Sheltons Organic Turkey

if I empty out all the unimportant stuff here, maybe there'll be more room in my head for important things

name: shelton brett
location: western u.s.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

lest we forget, learning is complex

So this would be a continuation of Wiley's comments on my previous entry about games, learning activity and the alignment of objectives. First of all, I can't write as articulately as Dr. Wiley, and I appreciate his views. A few of my thoughts on some of what he brings up...

Let me first relate to what David thinks of the action-feedback loop that underlies all learning. This is what I first learned as basic schema theory, in that the way we interact with our environment is through a mechanism of perceiving our world, adjusting to what information we get, modifying what we know, then making an appropriate action. This is in slightly different order in what David mentions them, but basically its the same idea. What he calls "pattern-matching" and "purposive" on the part of the acting "agent" remains as some sort of black-box internal mechanism within the learner. Is there cognitive recognition and alignment on some cognitive level? Probably. Is an assessment made of how important this "new" information is to the learner? Almost assuredly. Okay, I can buy this, sounds very similar to most traditional cognitive theory.

The part I get lost in is his leap to the assertion of how an instructor, or the designer of instructional materials, has very little import/impact on the way information becomes learned, rather, that it is the "crafting of the messages" that are sent to the learner where the greatest contribution lies. The act of learning, in my view, is much more complex than the message design (although I don't doubt that the way information is chunked, packaged, and delivered can effect the way it is understood). To me, the complexity of learning lies in numerous other factors, such as the social context in which it is experienced, the way the information is experienced (was it through passivity? Activity? Reflection? Application?), and the artifacts that share, contribute, and distribute what is "understood" (just to name a few). To me, an explanation of the action-feedback loop, on the most basic level, helps inform how we interact with our immediate environment, but does very little to inform how we as human beings gain complex understandings of our world and of each other.

I wish that we could follow a model of singular instructional strategy that worked for everything, but I have yet to see one. Which brings me back to Gagne's assumptions that different types of learning exist and different conditions would lend themselves to different types of learning. I don't disagree with these assumptions, as to me they genuflect an assertion that instructional models better wield high flexibility and serve as a guide, rather than a solution for complex instruction (though, I'm definitely not an instructional designer, rather I'm an instructional technologist, so I don't claim to be a Gagne expert). This idea, too, as Wiley expresses it would seem to miss the point of having instructional games meet a determined or defined "pre-condition" deemed suitable for gaming, unless Wiley's claim is that a suitable condition is one in the learning objectives completely align with the gaming objectives. The example of trial-error learning within Sims environment is simply misplaced: the Sims games are not created for learning, and the learning that takes place during activity has proven to be of secondary importance if people are learning at all (see BECTA report, Kuirrimuir reports, among others). Why? The game doesn't have learning objectives, other than to be engaging (motivational) and to make money for the producers. Games not intended for learning have met with uninspiring results inside and outside the classroom; learning games based on reward systems without goal alignment tend to be boring and off-task. There could be excellent message design within the game, but they consistently fail to afford meaningful complex learning outcomes.

So if goal alignment is equivalent to "game-like instructional conditions," then I'm down with what Wiley is writing. This will include what type of interactions the learner has with the game, because it's the activity of the game that provides the necessary complexity, and therein lies the meaning the learner makes from the game (with help from all of those other handy ID tools that drive the "matching" to previous experiences and lend "importance" to the information presented). If the interaction relies too much on collecting coins or building zoning areas to learn electromagnetism, or Crime and Punishment, or Van Gogh, then it's not going to be effective. And I think the perspective we should take lies far beyond a description of messages sent back and forth from learner to instructional artifact. We should have loftier goals.