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models of learning

Page history last edited by Anna Gruszczynska 12 years, 11 months ago

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Note from Richard: the reason for outlining models, characteristics and principles of learning here is to lead us towards some consensus of how we might approximate our practice - these are ideas for us to critique - better or preferred alternatives that help us describe (make statements about our practice) welcome


1. Models, Characteristics and Principles of Learning (taken from Goodyear and Jones, 2004)


The report identifies 4 models of learning (based on Shuell, 1992):


  • Learning as passive reception
  • Learning as discovery
  • Learning as knowledge deficit and accrual
  • Learning as guided construction


Taking the last of these as representative of the growing consensus in education it examines the guided process of knowledge construction and identifies  6 characteristics of 'good learning (drawing on Shuell, 1992, Biggs 1999, Simons et al, 2000':


  • Learning is active
  • Learning is cumulative
  • Learning is individual
  • Learning is self-regulated
  • Learning is goal-oriented
  • Learning is situated



Taking Higher Education as a specific context, the authors next address 12 principles of 'good learning' for Higher Education:







Learning should be extensive

It is no longer defensible (if ever it was) to define the outcomes of higher education purely and simply in terms of mastery of a subject. Outcomes now also need to include more generally useful skills, including so-called transferable skills, the capacity to act as an autonomous lifelong learner, a belief in one’s own efficacy, etc.


Learning involves constructing understandings that are acceptable within communities of practice

Learning involves acts of sensemaking within a community that shares common interests, practices, language and other cultural artefacts and tools. Access to disembodied information has little to do with real learning. 


Learning is a natural outcome of the normal workings of communities of practice

Participation in the day-to-day life of a community of practice is inseparable from learning. If someone has a legitimised role within a community of practice – however peripheral that role may seem – they cannot help but learn. In HE, learning may best be seen as induction into one or more communities of practice.


Learning is situated and hard to transfer

What is learned in one context tends to be hard to transfer to another – indeed the idea of ‘transfer’ may be suspect. However, learning in HE does require learners to be able to recognise community boundaries and shift between communities. It requires use of knowledge abstracted from specific contexts and the ability to work with different ways of knowing (epistemic fluency) 


Engagement and practice make for good learning

Learning demands application (engagement in practice); skill-acquisition demands opportunities for repetition, feedback, fine-tuning, automation, etc.


Learning involves challenge and scaffolding

Learning can be a by-product of taking on a challenging new task; challenge and learning go hand in hand but challenge should not overwhelm. What one can do with others is in advance of what one can do alone – the scaffolding they provide helps one accept and overcome challenges.



Learning must embody an idea of progression

Learning involves qualitative change in understandings rather than quantitative accumulation of factual knowledge. Learners in HE typically move from relatively simple to more complex beliefs about the nature of knowledge and learning. Curriculum challenges need to reflect this.


Learning is conversational and interactive

Learning and practice in communities is inseparable from discourse; generation of narratives and explanations are key to sense-making; understanding others’ accounts of the world is an important aspect of academic learning; sharing in the construction of knowledge demands communication and other forms of social interaction.


Learning involves effective use of reflection

‘Conversations’ can be with others but they can also be with oneself; self-explanations and ‘replaying’ and analysing one’s experiences are important  parts of sense-making.


Learning is not significantly limited by fixed abilities

IQ and other claimants to be measures of ‘general ability’ are poor predictors of  complex learning or of successful progression within a community of practice; engagement/application entail hard work not good genes and are cultural not inherited; specific knowledge rather than general ability is a potent influence on learning; other so-called stable traits (eg learning style) are more context-sensitive than is often acknowledged.


Motivation is something designed into curriculum, not something added by charismatic teaching

People are motivated by goals they value, especially ones they have had chance to help shape; goals should be challenging but achievable; feedback aids persistence; intrinsic motivation accompanies a personal belief in the value of one’s efforts –overuse of extrinsic motivators can undermine intrinsic motivation.


Teaching contributes to learning, but in various ways

Direct (didactive) teaching can be appropriate in helping learners reach mastery of tightly-structured subject matters – factual and rule-based material and skills coaching can be well served by direct teaching. But much of learning in HE involves uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity, weighing of evidence and judgement. Here, direct teaching is much less useful than planning and facilitating appropriate learning experiences. 


The paper then considers these models, characteristics and principles and identifies pedagogical issues for DNER (and this could be applied to TELEs or OERs) - see page 19:

  1. Understandings of how DNER/OER/TELEs can be used needs to be set against these principles - it is OK to depart from these principles but this needs to be explicitly explained and addressed
  2. Teaching materials should reflect the best of these principles
  3. The link between pedagogical principles and their effect on the design of learning and learning materials is not established (and needs to be researched) but hwile these principles cannot be used to determine design they should also not be ignored
  4. The process of aligning these principles with the design of learning and learning materials involves designing for the future


'The focus can no longer be upon creating learning resources without regard to their intended contexts' (p. 24). The report discusses changing conceptions of teaching and the shift towards student-centred learning and identifies two approaches that appear to exist (see p. 22):


Teaching as transmission of knowledge

Teachers holding this conception tend to see teaching  as a teacher-centered activity; the main aim being to transmit knowledge to students, who are considered as passive recipients of information

Teaching as passing information

Teaching is merely passing information to students; emphasis on syllabus coverage or meeting exam requirements, without much concern for students’ understanding

Teaching as making it easier for students to understand

Teaching is still conceived of as the transmission of knowledge but now with a concern for students’ understanding; emphasis onstructuring knowledge & organising teaching to help students understand, remember and apply

Teaching as the facilitation of learning

Teachers holding this conception tend to see teaching as student-centered; the main aim being to facilitate their learning

Teaching as meeting students’ learning needs

The emphasis here shifts to the variety of students and thediversity of their learning needs; teaching is informed by a sense of responsibility about meeting these various needs

Teaching as helping students become independent learners

The focus here is on the growth of the individual, rather than on specific knowledge and skills. Teaching is seen as a process of helping learners develop intellectually and becomeautonomous lifelong learners


Table: Conceptions of teaching (adapted from Kember and Kwan, 2000) 


And the paradigm shift in teaching and educational design (see p.23):




Information transmission

Design of learning tasks and environments

‘Teacher’ directed

Learner-managed learning


Learner-centered design & development

Individualistic learning

Learning communities

Inert knowledge

Usable knowledge

Atomistic, technology-focused approaches

Holistic/systemic approaches


Table: The broader paradigm shift  


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