I’m a fan of frameworks and taxonomies. Also known as theories for understanding (Gregor, 2006). It’s the understanding part that I like. They provide, or at least good ones do, a leg up in understanding difficult concepts. As Mischra and Koehler (2006, p 1019) say

Having a framework goes beyond merely identifying problems with current approaches; it offers new ways of looking at and perceiving phenomena and offers information on which to base sound, pragmatic decision making.

As it happens, I’m currently doing a lot of work around one framework and its application and the following arises out of that work.

Two of my current most used frameworks include Dave Snowden’s cynefin framework (Snowden and Boone, 2007) and Mischra and Koehler’s TPACK (2006). Representation is important to frameworks. The cynefin framework, in particular, has a very specific representation that has very specific meaning and purpose.

TPACK framework

The TPACK crew have just released an updated representation of their framework (see the image to the left). I particularly like the addition of ‘contexts’ around the outside. The use of ven diagrams is important, one of the contributions of TPACK is the overlaps.

Tidy versus messy

One of the things I don’t like about frameworks is that they have (for very good reasons) to be tidy. This certainly helps understanding, a key purpose of frameworks, but it also can give the false impression of tidiness, of simplicity of a tame problem. My interest is currently in e-learning within universities, which I consider to be extremely messy. To me it is an example of a wicked problem.

A message version of TPACK

Last week I ran a session on course analysis and design for some CQUniversity academic staff. I used TPACK as one of the major themes. However, at one point I really wanted to emphasise to the participants that none of our discussions should be taken to assume that this is a neat and simple problem. The image to the left is the one I used to reinforce this (they’d already seen the tidy version of TPACK).

In doing this, I sacrificed much of the representational value of TPACK to highlight the messiness involved.

The Ps Framework – Tidy versus messy

For about 3 years (this presentation is the first public evidence) I’ve been working on what is now known as the Ps Framework as part of my PhD.

The first representation of the Ps Framework, taken from the first presentation is included below. A photo of some frozen peas used as a “pun”. The arrows are included, but don’t really mean anything. Still very early days.

Version 1 of the Ps Framework

The next public iteration of a graphical representation of the Ps Framework was the following one for a more recent presentation (you can even watch the video of this one). In this “Place” becomes the underlying context for all the other Ps. Much like the addition of context in TPACK. The frozen peas disappear for nice tidy circles (to some extent each one is meant to be a pea) and the arrows are still there. The arrows are meant to indicate that each of the Ps impacts upon the other in some unspecified way.

Version 2 of the Ps Framework

I had to prepare the above images to deadlines for presentations. I never liked them. Too tidy and they appeared to indicate linear or simple connections between the individual Ps. I don’t believe that. The relationships between these Ps when talking about e-learning implementation within universities is messy, complex and unpredictable – at least beforehand.

So I had to come up with something else. For the last few months of last year Jocene, Nathaniel and I spent a lot of time discussing and arguing about how to represent the Ps Framework. The following is my current best effort – it’s the effort I’ll be using this week at ANU.

a messy version

I have a range of problems with this representation including:

  • It’s still a little too structured.
    i.e. People only overlaps with Past Experience, Purpose and Process. Those overlaps aren’t intentional. They aren’t meant to represent some specific connection. I’m not sure what the connections are, I have an inkling that each and everyone is connected/overlaps with the other but I am stuck with this current conceptualisation.
  • It’s too static.
    The relationships between these components is forever changing. Universities and the place they inhabit are continually changing, each of the other components are changing and each change has some, unpredictable impact on the other components. In my mind I see this dynamic representation of this image where each component is seething and roiling and impacting upon each other.
  • It doesn’t capture perspective.
    Still not certain if this should be another P added to the framework or whether different instantiations of the Ps Framework represent different perspectives. I tend to prefer the latter, but then that leaves unsaid the important point about the perspectives of different groups being very diverse and that this is one of the fundamental problems with e-learning within universities.

Any suggestions?


Gregor, S. (2006). “The nature of theory in information systems.” MIS Quarterly 30(3): 611-642.

Mishra, P. and M. Koehler (2006). “Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge.” Teachers College Record 108(6): 1017-1054.

Snowden, D.J. Boone, M. “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making”. Harvard Business Review, November 2007, pp. 69-76.