Okay, so now it’s onto the second course for the week. The topic for this week is “Learners and Learning”. Looks like we’re learning about the brain, how it works and the Dimensions of Learning (That this link for DoL is on the institution’s website, but with a strange title is interesting. Sure there are some stories behind it).

What to do?

I am wondering exactly what I should do, there is an eStudyGuide which is meant to be used by distance education students, which is essentially what I am. But then there is also a range of resources and activities within the topic on the Moodle site. The apparent duplication is somewhat annoying, especially when there is little consistency. It appears that the study guide is the way to go.

Biological basis for learning

There is acknowledgement of this

e. In a biological sense, learning occurs through the growth of new synapses in one’s brain which becomes part of the complex series of networks / connections that make up ‘the mind’ and through which we are able to ‘do things’ or learn to do new things.

Interestingly, the definition of schema

A theoretical concept describing the current state of one’s mind and the process
that inform it. One’s schema is what is used to process information; to think, to do. One’s schema can be changed or modified and this process of change or modification can be referred to as learning

Seems to suggests a single schema. I would have thought there were possibly multiple, depending on the identity at the fore….more reading to do, this is just the intro.

The task list

  • Reading 2-1. A report from Demos titled “About learning”.
  • Reading 2-2 (which is not a direct link, but some silly use of Moodle resources that doesn’t quite work).
  • Reading 2-3. Learning to go with the grain of the brain
  • Read “The learning program”
  • Reading 2-4.
  • Activity 2-1.
  • Activity 2-2.
  • Activity 2-3.

As mentioned previously, there have been complaints that education courses don’t require enough reading, so how much reading is there for this week: Readings 2-1 (28 pages), 2-2 (3 pages), 2-3 (5 pages), 2-4 ()

About learning

This is a report commissioned by the UK government to (essentially) develop definitions about the concepts of learning in terms of schools. The working group had 7 members including: 3 head teachers, 3 cognitive scientists and a chairman (with a couple of researchers).

One of the points made is that our understanding is evolving rapidly and while questions about this are answerable, it is only partially so. There is a need for cognitive scientists and teachers to work more together. Suggestion that training for teachers emphasises even less of what is known about learning.

Teachers having an explicit, elaborate and expert view of learning depends more on chance than on a planned sequence of initial training and continuing professional development

Bemoans that many teachers aren’t aware of latest research and an absence of common vocabulary.

Is it possible learn how to learn?

We share the approach of the Teaching and Learning Research Programme’s Learning How to Learn Project which treats learning to learn not as a single entity or skill, but as a family of learning practices that enhance one’s capacity to learn. There is no consensus about the membership or genealogy of this family, or even how distinctive it is. Indeed, it is difficult to disentangle learning to learn from just learning,

meta-cognition is seen as “a very important or senior member of the family” of views around learning to learn. It is defined as

the capacity to monitor, evaluate, control and change how one thinks and learns.

Evidence for recent developments

This quote matches my feeling about the importance of reflection to teachers

The best teachers constantly monitor what is happening to students as they set about learning and investigate when things do not proceed as planned or expected.

And also makes me wonder why senior university management just don’t get the need to do this as well.

There’s a bit of talk here about the different approaches between teachers and cognitive scientists about gathering evidence for how people learn. There is a lot made of how the CS folk “test(ed) empirically through methods that are accepted within the scientific community” and then the distinction is made between “scientific evidence” and “practice evidence”. However, do argue that it is best to have both and mention two schemes that have this

A summary of what they say about learning styles, which is interesting in light of their use in this program. There are three problems

  1. Research evidence is highly variable, for many the scientific evidence base is very slender because the reliability and validity of the measures are doutbful.
  2. There is even less evidence of improved learning when applied to classroom situations.
  3. Some use of learning styles is really bad, e.g. belief that styles are fixed and innate. Students are labeled and they internalise this label.

There is the suggestion that learning styles can be used successfully to get students to reflect deeply on their learning and develop meta-cognitive capacities.

What we know: from science

Refer to the book, How people learn: brain, mind, experience and school” which groups implications into the following

  • Learner-centered;
    i.e. starts with the learners’ knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs.
  • Knowledge-centered;
    Environments that aim to provide for learners’ understanding, rather than mere performance. Learners know their way around a disciplinary environment.
  • Assessment-centered;
    Strong on formative feedback.
  • Community-centered.
    Recognise that classrooms are placed within broader communities. i.e. important to have home/family support; enable students to use what they learn in school outside.

Some myths busted

  • There is no right/left brain. Both hemispheres are used in every cogntive task.
  • “critical periods” for learning are over applied in education.
  • There is no support that one type of learning is more natural.
  • Brain plasticity means that learning at any age grows neurons
  • Brain gym has not evidence base in cognitive neuroscience.
    But there maybe educational value.

Some calls for research that gets the scientists hands dirty by working with practitioners.

Reading 2-2: Piaget’s constructivism

Based on this review which focuses on four key concepts: assimilation, accommodation, equilibration, and schemas. I need to look at a few other resources to feel I got this.

Learning or cognitive development is a complex process affected by three ideas:

  • Schema – mental representations of an associated set of perceptions, ideas..the basic building blocks of thinking. Cognitive development arises from the development of new schemata and better organisation of existing schemata.
    These are theoretical constructs though brain research reached similar conclusions. They never stop changing.
  • Assimilation – where new information/ideas from the real world are placed into existing mental/cognitive structures.
  • Adaptation – changing existing schemata to fit new information. Also includes creation of new schemata.
  • Equilibration – the biological drive to maintain a balance between the environment and a person’s cognitive structures.

Reading 2-3: Learning to go with the grain of the brain

Apparently the article appeared in a 1999 issue of “Education Canada”. Starts with another exhortation that 21st century learners needing something. Looks like being a summary of more of what we know about the “bain’s adaptive functions” – learning. Of course, the date means that this article is 10 years out of date.

Reports on (without citing) long term studies that show the greatest predictors of success at university level are

  1. The quantity and quality of discussion in the home before entering school.
  2. Amount of independent reading by the child.
  3. Clarity of value systems as understood and practiced.
  4. Strong positive peer group pressure.
  5. The primary school.

Quotes the Santa Fe institute

The method people naturally employ to acquire knowledge is largely unsupported by traditional classroom practice. The human mind is better equipped to gather information about the world by operating within it than by reading about it, hearing lectures on it, or studying abstract models of it.

There is a bit of support here for the influence of evolutionary development, a quote from HBR

you can take man out of the Stone Age, but you can’t take the Stone Age out of man.

Cites the industrial revolution as going against this influence in creating work that only used a small portion of the brain and requiring other strategies. I assume this has parallels with the factory orientation of schools and they suggest this as a partial explanation for the “crisis in schools”.

Gets stronger. We’ve turned childhood into a virtual holiday. Trivialised adolescence by denying them the opportunity to learn from their experiences. Now making the point about school being based on a factory model and a notion of curriculum from universities that focuses on academic learning. And subsequently many students are not being challenged by school.

And now it gets onto the solution. i.e. schooling based on what evolution prepared us for before this blip of industrialisation.

  • Start with emphasis on young kids growing a range of skills and their growing responsibility for directing their own work.
  • Make them a worker as early as possible, not just a recipient
  • As they get older, intergrate learning in real situations.
  • Classes for 5yo, no more than 10 or 12 students.
  • And harnessing older, retired professional folk to fill the resource gap.

Reading 2-4: Powerpoints on Learning

Starts with the jumbled letter meme.

Ahh, also solves “Activity 2-1” for us. Which is fill in the blanks of the following

The questions that p________ face as they raise ch________ from in_________ to adult are not easy to an _________. Both f______ and m________ can become concerned when health problems such as co_________ arise anytime after the e____ stage to later life. Experts recommend that young ch____ should have plenty of s________ and nutritious food for healthy growth. B___ and g____ should not share the same b______ or even be in the same r______. They may be afraid of the d_____.

What do you get?

Give you a tip, it’s nothing about children or parents, which is what I got.

Reinforcing the message, we can learn both procedural and declarative knowledge.

This program arises from work done on a Bachelor of Learning Management, where management is defined as “design with intended outcomes”, which means Learning Management is “designing learning programs that ensure learning outcomes in all students”

And here come the Dimensions of Learning, 5 of them, where you should start with the first and the fifth when designing.

  1. Attitudes and perceptions
  2. Acquire and integrate
  3. Extend and refine
  4. Use meaningfully
  5. Habits of mind

Mostly applies these to how we should be learning, sure to be expanded later on.

Critical reflection – process of thinking using established research and a series of evaluations in order to learn about something new…and much more

Activity 2-2

Another one to surface scheme, a series of questions about current affairs (from a few years ago) e.g. “The war in Iraq is justified”. We’re meant to compare with someone else and reflect on why there might be differences. In short because we have different schemata, different perspectives, formed by different backgrounds.

Activity 2-3

Using the readings and a Internet search, provide definitions for (wikipedia?)

  • Learning
    The acquisition of new or modification of existing knowledge, skills, behaviours etc implemented biologically as the creation of neurons.
  • Memory
    The ability to store, retain and recall information and experiences
  • Emotions
    “the complex psychophysiological experience of an individual’s state of mind as interacting with biochemical (internal) and environmental (external) influences”
  • Thinking
    ” any mental or intellectual activity involving an individual’s subjective consciousness”
  • The senses
    “the physiological capacities within organisms that provide inputs for perception”

Summarise how this knowledge will inform you work as a teacher…..I don’t really know and at the end of a long afternoon, don’t really care just at the moment. Time to cut and run.