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Learning Theories in a mind map

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 18 Nov 2013, 13:56

Fig. 1. Learning Theories. Click on this and you can grab the original in a variety of sizes from the Picasa Web Album where it resides. (Created using SimpleMinds APP)

In an effort to impose some logic these are now grouped and various links also made. The reality might be take a large bowl of water then drip into these 12 coloured inks. The reality of how we learn is complex and will only be made the more so with fMRI imaging and advances in neuroscience.

My favourite Learning Theory here is one that Knud Illeris (2009) came up with - not learning at all, resistance too or defence learning. You just block it. That's how I did 9 years of Latin and can decline how to love a table - I have no idea anymore what 'ramabottom' or some such means either. Ditto French as taught before secondary school and Chemistry - right or wrong, tick and box in a multiple choice each week. Still, for someone who couldn't give a fig for either this approach got me through on a C grade. For French the 'holistic' approach worked a treat - French exchange, then back to hitch through France with some French guys who didn't have a word of English, then got a job out there. Chemistry worked best with my Chemistry 7 set.

Activity Theory and Communities of Practice are surely in meltdown with the connectivity of Web 2.0?

The nodes and silos are too easily circumvented by each of us going directly to the source. 'Community of Ideas' works best for me.

Learning Theories

1) Neurophysiological - stimulus response, optmization of memory processes: Sylvester, 1995; Edelman, 1994; Jarvis, 1987.

2) Holistic - Illeris, 2009.

3) Behaviorist - Stimulus response pairs, Skinner, 1974.

4) Cognitive - Communication, how the brain receives, internalises and recalls information, problem solving, explanation, recombination, contrast, building upon information structures, focus on internal cognitive structures, models, methods and schemas, information processing, inferences.; Wenger, 1987; Hutchins, 1993; Anderson, 1983; Piaget, 1952.

5) Constructivist - Learners build their own mental structures, design orientated, assimilative learning (Illeris, 2009); task-orientated, cohort/collaborative group. Leonard, 2010): Vygotsky, 1934; Piaget, 1954; Bruner, 1993; Papert, 1980.

6) Transformative Learning - significant (Roger, 1951, 59); Transformative (Mezirow, 1994); Expansive (Engestrom, 1987); Transitional (Alheit, 1994).

7) Social - Socialization, a psychological perspective, imitation of norms, acquisition of membership, interpersonal relations (Bandura, 1977)

8) Communities of Practice - The focus is on participation and the role this plays to attract and retain new ‘members’; knowledge transfer is closely tied to the social situation where the knowledge is learned, (Learnard, 2010); shared, social and almost unintentional; legitimate peripheral participation (Lave, ); taking part in the practices of the community. A framework that considers learning in social terms. Lave & Wenger, 1991.

9) Communities of Interest -

10) Accommodative Learning - Illeris, 2007.

11) Activity Theories - Learners bridge the knowledge gap via the zone of proximal development, Wertsch, 1984. Historically constructed activities as entities. Thinking, reasoning and learning is a socially and culturally mediated phenomenon. Learnard, 2010. Engestrom, 1987; Vygotsky, 1934; Wertsch, 1984.

12) Organizational - How people in an organisation learn and how organisations learn. Organizational systems, structures and politics. Brown and Dugiod, 1995. Noaka and Takeuchi, 1991.

13) Resistance to/defence learning - Illeris, 2007

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Why Blog? Research suggests its only value might be to the author

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 28 Feb 2013, 09:59

Exploring students’ understanding of how blogs and blogging can support distance learning in Higher Education (2007) Kerawalla, Minocha, Conole, Kirkup, Schencks and Sclater.

Based on this research blogging is very clearly NOT of interest to the majority of students, NOR is it likely to be of value to them for collaborative learning. There may be value in blogging for your own sake - aggregating content in one place.

(Research on using blogging with students of Public Relations gives a far more favourable response ... I would suspect that this would apply to courses on journalism and creative writing i.e. use the medium that is appropriate for those on specific courses).

This is a study of OU students. A more promisng, and appropriate study I am looking at concerns PR students who a) need to develop their writing skills b) need to understand what blogging is all about.

The greatest value I have got from this self-inflicted exercise is to deconstruct the research that was undertaken should I wish to undertake research of this ilk myself. Can I fault the research?

What do you think?

Problem Does blogging support student in their learning or not?
Are educators perceptions of the positive uses of blogging for learning borne out by the perceptions of and uses of blogging by students?
Questions QQ Designed to ascertain their level of experience of blogs and to gather their opinions about how blogs (and other tools) could support their learning.

The research questions we sought to answer were as follows:

1) What degree of blogging experience do students have?
2) Do students want to have blogging as part of their course?
3) In what ways do students think blogging is (not) a useful learning tool?
4) Is there a disparity between what course designers think blogging is useful for, or would like blogging to be used for, and students’ opinions of usefulness?
Setting Online students at the OU
Survey of 795 student and course designers
Authors ‘Enthusiastic’ OU IETT Academics
Previous research O’Reilly 2005, Sade 2007, Weller 2007 - literature search, previous research …
Methods Qualitative - explorative/iterative rather than set

All questions required students to select their response by clicking on a radio button, (e.g. ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or Likert scales such as ‘not at all’, ‘slightly’, ‘in-between/no opinion’, fairly’, or ‘very much’). (Kerawalla et al. p. 6. 2007) + an open question for expanded thoughts.

Interviews with course designers - Interview questions were designed to address the following areas: the rationale for introducing blogs, whether blog content would be assessed, whether blogging was compulsory, uptake levels and whether there were any plans to evaluate the success of blogging activities.

- extract, collate and compare.


Analysis - The survey generated both quantitative and qualitative data.

SPSS Analysis
Manual coding of responses
Coding of responses
  • Affordances of blogs not taken up, support meaning making, (Fiedler, 2003)
  • reduce sense of isolation (Dickey 2004).
  • knowledge communities (eg Oravec 2003).

i.e. Not everything they’re cracked up to be.

Krause (2004) reports haphazard contributions to blogs by his students, minimal communication between them, and found that posts demonstrated poor quality reflection upon the course materials.

Williams and Jacobs (2004) introduced blogs to MBA students and although he reports overall success, he encountered problems with poor compliance as, for example 33% of the students thought they had nothing valuable to say in their blog.

Homik and Melis (2006) report only minimal compliance to meet assessment requirements and that students stopped blogging at the end of their course. Other issues include:

  • students plagiarising from each others’ blogs
  • the need for students to have developed skills in choosing which hyperlinks to include in their blog (e.g. Oravec, 2003)
  • an ability to manage the tension between publishing private thoughts in a public space (Mortensen and Walker, 2002).

It appears that the ideals of educators can be difficult to implement in practice. (Kerawalla et al. p. 5. 2007)
Paradigms A cultural psychological approach to our research that proposes that learning is a social activity that is situated and mediated by tools that fundamentally shape the nature of that activity (e.g. Cole, 1996, Wertsch, 1991 and Vygotsky, 1979).
Limitations Expectations about sharing, enthusiasm for the genre …definition of blog (see e-portfolio and wiki), journalism …. hard to define (Boyd, 2006).

They mean different things to different people. Uses to collate resources (portfolio) (Huann, John and Yuen, 2005) , share materials and opinions .. (Williams and Jacobs, 2004).
Implications Guidelines, informs design
  • 53.3% of students had read a blog
  • only 8% of students had their own blog
  • 17.3% had commented on other people’s blogs
  • 23% of students thought that the commenting feature on blogs is ‘slightly’ or ‘not at all’ useful,
  • 42% had ‘no opinion’
  • 35% thought that commenting is ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ useful.
  • only 18% said that they thought blogs would be ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ useful.
  • of those who blog only 205 of these thought blogs would be ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ useful.

Students were asked ‘how much would you like to use a blog provided by the OU as part of your studies?’

35%  ‘not at all’
13% said ‘slightly’
34% had ‘no opinion’,
12% said ‘fairly’
6% responded ‘very much’

Students were asked ‘how much would you like to use a blog provided by the OU for personal use?’.

52.6% said ‘not at all’
8.7% said ‘slightly’
28.3% had ‘no opinion’
8% said ‘fairly’
2.7% responded ‘very much’.

Chi-square analyses

Examination of the observed and expected frequencies for this data suggests that in both cases, there is a relationship between not seeing a role for blogs and not wanting greater use of conferencing.
Supporting findings that when given a choice between classroom based learning or e-learning those who have a choice are equally satisfied by what they get.

All of the positive responses refer to the students’ own (potential) study blog. (Kerawalla et al. p. 7 2007) Others use their blog as a repository. Few saw the benefits of linking or using a blog to for reflection and developing ideas.

Responses to the question ‘would you like a blog provided by the OU to support your studies?’ reveal that there is a profound lack of enthusiasm (from 82% of the sample) for blogging as part of courses.

Later this year, we plan to explore PhD blogs. This variety and combination of methods will enable us to gather different perspectives and to triangulate our findings. (Kerawalla et al. p. 7 2007)


Cole, M. (1996) Cultural Psychology. Camb. Mass: The Belnap Press of Harvard University Press.

Kerawalla, Lucinda; Minocha, Shailey; Conole, Grainne; Kirkup, Gill; Schencks, Mat and Sclater, Niall (2007). Exploring students’ understanding of how blogs and blogging can support distance learning in Higher Education. In: ALT-C 2007: Beyond Control: Association of Learning Technologies Conference, 4-6 September 2007, Nottingham, UK.

Vygotsky, (1979) Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. M. Cole M, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner and E. Souberman (eds and trans). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wertsch, J (1991) A sociocultural approach to socially shared cognition. In L.Resnick, J. Levine and S. Teasley (eds), Perspectives on Socially Shared Cognition, Washington: American Psychological Association.




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Constructivism and social constructivism for learning

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 5 Jun 2014, 05:29

Constructivism is an epistemological belief about what "knowing" is and how one "come to know." Contructivists believe in individual interpretations of the reality, i.e. the knower and the known are interactive and inseparable.

Constructivism rejects the notions that

  1. Knowledge is an identifiable entity with absolute truth value
  2. Meaning can be passed on to learners via symbols or transmission
  3. Learners can incorporate exact copies of teacher's understanding for their own use
  4. The whole concepts can be broken into discrete sub-skills, and that concepts can be taught out of context.

Constructivism, with focus on social nature of cognition, suggests an approach that

  1. Gives learners the opportunity for concrete, contextually meaningful experience through which they can search for patterns, raise their own questions, and construct their own models.
  2. Facilitates a community of learners to engage in activity, discourse, and reflection
  3. Encourages students to take on more ownership of the ideas, and to pursue autonomy, mutual reciprocity of social relations, and empowerment to be the goals.

Who are primary contributors?
Perkins (1992) pointed out the origins of the constructivism:

"Constructivism has multiple roots in psychology and philosophy of this century: the developmental perspective of Jean Piaget, the emergence of cognitive psychology under the guidance of such figures as Jerome Bruner and Ulric Neisser, the constructivist perspective of philosophers such as Nelson Goodman."

This knowledge base will discuss particular the major influence from the field of cognitive science, i.e. the work of Piaget and Bruner, as well as from the work of socio-historical psychologists, such as Vygotsky.

Piaget (Also see Cognitivism)

Piaget's theory is fundamental to cognitivism and to constructivism. His central idea is that "knowledge proceeds neither solely from the experience of objects nor from an innate programming performed in the subject but from successive constructions." (Fosnot, 1996). Piaget (1985) proposed that the mechanism of learning is the process of equilibration, in which cognitive structure assimilates and accommodates to generate new possibilities when it is disturbed based on human's self-organizing tendency.

Lev Vygotsky

Vygotsky's sociohistorical development psychology focuses on the dialectic between the individual and society, and the effect of social interaction, language, and culture on learning. To Vygosky (1978), learning is a continual movement from the current intellectual level to a higher level which more closely approximates the learner's potential. This movement occurs in the so-called "zone of proximal development" as a result of social interaction. Thus, an understanding of human thinking depends in turn on an understanding of the mechanism of social experience; the force of the cognitive process deriving from the social interaction is emphasized. Also, the role of the adult and the learners' peers as they conversed, questioned, explained, and negotiated meaning is emphasized.

Vygostky's Sociohistorical Learning Theory or Sociocultural theory

Vygotsky was disappointed with the overwhelming control of environment over human behavior that is represented in behaviorism. Vygotsky (1978) objected to any tendency to equate human beings with animals on the basis of innate reflexes and conditional reflexes. He recognized the higher psychological functions of humans, especially the distinguishing mental process of signification by which humans assign meanings to arbitrary stimuli and with which human learning is determined by the social and historical context. He believed that human development and learning occur through their interactions with the environment and the other people in it.

Three themes that form the core of Vygotsky's theoretical framework: (Wertsch, 1992)

  1. A reliance on a genetic or developmental method:

    Vygotsky (1978) recognized two basic processes operating continuously at every level of human activity: internalization and externalization. Vygotsky proposed that even though every complex mental function is first an interaction between people, it subsequently becomes a process within individuals. It is the transition from the external operation to internal development which undergoes qualitative changes. This transformation involves the mastery of external means of thinking and learning to use symbols to control and regulate one's thinking.

  2. The claim that higher mental processes in the individual have their origin in social processes.
  3. The concept of Zone of Proximal Development: to Vygosky, learning is a continual movement from the current intellectual level to a higher level which more closely approximates the learner's potential. This movement occurs in the so-called "zone of proximal development" as a result of social interaction. The zone of proximal development is the distance between the actual independent development level and the potential development level under the guidance of or in collaboration with peers (Vygotsky, 1978). Vygotsky believes that human mental activity is a particular case of social experience. Thus, an understanding of human thinking depends in turn on an understanding of the mechanism of social experience; the force of the cognitive process deriving from the social interaction is emphasized.

  4. Mediation: the claim is that mental processes can be understood only if we understand the tools and signs that mediate them. Changing a stimulus situation in the process of responding to it establish mediation, e.g. the gesture of pointing could not have been established as a sign without the reaction of the other person. This also implies that any higher mental function necessarily goes through an external stage in its development because it is initially a social function.

Implications to learning and instruction:

  1. Learning in authentic context: The conception of mediation gives the emphasis to the interaction between individuals and the historical and cultural development. Situate learners in an authentic context, in which learners construct via dialectical relations among people acting, the contexts of their activity, and the activity itself.
  2. Providing Scaffolding: Learning takes place in the social interaction with older, more learned members of the society: learning occurs when individual is prompted to move past current levels of performance and develop new abilities. Thus, provide external support from the instructor, peers, experts, artifacts or tools as the learners construct knowledge.


A major theme of Bruner's construction theory is that learning is an active process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current/past knowledge. The learner selects and transforms information, constructs hypotheses, and makes decisions, relying on a cognitive structure, e.g. schema and mental models, to do so. The interconnection of the new experience with the prior knowledge results in the reorganization of the cognitive structure, which creates meaning and allows the individual to "go beyond the information given".

According to TIP's (Theory Into Practice database) abstract of Bruner's theory, the principles of instruction based on Bruner include:

  1. Readiness: Instruction must be concerned with the experiences and contexts that make the student willing and able to learn
  2. Spiral organization: Instruction must be structured so that it can be easily grasped by the student
  3. Going beyond the information given: Instruction should be designed to facilitate extrapolation and or fill in the gaps

Bruner's Constructive Learning

Bruner (1986) claims that constructivism began with Kant's concepts of a priori knowledge, which focuses on the importance of prior knowledge (what we know) to what we perceive from out interactions with the environment. Jonassen (1991) described Kant's ideas of individual construction of reality: " Kant believed in the external, physical world (noumena), but we know it only through our sensation (phenomena) - how the world appears to us."

TIP (Theory Into Practice database) described that Bruner's major theoretical framework is that learning is an active process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current/past knowledge. In other words, Learning is an active, social process in which students construct new ideas or concepts based on current knowledge. The student selects information, originates hypotheses, and makes decisions in the process of integrating experiences into their existing mental constructs.

What are Bruner's key concepts? (Driscoll, 2000)

Three Modes of presenting understanding
  1. Enactive representation, a mode of representing past events through appropriate motor responses
  2. Iconic representation, which enables the perceiver to "summarize events by organization of percepts and of images
  3. Symbolic representation, "a symbol system which represents things by design features that can be arbitrary and remote, e.g. language
    1. Different from a fixed sequence of developmental stages, Bruner emphasizes the influences from the environment on amplification of the internal capabilities that learners possess.
Bruner's readiness
Piaget's readiness
Ausubel's readiness
Readiness of the subject matter for the learner: how to match instruction to the child's dominant mode of thinking Cognitive readiness of the learner to understand the logical operations in a subject matter Appropriateness in terms of the child's prior knowledge, i.e. what she knows and how she structure that knowledge in memory


Different from Piaget's cognitive development, which proposed that the qualitative difference in thinking is a stage-like development, Bruner's concept is that whereas symbolic representation is likely to be used for learning something new in a familiar topic; learners of all ages may resort to enactive or iconic representation when they encounter unfamiliar materials. Thus, to determine what mode of representation will be optimal for instruction requires knowing something about the learner's prior knowledge and dominant modes of thinking.

  1. Schooling as an instrument of culture. Knowing is a process, not a product. Children should be accepted as members and participants in the culture and provide opportunities to make and remake the culture in each generation.

Bruner (1966) states that a theory of instruction should address four major aspects:

  1. Predisposition towards learning
  2. The ways in which a body of knowledge can be structured so that it can be most readily grasped by the learner
  3. The most effective sequences in which to present material
  4. The nature and pacing of rewards and punishments..

Bruner's influence on instruction

  • Spiral Curriculum: Translating material into children's modes of thought: presenting topics consistent with children's forms of thought at an early age and then reintroducing those topics again later in a different form
  • Interpersonal interaction is a means that enable learners to develop cognitive growth: questioning, prompting
  • Discovery learning: discovery as" all forms of obtaining knowledge for oneself by the use of one's own mind"

    Students need to determine what variables are relevant, what information should be sought about those variables, and when the information is obtained, what should be done with it.

    Discovery of a concept proceeds from a systematic comparison of instances for what distinguishes examples from non-examples. To promote concept discovery, the teacher presents the set of instances that will best help learners to develop an appropriate model of the concept.

    Contrast that lead to cognitive conflicts can set the stage for discovery

  • Variables in instruction: nature of knowledge, nature of the knower, and nature of the knowledge-getting process

  • Promote discovery in the exercise of problem solving

  • Feedback must be provided in a mode that is both meaningful and within the information-processing capacity of the learner.

  • Intrinsic pleasure of discovery promote a sense of self-reward

Von Glasersfeld

Von Glasersfeld development of the epistemological basis of the psychological variant incorporates both the Piagetian notion of assimilation and accommodation and the cybernetic concept of viability (Cobb, 1994). The value of knowledge no longer lies in its conveyance of truth, but its viability in individual experience.

Von Glasersfeld (1992) stated that "Truths are replaced by viable models, and viability is always relative to a chosen goal."

Similar to Piaget, von Glasersfeld sees learning as an active process of self-organization in which the individual eliminate 'perturbation' (disequlibrium in Piaget's term) from the interaction with others as well as an active construction of viable knowledge adapted from the interaction with others.

Individuals' construction of their ways of knowing is the focus of von Glaserfeld. But, he also recognizes the importance of social interaction as a process of meaning negotiation in this subjective construction of knowing.

What does it mean to learning?

Constructivism, applied as an explanatory framework of learning, describes how the learner constructs knowledge from experience, which makes it unique to each individual.

Points of view of constructivism bring forth two major trends of explaining how leaning occurs:

  1. cognitive constructivists, focusing on the individual cognitive construction of mental structures
  2. sociocultural constructivists, emphasizing the social interaction and cultural practice on the construction of knowledge.

Both trends believe that:

  1. Knowledge cannot exist independently from the knower; knowledge cannot be reproduced and transmitted to another person.
  2. Learning is viewed as self-regulatory process:
    • Cognitive constructivists focus on the active mental construction struggling with the conflict between existing personal models of the world, and incoming information in the environment.
    • Sociocultural constructivists emphasis the process of enculturation into a community of practice, in which learners construct their models of reality as a meaning-making undertaking with culturally developed tools and symbols (Vygotsky, 1978), and negotiate such meaning thorough cooperative social activity, discourse and debate (Von Glaserfeld, 1992)
  3. Learners are active in making sense of things instead of responding to stimuli. Unlike information processor taking in and storing up information, learners " make tentative interpretations of experience and go on to elaborate and test those interpretations"(Perkins, 1992)

Impacts on Instructional Design

Constructivism provides different views of learning. Learners are no longer passive recipients and reproducers of information.

Learners are active constructors of their own conceptual understanding, and active meaning makers interacting with the physical and social world.

The design of learning environment based on constructivist view of learning emphasizes the integration of three types of human experiences (Vygotsky, 1978):

  1. historical experience, e.g. the traditions and practices of a culture
  2. social experience
  3. adaptation experience, in which people engage in active adaptation, changing the environment.

Below are some general principles of learning derived form constructivism (Smith and Ragan, 2000; Driscoll, 2001; Duffy & Jonassen, 1992):

  1. Learning requires invention and self-organization on the part of learners
  2. Disequilibrium facilitates learning: Errors need to be perceived as a result of learners' conceptions and therefore not minimized or avoided. Thus, challenge students with open-ended investigations in realistic, meaningful contexts need to be offered; allow learners to explore and generate many possibilities, both affirming and contradictory.
  3. Reflective abstraction is the driving force of learning: As meaning-makers, humans seek to organize and generalize across experiences in a representational form
  4. Dialogue within a community engenders further thinking: the learners are responsible for defending, proving, justifying, and communicating their ideas to the classroom community.

Principles of designing learning environment

Jonassen (1996) proposed that learning environments should provide active, intentional, complex, contextualized, reflective, conversational, collaborative, and constructive learning.

Image from David Jonassen's site

Driscoll (2000) listed constructivist principles for designing learning:

  • Embed learning in complex, realistic and relevant environments
  • Provide a social negotiation as an integral part of learning
  • Support multiple perspectives and the use of multiple modes of representation
  • Encourage ownership in learning
  • Nurture self-awareness of the knowledge construction process

About design of instruction

Based on Jonassen (1992) and Driscoll (2000), constructivism has the following impacts on instructional design:

  1. Instructional goals and objectives would be negotiated not imposed
  2. Task analysis would concentrate more on considering appropriate interpretations and providing the intellectual tools that are necessary for helping learners to construct knowledge
  3. Designers would provide generative, mental construction tool kits embedded in relevant learning environments that facilitate knowledge construction by learners
  4. About evaluation:
    Since constructivism does not hold the that the function of instruction is to transmit knowledge that mirrors the reality and its structures to the learner's mind, criterion-referenced evaluation, which is based on predetermined objective standards, is not an appropriate evaluation tool to constructivistic environments (Jonassen, 1992). The focus of evaluation should be placed on the process of knowledge construction rather than the end products of learning. And even if the end results are evaluated, it should emphasize the higher order thinking of human being.
  • The evaluation of learning focus on the higher order thinking, the knowledge construction process, and the building of the awareness of such process.
  • The context of evaluation should be embedded in the authentic tasks and meaningful real-world context.
  • The criteria of evaluation should represent multiple perspectives in learning environment. From the perspective of socio-cultural constructivist, since "no objective reality is uniformly interpretable by all learners, then assessing the acquisition of such reality is not possible" (Jonassen, 1992). Thus, the evaluation should focus on the learning process rather than the product.
  • Portfolio evaluation: different student interpretation at different stages in their learning process. Learning is multifaceted and multiperspectival, so as the results of learning.
  • The function of evaluation is not in the reinforcement or behavior control tool but more of "a self-analysis and metacognitive tool".


Bruner, J. (1986). Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Driscoll, M. P. (2000). Psychology of learning for instruction. 2nd ed. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Cobb, P. (1994). Where is the Mind? Constructivist and sociocultural perspectives on mathematic development. Educational Researcher, 23 (7), pp. 13-20

Fosnot, C. T. (1996). (Ed.) Constructivism: Theory, perspectives, and practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Jonassen, D. H. (1992). Evaluating constructivist learning. In T. M. Duffy, & D. H. Jonassen (eds), Constructivism and the technology of instruction: A conversation. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Association.

Piaget, J. (1985). The equilibration of cognitive structures. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Smith, P. L., & Ragan, T. J. (1999). Instructional Design. 2nd ed. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Von Glaserfeld (1992). Constructivism reconstruction: A reply to Suchting. Science and Education, 1, 379-384.

Vyogtsky, L. S. (1979). Consciousness as a problem in the psychology of behavior.Soviet Psychology, 17 (4), 3-35. (Original work published in 19-24).

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychology process. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (Original published in 1930).

Wertsch, J. V. (1992). L. S. Vygotsky and contemporary developmental psychology. Developmental Psychology, 28 *4), 548-557. Vygotsky, L. (1986). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (Original work published 1962).

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How people learn and the implications for design

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 21 Feb 2014, 15:43

Had this been the title of a post-graduate diploma in e–learning it would have been precisely what I was looking for a decade ago – the application of theory, based on research and case studies, to the design and production of interactive learning – whether DVD or online.

A few excellent, practical guides did this, but as a statement of fact, like a recipe in a cook book: do this and it’ll work, rather than suggesting actions based on research, evidence-based understanding and case studies.

Mayes and de Frietas (2004) are featured in detail in Appendix 1 of Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age (2007) Beetham and Sharpe.

Four types of learning are featured:

  • 1. associative
  • 2. constructive (individual)
  • 3. constructive (social)
  • 4. and situative.

Of these I see associative used in corporate training online – with some constructive (individual), while constructive (social) is surely the OU's approach?

Situative learning may be the most powerful – through application in a collaborative, working environment I can see that this is perhaps describes what goes on in any case, with the wiser and experienced passing on knowledge and know how to juniors, formally as trainees or apprentices, or informally by 'being there' and taking part.

Each if these approaches have their champions:

Associative – Skinner, Gagné (1985).

Constructive (individual) – Piaget (1970), Papert (1993), Kolb (1984), Biggs (1999).

Constructive (social) – Vygotsky (1978).

Situative – Wenger (1998), Cole (1993), Wertsch. (Also Cox, Seely Brown). Wertsch (1981), Engestrom (), Cole and Engeström (1993)

Beetham and Sharpe (2007:L5987) – the ‘L’ refers to the location in a Kindle Edition. I can’t figure out how to translate this into a page reference.

How people learn and the implications for design

Associative – Skinner, Gagné (1985) (in Mayes and de Frietas, 2004)

Building concepts or competences step by step.

The Theory

People learn by association through:

  • basic stimulus–response conditioning,
  • later association concepts in a chain of reasoning,
  • or associating steps in a chain of activity to build a composite skill.

Associativity leads to accuracy of reproduction. (Mnemonics are associative devices).

  • Routines of organized activity.
  • Progression through component concepts or skills.
  • Clear goals and feedback.
  • Individualized pathways matched to performance.
  • Analysis into component units.
  • Progressive sequences of component–to–composite skills or concepts.
  • Clear instructional approach for each unit.
  • Highly focused objectives.

For Assessment

  • Accurate reproduction of knowledge.
  • Component performance.
  • Clear criteria: rapid, reliable feedback.
  • Guided instruction.
  • Drill and practice.
  • Instructional design.
  • Socratic dialogue.

FURTHER READING (and viewing)

Brown, J.S. (2002) The Social Life of Information

Brown, J.S. (2007) October 2007 webcast: http://stadium.open.ac.uk/stadia/preview.php?whichevent=1063&s=31

+My notes on this:


+The transcript of that session:



Biggs, J (1999) Teaching for Quality Learning at University, Buckingham: The Society for Research in Higher Education and Open University Press.  (Constructive alignment)

Cole, M. and Engestrom, Y. (1993) ‘A cultural-historical approach to distributed cognition’, in G. Salomon (ed.) Distributed Cognitions: Psychological and Educational Considerations, New Work: Cambridge University Press.

Conole, G. (2004) Report on the Effectiveness of Tools for e-Learning, Bristol: JISC (Research Study on the Effectiveness of Resources, Tools and Support Services used by Practitioners in Designing and Delivering E-Learning Activities)

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Appendix and references largely from Beetham, H, and Sharpe, R (2007) Rethinking Pedagogy in a digital age.

See also Appendix 4: Learning activity design: a checklist

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