring). This refers to the contact the learner has with other peoples’ views/thoughts on a subject. This involves an interaction between the learner’s pre-existing framework of understanding and a new ‘exposition’.
- construction (learning by doing). This refers to the application and testing of developing conceptualisations in the performance of meaningful tasks.
- dialogue (learning through discussion and reflection). This refers to the creation and testing of developing conceptualisations during conversation with both tutors and fellow learners, and the reflection on these. Much significant learning arises from conversation, argument, debate and discussion amongst and between learners, peers, colleagues, experts and teachers (Bruner 1984). There is also a motivational value of being part of a healthy group (Rogers 1970).
Figure 1: The (Re)conceptualisation Cycle
Each component can be further expanded into its own cycle. This is illustrated in Figure 2. In general, this analysis of learning places greater stress on the need for learners to perform meaningful tasks, and for the resultant understanding to be reflected on, and discussed with others, than on the ‘primary exposition’ - the material from which the learner forms initial conceptualisation. This contrasts with the prevailing view, both in the choice of methods of the higher educational system, and in the assumptions of the multimedia industry, that the main contribution of technology is to present the primary exposition in an enticing form.
Figure 2: The (Re)conceptualisation cycle in detail
Orientation is probably the most important function of the primary exposition. It gives the learner a map of what is to be learned and understood. It denotes the boundaries of the topic to be studied, and it should also make clear its relevance, both to a course of study and to the wider body of knowledge to which it relates. Orientation should also influence affective variables; the excitement associated with learning is largely set at this early stage. Since this is the main function of the orientation stage, interactive technology is of little importance.
Exploration allows the learners to be more active in their interpretation of public domain material. After basic orientation learners are free to explore other books, reports, multimedia, hypermedia etc. written about the subject. Discovery learning is based on the notion that a learner will explore and search for meaning.
Experimentation involves genuine interaction with the learning environment. An environment where “what if” questions can be answered, must be provided. In traditional situations, this would mean laboratory work or role playing sessions, depending on the subject matter. The tutor is still guiding the learner, outlining the experiment and the evaluation criteria for the students. In multimedia it could mean the use of simulations.
This decomposition is supported by the work of Sternberg (1984). In completing a learning task, the learner must sort and apply the knowledge gathered during conceptualisation. In conceptualisation the tutor/expert uses tools to produce learning materials. The same productivity tools are now put in the hands of the learners to support the construction tasks. Apprenticeship learning theories are based on this idea.
The learner is required to pick out relevant information for encoding.
The learner is required to combine information, old and new gained from a variety of experiences, in a way which has meaning for the learner.
The learner is required to compare information, noting relationships between new and old information. That is create a structure which is meaningful to them.
Discussion is fundamental to education. It is, of course, possible to learn without discussion, but the need to support deep learning through tutorial and peer-group discussion is paramount. It is the small group discussions which are being squeezed out of the education process.
Reflective thinking has also been regarded as fundamental for learning for as long as the topic of learning has been discussed. We may not actually talk with other people but simply review the information in our own mind. We need to take time to think about the issues. A striking example of the processes of discussion and reflection was illustrated in a television programme about crime. At the beginning of the program participants completed a questionnaire designed to evoke their opinions on crime and punishment. After a weekend of discussing the issues, and having time dedicated to reflecting on what was being said, they completed the questionnaire again. The results revealed a dramatic shift in opinions.
The process of re-conceptualisation - of coming to know through discussion and reflection - can be consolidated through the process of reification. Literally, this means “making an object of”; the formation of a new schema, a more advanced exposition. This new object can be used as part of the primary conceptualisation for new learners or to advance the learner’s own ideas and move on to deeper learning.
The framework identifies that learning is both a cognitive (individual) and a social activity. As a cognitive activity, the learner is required to understand. This means that information must be processed at a level that integrates with existing knowledge structures. The creation of knowledge structures involves considerable cognitive effort. Whereas most learning experiences involve only natural accretion of new information, filling in the slots. This accretion is effortless in comparison to structuring. This cognitive activity is always situated in a social context. The nature of that context will determine which approach to learning is adopted by an individual. In many circumstance individuals will learn more effectively through co-operative or collaborative group activity. This involves interaction with other learners who have a shared perception of the task. Peer tutoring can be very effective.
The model emphasises the importance of construction and dialogue. Too much effort in the field of Advanced Learning Technologies (ALT) has been direction towards conceptualisation, teaching-by-telling. The significant challenge is to devise ways of using technology to support dialogue beyond simply providing direct channel of communication between tutors and learners, but to look at the potential of communication between learners, supporting each other.
Virtual Environments Visualisation