Complex Learning Theories

Here is my first post in 2013.  Happy New Year.

There is an interesting post followed with a conversation on the Guide to 4 complex learning theories on FB, referred by Grainne Conole.

My comments:

Interesting guide. I have difficulties in interpreting some of the content of the infographic though:

1. Is the learning theorists for George Siemens with a basis include Vygotsky, Papert Clark and Social Constructivism? I found some similarities and differences between Connectivism and Social Constructivism, as I shared in my blog posts here and here.

2. On How learning occurs -distributed within a network, social, technologically enhanced, recognizing and interpreting patterns. My interpretation is: Network formations and connections – neural, conceptual, and external (people, information sources). This actually embraces all of the behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, and social constructivism, situated learning, and COP as the levels of networks is not only socially situated and appropriated, but also conceptually (cognitively) recognised, interpreted, but also neurologically connected (formed, and reformed). I have summarised it here http://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com/

3. Influencing factors – diversity of network. How about the strengths, types (openness), technological impact, and uniqueness (autonomy) of networks?

4. How transfer occurs – connecting to (adding nodes). There are many ways of connecting, and disconnecting (including filtering unwanted noise or distractions), and re-connecting, and the concept of connection could be at a micro and macro level.

5. Type of learning best explained – complex learning, rapid changing core, diverse knowledge sources. Upon closer examination, the type of learning would be based on the assumptions of learning. What is “best” explained? What sort of assumptions are made in classifying certain scenarios as complex learning? Here we might have to note whether we are referring to open or closed learning environment. Even in the case of closed learning environment, there could be complex learning when learners and agents interact and form connections in complex manners.

theories-of-learning

Hi Martyn Cooper, I think the Laurillard Conversational model is very useful in the case of “formal learning scenario”, especially under a “closed educational learning environment” where a teacher-student transactional model is defined. I have quoted that in my blog post too.

laurillard-conversational-model-diagram

What would happen if the student becomes a teacher, and interacts with different sources (i.e. agents, information sources, and networks) and posts and shares his/her knowledge with others in the public and open space. He or she may be playing the role of both a teacher and student (a dual role), and could be internalizing the knowledge (the tacit knowledge) in particular, when reflecting on certain experiences.

So, the Conversational model could be both socially oriented (with an external agent, a teacher or peer), and also internally initiated (with oneself, or with an artifact, such as writings or pictures, etc.).

There are again certain assumptions here on learning, where I have briefly summarised under the Assumptions Theory. In summary, I am not sure if Laurillard Conversational model could be extended to include the internal conversation, as it seems to relate mainly to the social constructivist model of learning. What do you think Grainne Conole and Martyn Cooper?

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30 thoughts on “Complex Learning Theories

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  7. I agree with you on point number 2, that a learning theory cannot adequately be simplified by a dichotomy of internal and external influences. Firstly, it is impossible to absorb the external without engaging in some type internal mental action. Within each of the learning theories controversy on the extent of influence of external and mental action is long debated. However, each leading learning theorist does recognize some form of change in the learner’s mental state.Whatever causes learning, be it observation of external stimuli and/or a cognitive restructuring resulting from thought itself, I think it is an internal mental action.

    Knowledge can be external but learning cannot. It is a deliberately conscious or passively unconscious internal action.

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  9. Thanks for the thoughtful posting. Without taking away from the value of instruction, teacher or peer I wonder how the brain “learns” by itself as it surely must or we wouldn’t survive. Does the brain recognize an imbalance in operational efficiency between what it does know and what it observes what it could know? This might explain network learning as individual agents seeking balance within the field they share but it doesn’t explain the process. Measuring the change is the easy part, the transfer mechanism has me stumped.

    A second question on theory is there seems to be an assumption of closure or goal-successfully-reached in learning theories yet experience tells me that not all learning ends in successful transfer. There are things I don’t understand that in a way seem blocked by my brain, maybe by lack of a properly built knowledge base to work on them with. This could be a case of missing prior knowledge or simply an agreement to accept some “givens” along the path that turn out to be vital, as in the “you’ll appreciate this later” advice that later turns out to be a compromise that actually prevents final understanding. A kind of failure by collapse of the weakest or least convincing assumption made folding under pressure?

    I wonder if we couldn’t use a theory of misunderstanding to give the learning theories a real world test? From a psychologist standpoint there are 5 points of need for learning in this short paper: >http://www.avetra.org.au/abstracts_and_papers_2001/Hase-Kenyon_full.pdf>Experience which is perceived as inconsistent with the self can only be
    assimilated if the current organisation of self is relaxed and expanded to
    include it…<<

    Thanks

  10. Nice chart, although I have reservations about Connectivism’s status as a theory – a useful descriptor, sure, but theory, not yet.

    More to the point, the references to complex learning really need to take into account the big picture, of Complex Adaptive Systems Theory (CAST), which actually informs Connectivism and CoP.

    We are not the only game in town doing this, but we have done quite a bit of work on applying CAST specifically to learning, in the form of an analysis of ‘emergent learning’, its relation to ‘prescribed learning’, and the development of a 3D graphic palette that can be used to map out the dynamics of change within ‘complex learning’ – see: http://footprints-of-emergence.wikispaces.com/

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  13. Hi Roy, Thanks for sharing. I have been learning through your work with Jenny, and yes, the references to complex learning really need to take into account the big picture, of Complex Adaptive Systems Theory (CAST), which actually informs Connectivism and CoP.

    As I have shared in my past posts, to define “learning as a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources” doesn’t sound enough under “Connectivism” as it is a necessary, but not sufficient condition to learning.

    I would also doubt if Constructionism relates to Create and Evaluate, and Connectivism relates to Recognise and Connect as shown in the diagram. May be there is an Emergent “Connectivism” which better embraces these, based on an ontological framework, which needs to be fluid and adaptive, rather than the current Taxonomy.

    Is Connectivism a theory yet? It is still not yet accepted to the mainstream as we know it, especially under the current xMOOC movement.

    I still think the Learning theory underpinning the xMOOC is based on a traditional Mastery Learning and a Teacher-centred approach with behavioral/cognitive strategies employed by the professors.

    Such learning paradigm would dominate HE so far if learning is still assumed to be the case under the current business climate. Here xMOOC learners are behaving like consumers (customers), where they are acquiring knowledge from the professors and that knowledge is transferred from the professor (sole source) to the learners.

    Isn’t that what the best online education (learn from the best professors) is all about? That’s where revolution of higher education is coined! How about the learners? They are just customers! Would they play the role of practitioners in COPs? Not yet!

    May be, I am not too sure, if we should put NOPs and COPs back in the equation of learning in HE.

    What if we do?

  14. Hi Scott,

    “A second question on theory is there seems to be an assumption of closure or goal-successfully-reached in learning theories yet experience tells me that not all learning ends in successful transfer.” Agreed. There are assumptions behind theory that would need to be challenged, rather than taken for granted. The notion of learning as defined under different learning theories could lead to an over-simplification of the learning itself, and so is the definition of successful transfer of learning. We could all perceive and interpret learning with different lenses, with the different assumptions and validations based on our observation, analysis and evaluation.

    Relating to “From a psychologist standpoint there are 5 points of need for learning in this short paper: >http://www.avetra.org.au/abstracts_and_papers_2001/Hase-Kenyon_full.pdf>Experience which is perceived as inconsistent with the self can only be
    assimilated if the current organisation of self is relaxed and expanded to
    include it…<<" Yes, that is the emotional and feelings part of learning for individuals. In fact, some people don't feel comfortable learning in a group setting, especially when they are not yet prepared to share the "common" and "agreed" goals set or imposed by the group. Besides, the power exerted by those in power on the learners would quickly diminish the desire to contribute or share when learners felt threatened to their "status quo". The 'fight" or "flight" response in learning is still common in many learning scenarios, especially when emotions are taking over the reasons. Would it be a surprise to find lots of negative criticisms and flamming all over YouTubes comments, defending or attacking each others' views on a "personal basis"?

    Here is just one example http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hC0MV843_Ng where the comments are mostly based on arguments to defend on criticism, rather than “listen and respond” in a dialogic conversation. It seems to be associated with the “dislikes” due to emotions rather than giving out reasons behind what the problems or issues are, or what the concerns relate to. It ends up with perceptions about person (Salman Khan) and the associated “critisers” and “defenders” “flamming and even criticising on a personal basis, rather than the pedagogy, or ways to further innovate or improve the teaching and learning. Isn’t that learning for us – in not being connected to such “conversation” to avoid the bias and emotionally flammed conversation? I don’t think it would lead me to anywhere if I were to argue in such cases, with those emotions taking over the comments.

    "An educational approach where it is the learner him/herself who determines what and how learning should take place" This is easier said than done, mainly because there are so many stakeholders influencing and impacting on the education system. For instance, in an education system based on an industrialization model, education is driven by industrialist and market needs, though individuals may also be looking for skills in preparation for their future or present jobs. It may be an ideal to have a humanist approach towards education, which focuses on liberalism and enlightenment for individuals However, a business approach towards education would take these into consideration only if the education is cost-effective and delivery efficient, and are aligned with what the business is offering to the business industry in society – by provision of skilled and knowledge worker, in the building of knowledge capital and nation. That is the reality.
    "Learning is increasingly aligned with what we do" Who would decide on what we do, within a formal education system? Would that be the question?

    Thanks again for your comments.

  15. Hi Jenny,
    “However, each leading learning theorist does recognize some form of change in the learner’s mental state.Whatever causes learning, be it observation of external stimuli and/or a cognitive restructuring resulting from thought itself, I think it is an internal mental action.

    Knowledge can be external but learning cannot. It is a deliberately conscious or passively unconscious internal action.”

    Yes, learning is the capacity of the learner, and this is especially important if it is to make sense for the learner. There are “social learning” associated when a group or network of learners learn together, though such learning would make sense if we are to coin “learning can exist in non-human agents” – like the AI & machine learning, or the group learning that the groups could associate with. If that is the case, how would we account those learning outside the “brain”? Is internet learning from each of us, as it grows in “knowledge” and “inter-connectedness”? Would that depend on how we define learning? Learning for human may be different from AI and Machine learning. What do you think?

    John

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