Sunday, September 26, 2010

Response to "Introducing Difficulty in Learning"

I've only finished reading the first portion so this may be premature but I wanted to share my initial thoughts.

As is noted, the greater the difficulty to overcome the greater the long term retention. The part that is most integral to me is the need to find, in the words of theorist Lev Vygotsky, the "Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)."

If its too challenging retention will not exist because they will give up before success. There is quite a bit of research that has shown that success begets success and failure begets failure. It becomes a snowball effect that is likely further reinforced by the cognitive factors (see Aaron Beck's theories) surrounding failure.

With that said, I would agree wholeheartedly with the concept of novel and varied learning activities and assessments for the very reasons noted. Furthermore, it allows for not only greater long-term retention but greater generalizability of the concepts learned.

These ideas are further reinforced by brain research which suggests (in a simplistic explanation) that the more the brain is involved the greater the retention. By varying the methods used new neural connections are being created and strengthened.

As I first read the "Feedback" portion my gut reaction was, WHAT?! My initial thought was that the majority of students will become overwhelmed by the novelty we're creating without feedback and be likely to fail.

But as I've re-read it I believe the initial concept is relevant with a bit of a caveat.

Feedback is required for a couple of reasons:

1. It allows learners to understand if they are correct or incorrect and why.

2. It allows learners to make leaps in understanding that they otherwise would not make.

With that said, constant and consistent feedback becomes a reinforcer and an expectation. Learners rely on the feedback rather than challenging themselves to think critically and creatively and to search for answers that may not be intuitive. So, tapered and intermittent feedback will likely be more successful assuming it is provided at relevant times.

This is a larger problem with the current K-12 system and the idea of "teaching to the test" (this may be a whole other discussion for another time). It has become a problem at the college level as learners have had 12+ years of conditioning that we have to try to break down in a semester or two.

I recently sent out some early semester surveys to get feedback on my own teaching style. The area students felt I needed to improve on was in providing them with more "feedback" on what exactly to know. While this feedback was provided by a minority of the students overall it was a common theme that further emphasizes the conditioned expectation of "tell me what I need to know for the test so I can show you I know it and forget it."

While the corporate world is significantly more varied than education this is still commonplace in the traditional training methods. For example: Joe is a new employee who needs to learn his task on the assembly line. We model these steps for Joe, have him perform them and then provide him with a detailed set of instructions that is always visible for him to refer back to. Joe will retain the information because of the repetition and because he always has "feedback" (his cheat sheet) available but he will not understand the information or be able apply it or to generalize it when novel situations arise.

This lends a greater question - what do we want from our learners or trainees? Or in other words, what do we want them to get out of this educational experience? I asked a group of educators to reflect on this question in a Teaching Methods course I was instructing this weekend.

For some, these traditional methods make sense. These educators would answer in somewhat the following ways: I need them to memorize the parts of the body, to memorize these rules, to be able to do this task just as we have laid it out for them.

This allows for structure and control but removes any opportunity for innovation, creativity and the room for improvement. It's become a cultural expectation in the K-12 system and in many workplaces.

John Dewey spent most of his life exploring and experimenting on these concepts in education. How can we create relevant and active learning that is consistently novel and immediately relevant to the students interests and needs? He may not have found the exact answers but he did present many of these ideas.

So, my question is how do we use this understanding to change the culture of education to be focused on long term retention rather than the current system of immediate gratification?

What do you think?


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Introducing Difficulty During Learning = Improved Use in New Contexts

I am curious to know what you think and what your experiences have been with the ideas presented by Bjork, D.R. (1994) Memory and metamemoryL Considerations in the training of human beings. In J. Metcalfe & A.P. Shimamura (Eds.), Metacognition: Knowing about knowing (pp. 185-205). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Below is my summary.  Beth

If we want the knowledge and skills that are developed in a class or a learning session to be durable and usable in a real world setting with different conditions then the information needs to be multiply encoded and not bound to a single set of semantics of situational cues. Bjork proposes that to meet that end we need to introduce difficulties for the learner as described below. It is important to note that these strategies will impair performance during the initial learning or training session but enhance long term performance.
  1. Varying the conditions of practice.
    “It has been demonstrated in a variety of ways, and in a variety of motor, verbal and problem solving tasks, that introducing variability and or unpredictability in the training environment causes difficulty for the learner but enhances long term performance and the ability to transfer the training to novel task environment” (p. 181).
    1. Schedule practice trials in a random fashion rather than block by type of task.
    2. Vary parameters of the task like speed or distance to the target.
    3. Increase variability, types, and range of experience or problem.
      I think Trey’s example of having his students develop a story using concepts that they worked with on the test is an example of this. The story activity was a new experience.
    4. Vary incidental environment context.
  2. Provide contextual interference
    An example of this is to make the task environment more variable or unpredictable.  This could involve designing or interweaving material to be learned in a way that creates, at least temporary interference.
    1. Research was conducted on 2 groups of learners who had to learn content in a technical article. One group studied an outline organized like the article and the other group studied an outline inconsistent with that of the article. The inconsistent group’s verbatim recall and recognition was impaired but their performance on tests that required inferred answers and problem solving was enhanced.
  3. Distributed practice on a given task
    This has been repeatedly demonstrated over time.
  4. Reducing feedback to the learner.
    This will make life more difficult during the training but again will enhance post-training performance. In research done involving changing the frequency with which feedback was provided (after every 5minutes or 15 trials or fading the frequency over the length of the training), it was discovered that when the feedback was “faded” over time, simple motor skills were impeded initially but long-term retention of those same skills was enhanced (p. 191).
  5. Using tests as learning events
    There is evidence that the act of retrieval by a recall test can be considerably more potent than a study opportunity in facilitating future recall.
    1. The rational for this is as follows. In responding to the difficulties and challenges induced by the test, the learner is forced into elaborate encoding processes and more substantial and varied retrieval processes (p.192).
If our goal is to produce transfer of the learning or training related to knowledge and skills to a post learning environment then these might be strategies to consider.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Welcome and Our Experience Using Story as an Instructional Method

Good morning my true believer friends,

I thought this might be a great space for us to share what we are learning about learning and leadership. Also a place for us to keep in touch. 

I will get us started here with a place to share what we are learning about storytelling as an instructional method.  Some of us got together this week (September 16th) and during the conversation there were some comments made about how many of you had recently used story in some form with your teaching.  I invite you to share what you did and how it worked.

I'll start by sharing that the 30 minute teaching demonstration that I did on using story as an instructional method went very well.  I used a story/poem to start the demonstration titled "The Naked Truth and Parable." I also used a story review strategy as a way to discover what people had learned at the end of the demonstration. Thanks to the feedback I got from many of you through the opportunity to practice twice. I previously sent you all a copy of the document I put together summarizing the research I had done on the topic.

Have a great weekend,