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Section1 How can we facilitate the development of context-based model for designing learning

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 7 months ago

Section 1: Facilitating the development of a context-based model for learning


In this section we address the following questions:


  • What do we mean by context and what might a context-based model be like?
  • What other models are there? Why are they inadequate?
  • What might a context-based model offer? Why might this be better?
  • How could we facilitate the development of context-based models such as LGCs?
  • What institutionalised practices may retard the development of context-based models?



What do we mean by context and what might a context-based model be like?


In the introduction we described context as something that was tied not to a physical location, nor any specific virtual location, but rather as something that belongs to an individual and is created through their interactions in the world.  Every person’s context is individual to them and is the ultimate form of personalization of the world and of the elements of the world which can contribute to learning. This view of context is not inconsistent with ideas from computer scientists such as Dey (2001) who consider a context to be defined by the information that characterizes a particular situation with respect to an entity, which in our case is a learner or a group of learners;  Dourish (2004) who highlights the importance of human activity and Chalmers (2004) who adds an individual’s experience and history to the mix. Following this approach, a context can be described as a situation defined through the relationships and interactions between the elements within that situation over time. For a learner, a context is a situation defined through interactions in and with the world that are themselves historically situated and culturally idiosyncratic. In the case of the learner social interactions are of particular importance (Vygotsky, 1978, 1986).


This approach is also related to views proposed from an activity theory perspective by writers such as Nardi (1996) who see context as “not an outer container or shell inside of which people behave in certain ways. People consciously and deliberately generate contexts (activities) in part through their own objects” (Nardi, 1996 page 76). Context is a constant, dynamic interaction between internal and external forces. To an extent contexts are consciously and deliberately generated, but because prior practices and decisions are embedded in the infrastructural resources on which they must draw, actors do not have complete freedom to generate a context. The level of control they do have over their context - particularly its technostructural parameters (see below) - is exactly what the learner-generated contexts model seeks to increase; to move learners out of a subordinate relationship to their context and into one of greater control (cf. Feenberg 1998).


The Ecology of Resources model of context offers a definition of context as a set of inter-related resource elements, including people and objects, the interactions between which define a particular context.  






It offers a description of the categories of elements that need to be taken into account when trying to explore the interactions that constitute a particular context. These categories include those noted in the introduction (skills, resources, prior cognitive schema, and so on). This idea is an essentially dynamic one. However, the nature of the interactions that our learner has with these different types of contextual element are filtered in some way. For example, knowledge and skills are filtered, organized and validated through concepts such as "curriculum" and "qualifications". These are socially constructed concepts that have become reified through having been designed into the way education is organised. By doing so they become removed from public scrutiny and intervention (Blaug 2007: 36), despite the fact that "public intervention may actually improve technology by addressing problems ignored by vested interests entrenched in the design process" (Feenberg 1998: 89). Such filters impose a certain structure and fixity on the dynamic context. 



What other models are there?  Why are they inadequate?


Educational ideas often have both a static, objective and quantifiable expression, and a more dynamic, (inter)subjective and qualitative form (cf. Carr and Kemmis 1986). As an illustration, consider the Zone of Proximal Development. This could be described quantitatively as "[t]he discrepancy between a child's actual mental age and the level he reaches in solving problems with assistance" (Vygotsky 1986: 187). However, a more dynamic, qualitative defintion would be the ZPD as something which must be created through instructional interactions that 'awaken' the internal developmental processes which can only operate when the child is interacting with other people in the environment (Vygotsky 1978). This split reflects schisms often discussed in the social theory literature between a technical or instrumental rationality and a more humanist or communicative perspective.

The Ecology of Resources model could be viewed statically, as merely a set of elements which could be "optimised" by design and organisational practice. Most formally constituted organisations have within them a technostructure (Mintzberg 1989: 98). Technostructures are where technology and organisation meet: they are organisational artifacts which operationalise the procedures, systems and technologies that control the work of the other wings of the organisation, particularly the professional core and the support staff. In universities, historically, technostructures have been weak (Mintzberg 1989: 177), but the increased use of ICT to not just teach, but administer, the university represents an organisational transformation; it also represents a move towards a more static and less flexible approach to the support of learning. Centralisation and consolidation occur through the "closure" of technological options (Feenberg 1998: 87-9). As a result, there can be a lack of freedom to experiment with new technological possibilities, due to a strengthening of the filters around the available resources. There is, of course, a role for standardisation in design (Norman 1990: 200-3): but as a protection against arbitrariness, not as something which "closes" the possibility of further adaptation and innovation. Models that currently underpin the education system are not communicative and learner-centric, but instrumental and organisation-centric.


The organisational problems posed to HE by the rise of ICT have been recognised even by relatively organisation-centric writers. Bates (2000), for instance, advocated addressing staff development of technology at an organisational level by supplying resources for "Lone Rangers": self-motivated, self-empowered teaching faculty, engaging in experimentation in their local context. But Bates later withdrew this support, claiming that the more mature organisational approach to technology was to centralise (for a critique of this view see Whitworth and Benson 2007).


Diana Laurillard's "conversational model" of educational technology is based on pedagogical principles, though this is not quite the same as being "learner-centric". This model considers how students and teachers to describe and re-describe their conception of the world, through technologies. Laurillard then takes this pedagogical idea and examines its impact upon organisational infrastructures. She specifically states that the infrastructure must learn, be reflexive: "An organisational infrastructure for educational technology... must enable the system to learn about itself. The decision-making hierarchy must be in a position to receive feedback on the effects of its decisions at each level in exactly the same way that the student needs feedback on their interactions with the world in order to learn." (Laurillard 2002: 237).


Feedback mechanisms are, however, identifiable as filters, rather than as communicative exchanges which help dynamically develop the Ecology of Resources. In order to really be effective feedback have the potential to transform practice, not just provide information about that practice to "objective" actors concerned to assess the performance of an existing technostructural configuration. The dynamic nature of context, and the way it transcends easy physical and temporal definition, means that an external, "objective" researcher or observer one can only ever hope to identify a snapshot of a particular context at a particular moment in time. To the individual or group at the centre of a context, however, it is lived experience: but that does not mean that the dynamic development of context is a process which takes place in the forefront of conscious awareness. The consequences of this view will be explored in the following section. 



What might a context based model offer?  Why might this be better?


Nardi (1996) summarises three methodologies which seem to offer systems designers a more dynamic appreciation of context than the objective or "scientific" view.

These approaches - Activity Theory, situated action, distributed cognition - are useful in that they improve upon an instrumental, generalised view of design.  They allow for the possibility that a greater number and range of stakeholders can be involved in the construction of learning and working environments (cf. Feenberg 2002: 128 via Wilson 1999; Cervero and Wilson 1998), and that these constructions, as a result, better fit specific contexts.


However, these approaches struggle to take account of the way that organisations affect human cognition. Design “choices” are not free but in fact are greatly constrained by the “persistent structures” (Nardi 1996: 83-86) in which they are made. Organisations embed values, procedures, systematised ways of working and even thinking, not only into the "objective" technostructure, but into their intersubjective communications networks (the use of language can restrict choice) and the subjective consciousnesses of their members. Organisations push certain "cognitive schema" at their members (Blaug 2007) and this is why many activities within organisations take place beneath the level of conscious awareness. On the one hand, this is necessary, for no organisation could function if its members were continually questioning the premises of even the most basic activity (cf. Mintzberg's description of the dysfunctional "political organisation" - Mintzberg 1989: 236-52). On the other hand, this can retard "double-loop learning" (Argyris 1999) and thus the organisation's abilit y to learn and adapt.


The problem with "design" as an industrial process is that it is specifically oriented towards the reduction of choice. Designed systems are built around assumptions as to what activities will take place within them, what mental models will govern these activities, and what information best fits these mental models. For any such system, processing is eased when incoming data are schema-consistent, and data that are inconsistent with this schema can be filtered out and ignored (see Blaug 2007: 30 via Augoustinos and Walker 1996: 171). Ultimately, Blaug (2007) claims that we cede portions of our cognition to the organisation and the technologies which make it up: we allow these designed technostructures to do a lot of our thinking for us. All the context-based methodologies Nardi describes recognise that there is a delegation of cognition to the system -  distributed cognition and, to an extent, activity theory allow for this explicitly: even situated action (the most individualised and spontaneous of these approaches) allows for the presence of "routines" which govern action at an unconscious level. Yet this is a "deeply passive" (Blaug 2007: 38) relationship on behalf of the individual; the individual and their context become subordinate to the technostructure, rather than active within it, and able to transform it if necessary (cf. Feenberg 1998). 


The information management model, originally developed by Hilda Kruger focusses on learners' needs in acquiring and developing information and the range of inputs and support required in moving towards the publishing and dissemination of their research and other activity. This occurs within contexts that can range from information for their local communities to the wider world of political, academic or commercial activity. The use of technology to support this learner activity is highlighted by the potential importance of learning and communication tools, especially those developed for social networking and social learning using ideas from Web 2.0. Two key synergies are evident in the model, one focussed on interpersonal interaction and communication to support exploration and research, the other on the use of technology to support learner autonomy and collaboration.  The model can be seen by opening the following file:


Hilda Kruger - JIME version - Model from learner point of view.pdf 



LGC as critical educational democracy?


Learner generated contexts stem not from organisational imperatives but more from the tradition of autonomous action and micropolitical resistance. They challenge those validity claims - claims to technological pre-eminence, the control over meaning and personal context - which are then not validated by the organisational environment within which social actors function (see Feenberg 2002: 16, via de Certeau 1980). They are "outbreaks of democracy" (Blaug 1999: 136-40); whether they take place outside the formally constituted educational sphere, as people develop their own, network-based applications of technology (see Rheingold 2002), or perhaps within it, as subordinate groups in an organisation "subvert" its dominant technostructural systems (see Wenger 1998; Benson and Whitworth 2007). Through these actions, learners increase their awareness of the possibilities - lifting up operations, unconscious ways of working in a technostructural context, and creatively playing with them - but also critically transforming them.


The principle of LGC begins with an appreciation of the tension that is building in the current system in which learners are using technology more creatively and effectively outside of the education system than within it (cf. Puttnam 2007).  Teachers often do not have as high a level of technical skills as their students and find themselves in a situation in which it is hard for many of them to find a way to make that the basis for a positive learning experience for students and for themselves. But this suggests that technology is a "problem type" in which even younger learners can potentially validate the claims of teachers - and vice versa (Young 1990: 117).


This calls into question the role of "design" in the development of an Ecology of Resources. Learners are usually considered either the "customers" or "products" of educational organisations. When pedagogical processes are discussed they have the learner in mind, but the relationship is rarely discussed as one in which learners generate pedagogical processes. The idea of learner-generated content is broadly used, particularly in constructivist pedagogy. But this content is being produced in a context which learners act within and consume, but do not generate or transform. LGC is what happens because a design-based approach stems from the cognitive separation between learners and the organisation; it cannot relieve it.


The idea of learner-generated contexts  forces us to reassess the validity of the "filter" that is the sharp boundaries around the roles of teacher and learner. Hence our liking for the term obuchenie which means both teaching and learning. It recognises that critical pedagogy and the internal critique of self-reflexive staff development are related (Young 1990; Carr and Kemmis 1986). More significantly, this relationship is what supports LGC against criticisms that it stands in a fundamental opposition to the authority of the teacher. This idea will now be developed further, starting with a discussion of the various "ogys" - broadly-based conceptions of teaching strategy at different stages of cognitive development.



The OGY context model


We describe the OGY context model as a way of exploring the continuum of contexts in which we experience learning. Previously the OGY models of pedagogyandrogogy and heutagogy have been presented in a hierarchical way, reflecting the Greek origins of the words (child-leading, adult-leading and self-leading respectively).


  Pedagogy Androgogy Heutagogy
Locus of Control teacher learner learner
Educational Sector schools adult education doctoral research
Cognition Level cognitive metacognitive epistemic
Knowledge Production Context Subject understanding Process negotiation Context shaping


The increased use and development of social, collaborative and distributed learning environments and the blurring of the boundaries between formal and informal learning requires that we move on from these traditional, developmental and temporally situated understandings of what it means to learn and what it means to be a learner. We are entering a space where teachers are learners and students are teachers (TES, 2007), where physical boundaries are being replaced or supported by virtual ones and the teacher is no longer the sole expert.


We are interested in developing the idea of a learning continuum from Pedagogy through Andragogy to Heutagogy as part of a process in education where the "teacher" is developing learning skills in the learner. In the e-mature learner Anderson (2006) characterised this as "in pedagogy, what is to be learnt, and how, is both determined and directed by the teacher; in andragogy, it is determined by the teacher and directed by the learner; in heutagogy, both determination and direction shift to the learner. Normally, concepts of pedagogy, andragogy and heutagogy are associated with age, sector or the formal stage of leaner development - for example, pedagogy with schools, andragogy with adult education and heutagogy with doctoral research". Ronan O'Beirne (REF) comments that he is concerned about "the lack of “social” context. What I mean is that a learner situated in the Heutagogy is not necessarily determining her learning, i.e. not self-determining and self-directing but is involved in a more socio-constructivist type learning where, as a heutagogical learner she avails of, is influenced by, develops, contributes to, criticises and ultimately reflects on, a social networking scenario. So I think that with Heutagogy yes there is a shift to the learner but not the learner alone in isolation." He questions whether talking of a continuum implies that they are mutually exclusive when we are thinking of the relationship as being "cumulative".


We argue that the value in a pedagogic aproach is in developing the learner's understanding of a subject. The value in an andragogic approach is developing an understanding of how to negotiate a way through the learning process. The value in a heutagogic approach is in developing the understanding that you are empowered to look at the learning context afresh and take decisions in that context. So this developmental view implies that learners need to understand how subjects are constructed, what is canonical and, in the sense of learner generated contexts, that learning is a social process of discussion, negotiation and partnership, where learning enables you to go out into the world equipped not only to solve problems and but also to identify new areas worthy of your attention. We would further argue that learners have to be equipped to manage their own learning and that we need to be educating them in those skills through an understanding of this "PAH continuum". Another way of describing this development process could be that of developing cognition, metacognition and epistemic cognition in the learner (Avramides, REF?).


Heutagogy must now also reflect the embedding of certain educational values into systems of control: critical reflection on the technologies that one is presented with to construct a context in and around the Ecology of Resources, and the transformation of these technologies.  



The OBUCHENIE context model


Ambiguities around the Russian word obuchenie and the search for an apt translation of this Vygotskian term have been the subject of much debate over the years (Daydov & Kerr, 1995; Simon, 1987; Daniels, 2001; Clarke, 2003; LeBlanc and Bearison, 2004). It has been variably described as ‘instruction’ (Van der Veer & Valsiner, 1995), ‘teaching/learning’ (Clarke, 2003), ‘teaching-and-learning’ (Wells & Claxton, 2003, p152), ‘teaching-learning’ (Davydov, 1994) and ‘learning’ (Wertsch & Sohmer, 1995, p332). LeBlanc and Bearison (2004), considering obuchenie in formal educational contexts suggest that it characterises interactions in the zone of proximal development which are “conceptualized less as displays of unidirectional guidance or support on the part of teachers to learners and more as bi-directional displays of knowledge transformed through the course of dyadic interaction”, suggesting that the relationship between teacher and a learner is “characterized by a gradual exchange of knowledge that results in mutual cognitive growth”. Sutton (1980), points to obuchenie as “a phenomenon made up of mutually interpenetrating opposites”, an argument supported by Moll (2000) who, addressing the concept of obuchenie in informal contexts, e.g.  amongst peers or in out-of-school contexts, suggests that interactions framed as obuchenie have the potential to mutually enhance the cognitive approach of both teacher and learner as marked by the coordination of self-regulatory behaviours in a process of collaboration.



In this paper, however, we propose that it is the very fuzziness of the word obuchenie that makes it an apt construct for understanding the potentiality of learner generated contexts and, in particular, the permeable nature of the ‘implicit’ boundaries between teaching and learning, by looking at the principles of PAH and combining these with the notion of obuchenie.



In contrast to traditional perceptions of PAH, the obuchenie context model integrates PAH with the ecology of resources model and views it not as a developmental hierarchy of dyadic or bi-directional interactions between teachers and learners but rather as a complex heterarchical continuum characterised by multiple points of intersection and an evolving reciprocity of relations and interactions which fall along an ‘other-regulated : self-regulated’ continuum.



The traditional perception of a multi-levelled, bi-directional continuum of teaching/learning in which ‘teacher’ influence is seen to decrease as ‘learner’ independence increases is reshaped is shown below:





In turn, the combination of the ecology of resources and the acceptance of a fuzzy-field concept of obuchenie together generate the potential for understanding the systemic interaction of teacher/learner in which the elements of PAH are shaped by the interactions of the teacher/learner within the available ecology of resources such that their individual interests/motivations lead to agile configurations in the process of knowledge construction so that at any one moment, teacher may be learner, learner may be teacher and both may become mutually conditioned co-learners. We refer to this as the obuchenie context model. 





In this way, the obuchenie context model empowers actors within the learner generated context, in a mutually beneficial process, to generate new knowledge models in the obuchenie-led fragmentation of traditional discourses in the life-world of the organisation. This, in turn, opens up networks of communication within the system, enabling both teacher and learner to reap the mutual benefit of a certain parity of voice reflected in the facilitation of self-motivated, self-reflexive enquiry between and amongst participants which, in turn serves to generate a form of democratic, socially-constructed, community-based defence against the traditional levers of control or colonisation by the organisation.


In these discussions of the processes that need to occur in order to support the creation of a Learner Generated Context we have presented the PAH continuum and the Obuchenie Context Model as new ways of looking at old ideas. We have tried to move consideration of the individual concepts of pedagogy, andragogy, heutagogy and obuchenie into ‘context’ mode where the boundaries of meaning around the terms are made more flexible and permeable.


Comments (3)

Anonymous said

at 11:06 am on Jan 9, 2008

Wilma: I traced two kinds of context here – cognitive and situated. May just be my own biases, but given the focus on knowledge, skills and understanding in a learning context and the idea that these are ‘generated’ in and through particular contexts – should we be making reference to semiotic contexts here also? On historicity – the traditional western focus here has been CHAT and Vygotsky but Lotman has a lot to say about historicity and it might be worth bringing that in, especially as he also has a lot to say about dynamic processes (see also comments below re. next para). I really liked the Nardi quote – especially the link to the deliberate generation of contexts.

Anonymous said

at 11:12 am on Jan 9, 2008

This whole idea of a snapshot of contexts in a particular moment of time is something Lotman looks at in his last book “Culture and Explosion” – he goes on to explore the idea of ‘the moment’ – called the ‘moment of explosion’. He reflects the ‘ecology of resources’ as 'a reservoir of dynamic processes'. It seems that the focus in context generation lies in the processes (the interactions combined with the elements). In the categories of elements – RL refers to Skills and Knowledge… Understanding was mentioned in the intro – should this be included here? It seems that ‘understanding’ is part of the learner generated context.I like the conclusion to the para. It was clear and grabbed my interest, particularly in light of the what has been done already, what that lacks, what needs to be done next. Should the reference to ZPD be separated from these conclusions – it ran on rather quickly for me. In the dynamic definition of ZPD, I found the word ‘instructional’ kind of ‘closed’ in a negative way… seemed very didactic to me somehow… is there another word we might use? I like the use of ‘obuchenie’ in the next section. It seems that this word is important in relation to LGC… but it warrants some discussion (not necessarily here in this article) – to sort the issue here, it might be enough to put obuchenie first and the brief definition second. If we want to appropriate this term for LGCness then I think we need to frame it (maybe use Footnote to do this)… within the ‘context’of the LGC and make it our own – to move it from its Vygotskian roots towards a Western audience. At the same time, it’s a marvellously fuzzy concept, and it’s probably important to retain the fuzziness (because that’s what lies at the heart of the notion of dynamic, agile, configurations and the generation of context).

Anonymous said

at 5:01 pm on Jan 11, 2008

I like the additions at the bottom.

I suggest that this is nearly done. I am going to hack around a bit more at the earlier section to try and make it run through. But then it does need a third party (Rose?) to ensure that all of this _needs_ saying (bearing in mind the word count of this piece) and that there are no contradictions here...

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