Saturday, March 17, 2012

Blog marathon: 50 blogs on learning theorists over next 50 days

Why no heroes?
Over the next 50 days I plan to blog 50 separate pieces on learning theorists. Despite education and training’s central role in society, its intellectuals are not well known. Few can name more than a handful of candidates for the Hall of Fame. Unlike sport, politics, philosophy, literature, music, painting, film, business or science, learning practitioners have a sketchy idea of the contributions and theories of their intellectual leaders.
Most physicists know of Newton, Einstein and Hawking. Most artists know of Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Picasso. Most musicians know of Beethoven, Mozart and the Beatles. Businessmen know of Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford and Bill Gates. Even criminals would know of Guy Fawkes, Jack the Ripper and the Boston Strangler. Yet most learning professionals have at best a sketchy idea of learning theory and the minds that have shaped this theory, and practice.
In the history of learning, we find that learning is doomed, not so much to repeat itself, but to remain stuck in an ancient groove, that of simple lectures and classroom learning. This is still the dominant method of delivery, yet there is little or no evidence to show that it is effective. Almost everything in the theory and psychology of learning tells us that it is wrong to rely so heavily on this single method of delivery. The history of learning theory has had to be ignored to accommodate this lazy approach to practice. It seems to have been willingly ignored to protect, not learners, but the bad habits of those who teach.
More pedagogic change in last 10 years than last 1000 years
I have argued that there has been more pedagogic progress in the last 10 years than the last 1000 years but we could just as well say the last 2,500 years, going back to the Greeks. The history of learning theory and practice has not proceeded in an orderly fashion, like science. Like a river delta, there’s a rough sense of direction and progress, with lots of tributaries, some run dry, other run into other tributaries, some switch back and so on.
In an effort to explain our predecessors, warts and all, this series of portraits will take look at the people who shaped learning theory and practice over the centuries. They have all played a role in shaping (some mis-shaping) the learning landscape. Our theorists are major thinkers who have reflected on the large-scale issues around learning and education. The practitioners have more direct relevance, as their advice is wholly relevant to the design of e-learning programmes.
The format is simple. Over the next fifty days I will present fifty major shapers and movers in learning, theorists, practitioners and those directly relevant to e-learning.










Black & William




Mayer & Clark
Reeves & Nass


Page & Brin
Hurley & Chen


Moodle guy


They are by no means the only people who have contributed to the field, but they’re a pretty representative group. I have taken a particular tack in these pen portraits, examining their relevance to the future of learning.
First up tomorrow SOCRATES.


David said...

Hi Donald,

Great idea. I'll be reading. You might be interested in this page I made - for my Philosophy of Education students.

Paul Hollins said...

Yes great idea Donald I look forward to your reflections over the coming weeks ....

Anna Varna said...

Fantastic idea, I'll be reading too! Reading your list I found out I have read extensively about some, little about some others and almost nothing on a couple. Does this say something about my preferences, and style of learning/teaching?

Seb Schmoller said...

Donald. Inspired idea. You should look for sponsorship on a "per post" basis. Seriously. Barnsley Hospice? The Open Rights Group? Médecins sans Frontières? Reprieve? ALT and ELN even? Seb

Paul Hannay said...

Wow! A big job Donald.

Loved your first post on Socrates.

I like that I always learn something new and interesting from your posts. But I guess that's the entire idea! :-)

Looking forward to the rest of the series...

DebbieFuco said...

Love learning about 'learning,' especially theories, ideologies, and philosophies. I will be following your blog, however, I am a little disappointed that the social reconstructivists, such as Freire, are not being discussed. Freire is one of my favorites because he championed the idea that learning is social, which is so applicable today considering social media's place in the education conversation. It is also applicable to project based learning (PBL), as he spoke of the student-teacher, teacher-student model of each learning with a from each other. I think Freire definitely has a place at this table. Please don't take that as criticism because I know you can't please everyone. I am really looking forward to reading your blog for the next 50 days. Thank you!

Donald Clark said...

Thanks Paul much appreciated.

Donald Clark said...

OK Debbie it's up to 51. That's what this exercise is about suggestions, comments and discussion.

DebbieFuco said...

Great! I know what I'll be doing for the next 51 days! Thanks, again!

Seb Schmoller said...

If you are open to suggestions you should consider Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black probably as a duo. You might want to think about Aaron Sloman too.

Joe Kirby said...

Hi Donald,

Could you include the groundbreaking, explosive implications from cognitivist science?

Dan Willingham has summarised the evidence from thirty years of scientific research into how the brain learns - I'd recommend his book 'Why Don't Students Like School' for a blog post.

Kris Boulton said...

Great idea Donald, but like Debbie, I'm disappointed to see some glaring omissions.

There's nothing I can see in the list from Cognitivist theory. Key discoveries from neuroscience over the past 20 years give profound insight into how the brain learns, and inform effective instructional methods. Their omission is particularly disappointing given the dearth of awareness already present in the UK establishment of this cutting edge research.

I would suggest cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham, author of 'Why don't students like school', and E. D. Hirsch, creator of the Core Knowledge curriculum which, having been adopted by the US state of Massachusetts, has seen it propelled to the top of national league tables, such that on the 2005 NAEP tests, Massachusetts ranked first in the nation in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and fourth- and eighth-grade maths. It then repeated the feat in 2007. No state had ever scored first in both grades and both subjects in a single year—let alone for two consecutive test cycles.

Donald Clark said...

Thanks guys. I'll look into this. Looks like I'll have to extend the run.

BobRay said...

The only way to compare the effectiveness of methods based on the various theories is with a standardized test (in the scientific, not political sense). Since we can't agree on whether such a test should be administered, much less what it should look like, most discussions of educational theory are worse than useless (no offense intended).

What actually happens in education is that methods based on the latest theoretical fad
are applied for a while, then discarded in favor of the next fad, regardless of their effectiveness. Meanwhile, students appear to be learning far less than they did during all those centuries when they were lectured to.

Ironically, all the modern theorists were educated by teachers using the archaic methods the theorists deride.

Donald Clark said...

Sort of agree with this but the assertion " students appear to be learning far less than they did during all those centuries when they were lectured to" is not supported by the evidence. In fact the evidence in from Bligh and others would suggest otherwise.

Donald Clark said...

Interesting Tweets on women educational theorists. Montissori a good call, remember - it's not a definitive list, just people I've read and who have influenced my thoughts. Happy to consider others.

Barbara Dieu said...

Paulo Freire is an important influence in informal education and critical pedagogy even if not well-known in Anglo-Saxon educational circles.

Donald Clark said...

To clarify a few things. First I really welcome these other names. I have:
1. Kept the list to 50 to make it manageable.
2. Kept to within the theoretical tradition I live and work in so no Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed, Al Ghozzali, Ibn Tufayl etc.
3. Not deliberately sought gender balance.
4. Not included policy makers and more political movers and shakers like Jane Addams, Susan Isaacs, Jane Martin and Linda Darling-Hammond.
However, I may extend my list if I have time as Judith Harris has been a huge influence on me and, as I said Friere and Montissori, I plan to include.
Keep the suggestions coming...

li Whybrow said...

How about bell hooks - perhaps not as well known in Europe either?

Andy Tedd said...


Interesting list but I am hugely disappointed that neither Frederic Taylor or Ronald Coase are on your list.

While they are not strictly 'learning theorists' the same could be said of mant on the list. If you're going to have a load of emancipatory guff like Gramsci and Freire in there then you should also acknowledge the real bureucratic world - as well as the failed utopian dreams of educational and constructivist ideology.


Mark said...

I'll just tell you up front Donald...I see an eBook int he future.

Lindell McConnell said...

I am fascinated by this concept and really look forward to seeing them all.
One suggestion I have is in the informal sphere. This is an area I am becoming more interested in as the &0:20:10 concept starts to gain some more momentum. My suggestion is Robert Baden-Powell (yess the founder of the Scout Movement) who was an early (if not the earliest) proponent of the "learning by doing" concept which he titled the "Scout Method". Maybe not a learning theorist but truly a great educator and practitioner in the learning field.

christian said...

I'm surprised not to see Comenius on your list His ideas were way ahead of his time, at least in the relm of langage teaching.
By the way, I love your blog!

Preparing2teach said...

Thanks for inspiring a generation of new teachers.

Moving Company In Waldron MO said...

Fantastic idea, I'll be reading too! Reading your list I found out I have read extensively about some, little about some others and almost nothing on a couple. Does this say something about my preferences, and style of learning/teaching?

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Narayana Rao K.V.S.S. said...

It is not right to say that education has not given importance to practice during education and it relied only on lectures. Also it is not right to say there is no empirical evidence. There is tremendous advancement in science and technology and if one wants to blame the current education system, it only produced all that development and also produced people who to promote their ideas are trying to talk extremely critically about the current system. While new ideas are always welcome and when they are great existing systems are abandoned, the promoters have to be humble to push their scheme of things.

Narayana Rao K.V.S.S. said...

Shall read your descriptions of various contributors to education and learning process.

Unknown said...

Peter Senge - the learning organization.

Avishek Misra said...

Congrats - If you can do this well it will become a reference point for future and existing professional to read the blog and get their knowledge enriched.

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Unknown said...

I am glad I ran across your blog. I am currently enrolled in an Instructional design class online. This topic is just what we are studying now. More comments to come.

Skrywersgilde said...

The Moodle guy is Martin Dougiamas from Perth in Western Australia.

Do you also need an honorary mention of George Siemens as the 'father' of constructivism and MOOCS?