Archive for September, 2009

Human Learning

I am now reading Peter Jarvis’ book “Human Learning”.  I am trying to remember why I chose this book, but I can’t remember.  I do know the reviews on Amazon.com stirred my interest as I reviewed dozens of titles.  I also picked up his companion book “Globalisation, Lifelong Learning and the Learning Society: Sociological Perspectives”.

Jarvis describes his growth and transformation over his 20+ years of research, practice, and reflection around “Learning”.  His definition has transformed along the way and he now defines “human learning” in this way:  “the combination of processes whereby the whole person – body (genetic, physical and biological) and mind (knowledge, skills, attitudes, values, emotions, beliefs and senses): experiences a social situation, the perceived content of which is then transformed cognitively, emotively, or practically (or through any combination) and integrated into the person’s individual biography resulting in a changed (or more experienced) person.” (p 13)

I would like to sit down with him and pick his brain (so I hope that as I read the rest of the book I will feel like I have).  I like his move towards a comprehensive definition – it fits well with my personal “whole person” approach.


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How do I learn?

One of the thoughts that comes to me is how do I learn?  What are my preferred modalities and strategies?  Well, to look at this I went to some common learning “tests” or inventories:  (Unless otherwise noted these inventories were taken at the start of my Leadership program)

Gregorc style delineator:  Abstract Random

VARK:  You have a multimodal (VARK) learning preference.

  • Visual: 10
  • Aural: 11
  • Read/Write: 11
  • Kinesthetic: 13

Kolb Cycle:

Concrete Experience: 43

Abstract Conceptualization:  35

Active Experimentation:  28

Reflective Observation: 14

Index of Learning Styles (taken September 28, 2009)

Results for: Bill Colwell Jr.

ACT                  X                                REF

11  9   7   5   3   1   1   3   5   7   9   11

<– –>

SEN                                              X    INT

11  9   7   5   3   1   1   3   5   7   9   11

<– –>

VIS      X                                            VRB

11  9   7   5   3   1   1   3   5   7   9   11

<– –>

SEQ                                              X    GLO

11  9   7   5   3   1   1   3   5   7   9   11

<– –>


Temperament: ENFP (Extraverted; iNtuitive; Feeling; Perception/Probing) as defined by Myers-Briggs.

I also want to surface my “Strengths finder 2.0” results.  My reasoning here is that my Leadership PhD program suggests that a leader is always learning and growing (I quite agree).  Thus a leader’s strengths should somehow factor in to the individual’s learning and development cycle.

My top five strengths are:

Connectedness: People who have faith in the links between all things.  They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.

Futuristic: People who are inspired by the future and what could be.  they inspire others with their visions of the future.

Adaptability: People who  prefer to “go with the flow”.  They tend to be “now” people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.

Input: People who have a craving to know more.  Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.

Strategic: People who create alternative ways to proceed.  Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.

The inventories above are self described.  They reflect point in time preferences (which overtime can be generally confirmed).  However, it is important to remember these are not absolutes.  I do find these results of mine to be generally true as my preferred styles.  What is important to note is that if any of the “weaker” items were completely absent or unavailable, I would struggle to learn.

I may be more visual than verbal.  But I find that I need to verbalize (even more than writing) in order to “cement” ideas.  But then I grasp even more when I can play with the concepts verbally with others, using drawing tools to capture the ideas visually.  One reinforces the other.  While I am clearly a global learner and desperately need the big picture if there isn’t sequence, (either embedded or developed by me) learning is not as complete.

Thus I admit that I find linear scales to be problematic in fully describing my learning process.  Additionally, most of these inventories are (seemingly) purposed around formal learning programs.  Do these play out in human growth and development external to formal education?  I believe they do.  I believe the theorists also support this idea.

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Nature II:  Telematic Culture and Artificial Life

Roy Ascott

Convergence 1995; 1; 23

terms and definitions:

  • telematic(s):  computer-mediated communications networking which is the result of the convergence of telecommunications and data processing systems. (note 1 p 29)
  • cybernetics: “the study of control and communication in living and artificial systems” (p 25)
  • 2nd order cybernetics:  “included the observer of a system as part of the system.” (p 25)
  • connectionism (in art); and connectivist in science
  • Consciousness:  our sense of presence in the world and our relationship to reality.

Ascott essentially starts out with exploring the essence of nature: as metaphor and as interpreted reality – that whatever nature is, “it is the first virtual reality in which the pure data of an undifferentiated wholeness is programmed, shaped and categorised according to our language, fears and desires.” (p 24)

Nature is a “virtual” reality for us humans, perhaps for no other reason than that we cannot fully experience because of who we are.  In the same way you are a virtual reality to me.  I can only experience what you do through story and metaphor as described above.

Nature II is not Nature, but a second order Nature.  According to Ascott an “emergent nature… a new creativity whose ‘engines of creation’ will embrace artificial life.” (p 24)  This nature is seen and interpreted through technology and any other observers.

Ascott recognizes that the observer brings with her all expectations, beliefs, paradigms, etc and that these influence observed reality.  That the observer is indeed part of the system and cannot be objectively separate from the observed.

And here is where my interest is piqued:  “Second-order cybernetics and Nature II share in what can be called the connectivist paradigm, which holds that everything is connected, everything interacts with and effects everything else.” (p 26).

Ascott ties the connectivist paradigm to “microstructures of cognition” (neural networks of the brain and the way in which we conduct parallel distributed processing).  By doing so he rejects the limited linear only processes (non-linear processing can include linear processes, but is not limited to such).

In looking for how Ascott defines “virtual reality” it is how we experience that which is external to ourselves.  When describing “telematic systems of global networking” he seems to slide back into traditional thought of “virtual reality”.   “… often without our knowledge or awareness of where we are being encountered or by whom, at which interface or communications node” we can be “encountered”.  While he puts this in the term “telematically”, we have been able to do this via the old technology of Guttenberg.  Without question our ability to be instantly available around the world is a much more recent experience.  Perhaps that is his purpose in describing art – as art has been around much longer.  Come to think of it as long as there has been a written form of communication we have had “virtual reality” which transcends time and space.

Ascott does acknowledge ancient forms of writing and information storage.  He is correct in that now we are able to access these and more via current digital technologies.

What does this mean to me?

For three years I worked full-time for a school of public health.  I would be considered a “virtual” employee, a telecommuter, remote worker.  I lived and worked from South Bend Indiana to a school in southern California.  My faculty, while mostly located at the school, were also distributed – around North America and as far away as Japan and Australia.  Likewise students were well dispersed, though most were located on campus.  I met both in real-time through VoIP and/or telephone; screen sharing technologies; instant messaging; and video conference tools.  I worked asynchronously through course management and social networking systems; email; voice messaging; Fax machines; and so on.

I have experienced real meetings in real time with others across the USA and Canada, and in: Australia; Kenya; Ethiopia; Rwanda; Cameroon; Malawi (text chat only); Austria; Germany; Japan; Mexico; China; Hong Kong, India; and the Philippines.  Add to that mix asynchronous methods and the list grows significantly.

I read paper based journals, books, and magazines.  I also rely on digital versions of journals, magazines, news, encyclopedias, etc.  I recognized years ago that personal memory and recall is not sufficient in the modern world.  In working with public health, nursing, and medical students it is clear that the load of information required to be proficient cannot be fully memorized.  Rather one must learn to be proficient in accessing information storage devices.  These devices are changing over time.  Clearly early storage mediums were charcoal and rock, giving way to ink forms and papyrus.  These intern gave way to other media forms.  Today we have digital forms – who knows what media we will use in the future.

I personally resist using the term “virtual” to describe real meetings.  I do recognize that many people use “virtual” to describe computer-mediated methods.  I do find however that many people view “virtual” workers as not real, or less than fully engaged employees.  As if working from a different location makes one less than complete.  My personal experience is that those who hold this view – even when they state this is a reality and “the future”, limit the contribution of remote knowledge contributors.  On the other hand I have had some experience where some were openly skeptical but open to the experience, finding new ways of leveraging technology to bridge distance, building relationships with people who could not have participated in any other practical “in person” manner.  This includes researchers in different cities, states, and/or countries, meeting both in real-time and asynchronously.  These experiences, move the mind from “virtual” to “real”.

Learning and human development has a basis of “openness”.  If one is not genuinely open to new possibilities and methods, learning and development is also limited.  Perhaps a better way to state it is that we are limited in our learning and development to the level (capacity) of which we are open.

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My friend and colleague, Janine Lim, introduced me to the learning theory/paradigm of “connectivism” (Siemens and Downes).  It immediately sparked my curiosity.  Wikipedia provides a basic synopsis.  Suffice to say the promoters of the theory consider it a “Learning theory for the digital age.”  I have to agree with some of the criticism of the theory as being more a pedagogical model than learning theory – at least as presented in Wikipedia and in Janine’s presentation to me.

However, connectivism has been around longer than the world wide web.  Henry Janzen (1981) discussed connectivism as a learning strategy for recall/remembering.  Janzen describes it this way: “The concept of connectivism, the relationship between prior and present learning, involves the use of codes.”  This reminds me of the way people have described how they remember names when meeting new people.  They hear the name, making connections of the name with prior knowledge in their own personal “coding system”.  This is an individualized internal process.  Again, Janzen’s work (like Siemens and Downes) is not so much a learning theory (like behavior, cognitive, or constructivist), but a strategy.  However, connectivism does seem to come very close to constructivist in that the individual is required to make connections beyond the “raw data”.

An interesting side note is that Janzen suggests we have knowledge (due to input) that we can either recall (remember) or not (as in “I learned that but don’t recall).  I must question – on a philosophical basis – if we cannot recall something is that something actually knowledge?

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On reflection of my first posting I think I need to be a bit more clear:  We use our entire “self” in the learning cycle.

We take information IN through our senses.  We process through the rest of “who we are”: personality; prior “knowledge”/experience; context; emotions; etc.  The “ladder of inference” comes to mind (most recently see here: http://www.systems-thinking.org/loi/loi.htm).  Knowledge in this sense can not be “absolute”, rather inferred.  Even concrete experiences/raw data is interpreted and processed by our beliefs and biases.  But this isn’t the point.  The point I am looking at is how we learn and develop.  The “Ladder of Inference” is an attempt to be a holistic model.

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Learning and human development – Leadership is committed to and practices continuous personal, interpersonal, and organizational learning.

My initial thoughts:
What is learning?  How do we evidence learning?  How do we grow and develop?  My first assumption with this is that we generally assume a focus on the brain and psychology.  Probably because we wonder why some seem to learn better than others.  Literature (from my personal experience) has focused on formal education.  But our program competency clearly states that a leader is one who “is committed to and practices continuous personal, interpersonal, and organizational learning.”

A lot is written about how we learn.  A quick review of learning theories at Wikipedia surfaces three of the most common:

I view these as a natural progression in study and thinking.  Behavior was studied first – seeing how external stimuli influenced behavior and changes to behavior.  The cognitive psychologists came along and said “No, wait a minute, there is more going on here for which behaviorism just can’t account.” And so more studies looking at cognition – essentially focusing on the internal memory processes of individuals.  Then others said, “Hey, there is more than external influences and memory process functions.”  And thus was born Constructivism – looking at how individuals and even groups of individuals construct (build) knowledge.

Given my education, there has been a focus in my prior reading to the educational environment (i.e. formal education).  But this is just one place where learning happens – or at least where design learning opportunities in the hope that learning will occur.

I am reminded of the movie “Short Circuit” where #5 keep running around seeking more input.  We humans are sensory creatures.  We see things, we hear things, we touch things, we smell things, and we taste things.  Three of these senses are represented fairly well in the literature through the learning language of visual; auditory; and kinesthetic/tactile learning styles theories.  The other two seem to be generally lost to the researchers.  This may be due the way in which we conduct formal learning environments.

There is a seemingly never ending steam of hypotheses and theories of how we learn and develop.  So I will sum this first entry with this:  The external provides information in the form of concrete and abstract realities, we bring these in through our senses.  The process continues internally – through memory function and meaning/sense making processes.  Who we are:  personality; temperament; etc and how we are gifted (raw material abilities) influence the internal process.  We extrovert these in some manner and get feedback – renewing the process as we continually adjust.

Is this the end of the subject?  Good heavens NO!  This is the beginning of my current exploration.

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