We Shape our Learning Environments, and then our Learning Environments Shape Us

While studying recently I came across a paper that was discussing the paradigm shift that has taken place in education. Previously pedagogy has focussed on the teacher: the scholarship of teaching. This lead to a behavioural focus, under the understanding that all learning would be an associative process and that controlling the teaching (cause) would affect the learning of all students similarly (effect) (Hannafin & Land, 1997).

The shift has brought us to a cognitive perspective, wherein the outcome of the educational experience is determined by the student, as an information processor. The emphasis has changed from cause and effect directed by the teacher to finding better ways for the student to process, elaborate and find meaning in the work they are doing. This is in line with Craik and Lockhart’s (1972) depth of processing model, as well as other frameworks such as the MUSIC model of academic motivation.

As I read about this, I thought about the processing vehicles that I use. I think this goes far beyond social media sites or the use of tools such as iPads. I believe the whole room in which you work affects your ability to process information. I struggle to work in the computer lab at the university. However, when I am at home I find I work a lot more effectively. This is due to the information processing devices I have set up in my room. I have a dual screened computer, a large desk and a whiteboard. There is space to lay out the paper and electronic material. Upon the white board there is space to jot down my thoughts as they come, and link them together. Perhaps most importantly of all, there is space to pace. I love to pace around my room, and to look out of my window at the sea and the cars below.

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It all fits together for a much more enjoyable and productive time. I contrast that with the university computer lab where there is often joking and laughter (often caused by me!) Where I have limited desk space, no white board and nowhere to pace. It is as if the emphasis of processing information lies completely inside the mind, wherein it bottlenecks, and is so fragile that small interruptions can cause ideas to disappear completely.

So there we have it. Humans are information processors. We learn through processing information that is meaningful to us. Perhaps universities could change their learning environments in this direction, however a setup like I have just described for each individual does seem unrealistic. They can certainly provide social learning environments for groups, however given that information processing is a student centred process, perhaps we the students should be building that for ourselves.

Kelly’s Personal Construct Theory

  1. In the beginning, there was Freud. And Freud did give utterances, and the word was with Freud.

    Yeah, that’s Freud who used crack cocaine to bolster his creativity as he formed theories, and yes, it was Freud who came up with the oedipus complex. Not the fellow who I would be inviting round for dinner.
    Fortunately, over a century of research later we have been rescued by other paradigms, one of which came from George A. Kelly. Standing out from Freud and the ideas from the Learning Theorists, Kelly maintained that we are not passive learners, determined by inner processes and our environment, instead we are active little ‘scientists’, using our experiences to make sense of our world. We form hypotheses, and life tests them until we have beliefs that predict outcomes.
    These belief’s are called personal constructs, and how they are formed depends on a number of sub theories, called ‘collories’, which explain how and why we might reach certain constructs. Kelly measured these personal constructs in people using the ‘Role Construct Reporatory Test’ (see below).
    I really like this principle. On moral grounds I do not believe in determinism. There is no way that our actions can be down to factors beyond our control. The implications of such imply that human driven punishment need not exist. Practically applied, I can see these principles in action. I do see how we try to predict what others do, and how at times one gets it wrong, and experiences a shift in judgement. It lays on people the responsibility to choose their own destination, and embraces the reality that then external factors affect the journey.
    Below I have tweeted the details of what I read about Kelly’s research.
  2. Psychoanalytic’s say learning is implicit. Learning theorists say happens through the environment. Both say the learner is passive #pid13
  3. Psychoanalytic’s interpret distrust as a characteristic, learning theorists see it as a learnt response #pid13
  4. George A. Kelley’s 1955 theory gives a role to our inner processes and and external environments. #pid13
  5. People function as scientists, trying to understand and control the world around them #kelly #pid13
  6. Unlike scientists we do not have objective data to work with #kelly #pid13
  7. We make hypotheses, but only occasionally share them. Sharing them makes us realize others see the world differently #kelly #pid13
  8. Personal Constructs: the different perceptions of why things are as they are #pid13
  9. We are free to change our constructs, therefore we are free to change our minds #pid13
  10. That being flexible to change ones mind is called ‘Constructive Alternativism’ #pid13
  11. Superordinate construct: Long term goal #pid13
    You choose it, then it determines some of your choices
  12. A persons psychological processes are channelized by the ways in which he interprets events #kelly #pid13
  13. Identifying similarities necessitates identifying differences #pid13
  14. Construction corollary: the process we use to understand what is going on #pid13
  15. Certain forms of psychological help aid the construction corollary. #pid13
  16. Individuality corollary: Individual differences exist, and we each see them differently. E.g. aggressive or assertive? #pid13
  17. Organisation corollary: a hierarchy of constructs, determining which should be processed first #pid13
  18. Dichotomy corrolary: how we see it, e.g. good or bad, happy or sad. All corrolaries are dichotomous #pid13
  19. Choice corrollary: people are free to choose what best fits with their world. People will choose what helps them grow #pid13
  20. Range of convenience corrollary: some constructs will be more used than others. A convenient construct is more usable #pid13
  21. Experience corrollary: we can change our constructs according to experience. E.g. If someone we call polite is then aggressive. #pid13
  22. Modulation corollary: Permeable and impermeable. Those with impermeable constructs will condemn selves for violating own constructs #pid13
  23. Fragmentation corollary: People don’t always keep to the rules #pid13
  24. Community corollary: People with similar constructs will behave similarly. #pid13
  25. Sociality corollary: We work better with others when our constructs are similar. Good social interaction is build adapting constructs #pid13
  26. Pre-emptive const.: ball is a ball
    Constellatory const.: Stereotype > you do this
    Propositional const.: All open to change
    #pid13
  27. Kelly’s theory based on an innate need to accurately understand the world #assumptions #pid13
  28. CPC cycle: we examine all available constructs, and narrow down to select the one believed to me most beneficial, and then use it… #pid13
  29. Ideally one will develop with a set of accurate and flexible constructs. This development is lifelong. #pid13
  30. Kelly used normal participants. He researched through introspection #pid13
  31. No scoring system on rep grid test. Just provides insights. #pid13
  32. Bieri (1955): Similar rows = client does not differentiate others = cognitive simplicity (opp. cognitive complexity) #pid13
  33. Cognitive complexity = better at predicting others and more sensitive to others’ views #pid13
  34. What if we hand out rep tests to do for our presentation? #pid13

The Brain: Intel Inside?

When I’m not busy studying psychology, playing karaoke or persuing any of the other wonderful pass-times that we find as university students, I do like having a play on the computer. Now, please don’t judge me, I got bored of playing Grand Theft Auto long ago, and I am certainly not addicted to World of Warcraft. I enjoy real computing: programming, making websites, getting stuff to work and so forth.

Cognitive psychology is the study of how information is processed in our minds. It’s a study of knowledge, and how our brain manages “attention, creativity, memory, perception, problem solving, thinking, and the use of language.” (Neisser, 2009) This type of psychology has developed mostly since the 1950’s, and has been quickened through the use of computers.

The idea of using computers in the study of cognitive psychology is to replicate mental processes to learn more about them. Cognitive theorists have suggested that the mind contains similar logical methods to those of a computer. Ideas have also been proposed, that use neurons and their connections as a model for data structures and neuron firing, and spreading activation as a basis for algorithms. While there is no single computational research method, studies combining computation, mind and brain work together to help us deduce new ideas . (Thagard, 2011)

Critics of the idea say that a computer uses only syntax (instructions) in order to do its job. A computer cannot change its mind, it requires user intervention. The human brain processes are so intrinsic that they cannot be fully defined by a programmer. At best, computational processes interpreting activity can only be assigned to mental processes. It is even argued that the brain is not an information processing device at all (Searle, date unknown) In addition, the rate at which technology advances brings ever changing ways in which we program, meaning new methods of programming can come to light, that disprove previously accepted computational theories. (WikiEd, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign)

I observe that various cognitive processes can be represented better than others, the deeper processes being naturally harder to replicate. We certainly can use computers successfully to some extent to hypothesize cognitive processes and make predictions. What is interesting to me is that many of these studies began in the 1960’s, when a whole city had ‘a computer’, and programs were punched in to tape rolls. My computer now has a dual core processor, but even eight core processors are widely available. Think about that in the context of how many things the human brain can process at once. And that’s not to mention the advancements in all the other component parts of modern computers. How much more do computers represent the human mind now? And how much more could they?

Can Computers Learn?

From the 1983 film: Wargames