Tuesday, 9 December 2014

#OEB14 session initiating Unified Learning Theory brainstorm #education

During the last Online Educa Berlin conference, I tried to see whether an open format would work. The general idea was: all of us eLearning experts coming together to find a solution for an existing challenge (I know, I still need to work on shortening the format description :-)

Format of session: peer-to-peer experience sharing
The process was based on talking among ourselves as peers, and at the same time experts, after haven given an eLearning or learning challenge.
The challenge was that current eLearning and learning in general is completely dispersed, and disconnected from a central learning model/framework/theory. How do we - as experts, as practitioners - look upon this disconnected amalgam of different models, and specifically: would there be a way to combine all of these learning types.

Towards a Unified Learning Theory
So what did I have in mind with the suggestion that there are multiple models for different types of (e)Learning, yet no one model - or as I had it in my mind: Unified Learning Theory, an analog for the Unified Field Theory, in combination with String Theory, although I must confess that the idea I have in mind is more related to String theory (if a non-physicist can make that assumption). As an example of why I feel the Unified Learning Theory might parallel String theory approach: the magnification levels (now, I now this is still very sketchy, so feel free to share shortcomings or positive additions:

Different levels:

  • Learning overall
  • Educational field (e.g. mobile learning)
  • Models related to those particular fields (e.g. FRAME model)
  • The elements put forward in those frameworks/models (e.g. device aspect, learner aspect, social aspect)
  • And breaking those elements down to their basic parts: 
    • either the stimuli or patterns that influence these elements of the models (e.g. with regard to learner aspect: prior knowledge, financial options)
    • or the base elements of these elements: neural pathways, social drive, ...

As you can see, and if I tried with different learning fields, it seems I cannot break all the elements down to the same base elements, which then again points more towards Unified Field theory where things co-exist one next to the other (again, seen from a simple pedagogy/techy educated mind). Or maybe the full breakdown logic should be viewed differently?

The reason I wanted to explore this peers-talking-on-a-topic format, was indeed because I have been tampering with this idea of the Unified Education Theory for some months now, but I could not connect the dots. So, more people needed to become part of this quest.

Below, I share the notes of the ideas that filled the room as an increasing amount of people joined the dialogue. (and I am grateful for all of the participant inputs!)

  • The brain cannot help but learn (unless the learning gene is missing)
  • learning can be attributes (conditions of learning, paths of learning)
  • Models simplify learning, yet learning is very complex (note from myself: which pleads for an approach using complexity theory)
  • neural pathways are influenced by elements
  • there is an intention connected with learning, so how do we decide where and when to learn what?
  • where do we situate incidental learning, and how much influence does this incidental learning have on our overall learning?
  • What do we know about what makes learning effective in multiple learning contexts?
  • The conditions for learning differ from types of learning, the conditions for learning and teaching must differ to reach the different learning goals put forward by the actual learning
  • Different learning fields, result in different learning models that are needed, and different learning interactions (e.g. a discussion for language learning purposes, has a different learning outcome (writing, understanding...) then a discussion used in a math field (exchanging solutions, approaches).
  • Personal learning strategies can be very varied as well. 
  • Learning can have multiple forms, and not all these forms are understood, or not all the outcomes of these forms are understood: e.g. leisure learning, serendipitous learning. Although these are not taken up fully in the learning canon, they do resonate with 'the flow' that can accompany learning as put forward by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 
  • Contextual learning, which relates to the actor/network theory is an important theory in media studies.
  • The identity of the learner: as part of being, or acting competent, the same for the identity of a project. 
  • The choices in learning are in part elite due to abundance or scarcity of learning options and needs. 
  • Learning is based on personal competency and being able to evaluate and direct the process
  • Time and personal readiness influence learning, and the ability to learn
  • There are reoccurring elements in learning: motivation, frustration, self-esteem, trust in one's self, trust in others, passion and emotion accompanying learning, current state of mind, being open to learning ...

Dichotomies were coming up as the peer-to-peer session went on:

  • specific learning versus generic learning
  • deep learning versus leisure learning
  • autonomous learning versus curriculum learning
  • curiosity as driver (frequently seen in children's learning, some school systems) versus intention as driver for learning (curriculum and training based learning) - but it might also be that curiosity instigated initial learning, and is followed by intentional learning
  • content abundance versus flattening of the learner construct
  • Perseverance and discipline versus serendipitous learning
  • Professional versus personal outcomes

There retrospect, I do think all of us participating in the session felt there was a multitude of aspects related to learning. As such it might be that an attempt to bring them into a coherent (or even incoherent yet mapped out) format might be of interest to allow all of us to talk about specific learning, within the full architecture of learning. At this point, and thanks to the session I feel a Unified Learning Theory might be something to go for.

Parallel with online and f-2-f appreciation/emotion. 
A sort of PS: suddenly, as the brainstorm was happening, an emerging idea came to mind. It suddenly dawned on me that what the participants were sharing, the emotions (e.g. "I really liked the fact that this was an open session", "Can we keep the conversation going afterwards?") were similar in content to that of MOOC participants who had been engaged in open discussions on a particular subject matter. So again it seemed that you cannot take the human out of human, in which ever virtual or real world the interaction is taking place.

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