Monday, April 30, 2012

Bandler NLP: No Longer Plausible: training’s shameful, fraudulent cult?

Richard Bandler, a cocaine addict, was arrested for murdering a prostitute by shooting her in the head, the girlfriend of his drug dealer. Despite the presence of her blood on Bandler’s shirt both he and the drug dealer admitted being in the room when she died but as each accused each other, both were acquitted. No one has been charged with the crime. He's one of the founders of NLP. These founders and their heirs have been involved in incredibly bitter disputes about the so-called theory and ownership of the NLP brand.

NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming)
NLP propelled itself into the heart of the training world. Yet NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) has little to do with serious neuroscience or linguistics, and is not taken seriously by academics in either field. However, it certainly is a programme. Indeed it has been criticised for being a ‘programme’, many seeing it as not more than a well-marketed cult.
NLP is not a unified theory, it’s a mixed bag of modelling techniques, where tutors diagnose people through keywords (predicates) and eye movements. The claim is that rapport can be enhanced using these techniques, therefore fooling people into doing what you want; working harder, buying your product etc. So can we tell from simple scientific trails whether this is all true or not?
Heap did exactly this. He looked at the scientific literature and found that PRS is not serious science. He found that 'keywords' are not indicators in the way NLP practitioners claim and ‘eye movement’ theories are, in particular, widely rejected. On establishing rapport Heap also found that there was no scientific evidence for the claim that these techniques improve rapport. Cody found that NLP therapists, using language matching, were actually rated as untrustworthy and ineffective. Heap concludes that NLP is “found to be lacking” and that “there is not, and never has been, any substance to the conjecture that people represent their world internally in a preferred mode which may be inferred from their choice of predicates and from their eye movements”.
Sharpley’s 1984 literature review found "little research evidence supporting its usefulness as an effective counseling tool" no support for preferred representational systems (PRS) and predicate matching, then in a 1987 study states "there are conclusive data from the research on NLP, and the conclusion is that the principles and procedures of NLP have failed to be supported by those data".
USNRC produced an academic  report stating that "individually, and as a group, these studies fail to provide an empirical base of support for NLP assumptions...or NLP effectiveness.". The whole edifice of influence and rapport techniques "instead of being grounded in contemporary, scientifically derived neurological theory, NLP is based on outdated metaphors of brain functioning and is laced with numerous factual errors".
NLP is also dismissed as a method for improving performance by the US Army (Swets & Bjork, 1990). “The conclusion was that little if any evidence exists either to support NLP’s assumptions or to indicate that it is effective as a strategy for social influence.”
Efran and Lukens (1990) stated that the "original interest in NLP turned to disillusionment after the research and now it is rarely even mentioned in psychotherapy". In his book, The Death of Psychotherapy, Eisner couldn’t find “one iota of clinical research” to support NLP.
Even Albert Ellis,the grandfather of cognitive behavioral therapy, specifically identified NLP as one of those, techniques to be avoided. This was the one therapy he abhorred because of its “dubious validity”.
Tomasz Witkowski in his paper Thirty-Five Years of Research on Neuro-Linguistic Programming. NLP Research Data Base. State of the Art or Pseudoscientific Decoration? puts the theory to the test. Despite its aggressive marketing and application in training, Witkowski asks; ‘Why is NLP completely absent from psychology textbooks?’ Rather conveniently, Bandler didn't think that empirical testing was necessary and is openly contemptuous of such an approach. However, it is important to look at the theory from a perspective that is free from the biases of its practitioners (as they believe the theory and make money from the practice) and the patients (who may be subject to manipulation and false belief). However, after subjecting NLP research to the filters of reputable, peer=reviewed journals he finds, quite simply, that that is “pseudoscience” and should be “mothballed”.
New age fakery
Corballis (1999) is even more scathing, "NLP is a thoroughly fake title, designed to give the impression of scientific respectability. NLP has little to do with neurology, linguistics, or even the respectable sub-discipline of neurolinguistics". Others, such as Beyerstein, accuse NLP of being a total con, new-age fakery to be classed alongside scientology and astrology. Beyerstein (1990) asserts that "though it claims neuroscience in its pedigree, NLP's outmoded view of the relationship between cognitive style and brain function ultimately boils down to crude analogies."
So, having been abandoned by serious theorists it is still hanging around in education and HR. Von Bergen et al (1997) showed that NLP had been abandoned by researchers in experimental psychology and Devilly (2005) makes the point that NLP has disappeared from clinical psychology and academic research only surviving “in the world of pseudo new-age fakery and, although no longer as prevalent as it was in the 1970s or 1980s… is still practiced in small pockets of the human resource community”. The science has come and gone, yet the belief still remains. So why is a theory with no credible academic basis in psychology, linguistics and neuroscience still being delivered as serious training? NLP rose on the back of a recent movement that saw marketing trump science. Aggressive selling of pop psychology has led to an explosion of ‘courses’ on NLP, learning styles, brain gym and dozens of other non-validated theories. It would seem that the training world is sometimes happy buying and selling cleverly marketed classroom ‘performance’ products that are, in fact, pseudoscience.
Heap, M. (1988). Neuro-linguistic programming, In M. Heap (Ed.) Hypnosis: Current Clinical, Experimental and Forensic Practices. London: Croom Helm, pp 268-280.
Heap, M. (1989). Neuro-linguistic programming: What is the evidence? In D Waxman D. Pederson. I.
Sharpley, C. F. (1984). Predicate matching in NLP: A review of research on the preferred representational system. Journal of Counselling Psychology, 31(2), 238-248.
Sharpley C.F. (1987). "Research Findings on Neuro-linguistic Programming: Non supportive Data or an Untestable Theory".Communication and Cognition Journal of Counseling Psychology, 1987 Vol. 34, No. 1: 103-107,105.
Druckman and Swets (eds) (l988) Enhancing Human Performance: Issues, Theories, and Techniques, National Academy Press.
Krugman, Kirsch, Wickless, Milling, Golicz, & Toth (1985). Neuro-linguistic programming treatment for anxiety: Magic or myth? Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology. Vol 53(4), 526-530.
Efran, J S. Lukens M.D. (1990) Language, structure, and change: frameworks of meaning in psychotherapy, Published by W.W. Norton, New York. p.122
Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, Jeffrey M. Lohr (eds) (2004) Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Seligman (1942 - ) Pied-piper of ‘positive’ psychology but at expense of realism?

Martin ‘Marty’ Seligman, is the Chair of the American Psychology Association and Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, is the father of positive psychology, he attempts to rebalance psychology towards the positive study of the mind, as opposed to its traditional bias towards the negative and pathological.
His early research into ‘learned helplessness’ led him towards a redefinition of psychology that saw study of the mind not as the study of what is wrong but what can be right. It was also a reaction against DSM-led psychiatry (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), that had overseen a massive rise in mental disorders and drug use in the US population. His influence has extended beyond academia to the promotion of positive thinking and happiness as an indicator of well-being in society. Many politicians, business people and educators have seen in this work, a new way of looking at society and organisations, with more focus on the psychological health (happiness) of individuals.
Happiness debate
It is often forgotten that the ‘happiness’ debate goes back to the Greeks and was played out in detail with Bentham and Mill in the late 18th, early 19th century. ‘The Greatest Happiness Principle’ led to a definition of happiness in terms of pleasure and the absence of pain. However, Bentham’s ‘hedonic calculus’ proved too awkward to use in any practical sense. Mill opted for quality, not quantity, with a focus on higher pleasures, but there were still problems of definition, and measurability. The arguments that ‘happiness’ is vague, difficult to measure and cannot be used as a guide for moral or social well-being, remain a problem for the postiive psychology school.
Smile or Die
Barbara Ehrenreich, in Smile or Die, is one of many who have criticised the rise of positive psychology and thinking. She thinks the ‘happy’ movement replaces reality with positive illusions. You can think positively but “at the cost of less realism”. For Ehrenreich it is this optimism bias that leads to megalomaniac business leaders, failed projects, missed sales figures, unrepayable debt and failure.
Pied piper of the positive psychology
Seligman is seen as the pied piper of the positive psychology movement but Seligman’s book Authentic Happiness was been seen by as Ehrenreich as a “jumble of anecdotes”.  She found his formula for happiness banal: H= S+F+C (Happiness = set range, circumstances and voluntary control). In the The Journal of Happiness Studies she reads study after study linking happiness to every conceivable outcome but it’s a lop-sided view of the world, with no room for negative results.
Leadership and positivism
The recent financial bubble, she claims, was built on the false optimism of being positive about everything. At the heart of the economic crisis was an epidemic of self-delusion. Bankers and advisors were coked up on a heady mixture of motivational speakers, motivational literature and coaches. Ehrenreich slates Tim Robbins, Chris Gardner and Chuck Mills for creating a ‘woo’ culture of high fives and leaders who became “megalomaniac, narcissistic solipsists”. Bankers and others built bubbles around themselves, all within a mega-bubble of debt. As Paul Krugman said “nobody likes to be a party pooper”.
Business and positivism
Ehrenreich refuses to “fake sincerity” and “retreat from the real drama and tragedy of human events” and sees a wider positivist force at work in education and training. She slams infantile books like; Who moved my cheese? Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Secret etc. for selling snakeoil solutions to vulnerable people. It is always happy hour for the “professionals who peddle positivity”, as they  make huge sums of money from the selling these illusions.
Education and training
Positively, however, Seligman’s work has led to a re-examination of the purpose of education, training and social aims beyond their tendency to focus on deficit models. The well-being of the person and learner has been brought into the equation, with sensitivity around positive traits and the teaching of social and emotional skills beyond the academic curriculum. Just like Mill in the 19th century he has had to soften his position on ‘hapiness’ in his 2011 book Flourish.
Even positive psychology had a positive and a negative side. On the one hand it has rebalanced the science of psychology, traditionally weighed down by the psychoanalytic and psychiatric tradition of seeing the mind in pathological terms. However, as a science in itself, it may have swung too far in the other direction producing an epidemic of false optimism and positivity in politics, business and education. Some Human Resources departments and educationalists are perhaps too eager to adopt this faddish narrative, using ‘positive’ and ‘good’ interchangeably, leading to megalomania in management and business practice. It may not be a matter of optimism versus pessimism, but realism versus illusions.
Bentham J. (1907) An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Mill J. S. Utilitarianism, Roger Crisp (ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.Bentham J. (An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation.
Seligman, M. E. P. (1975). Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman.
Seligman, M. E. P. (1991). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. New York: Knopf.
Seligman, M. E. P. (1993). What You Can Change and What You Can't: The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement. New York: Knopf.
Seligman, M. E. P. (1996). The Optimistic Child: Proven Program to Safeguard Children from Depression & Build Lifelong Resilience. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York: Free Press.
Ehrenreich B. (2010) Smile Or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America And The World Granta

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Calvin (1509-1564) teachers as preachers, sin and the deficit model of schooling

Education as a religious imperative
Calvin, with Luther, was a hugely influential Protestant reformer who attacked the Catholic Church and worked towards a return to a more basic form of Christianity based on a personal relationship between God the creator and his subjects. It is also important to remember that his intellectual lineage from St Augustine, so predestination, sin and eternal damnation figured large in his theological beliefs. In education, this reformed approach gave new impetus to self-improvement and universal schooling, made possible by the massive rise of printed books.
School as secular salvation
We must know only God and ourselves through scripture. Idolatry and ritual were to be shunned. We are fallen creatures, with the burden of original sin and have to find redemption through Christ. This fight against sin was to shape schooling and education in
Northern Europe and North America for centuries, with its deficit model, matched by righteous schoolmasters who had to drill, beat and moralise leaners into improvement. Discipline, attention and punctuality were to become the virtues of the schoolroom. Illich thought that Calvinism had literally shaped schooling as we know it, with school as the new form of secular salvation.
Universal education
His second influence is on his emphasis one universal education from an early age. Education was part of the Protestant mission and compulsory schooling was to be encouraged for all and so he encouraged the building of schools and free schooling for all, especially the poor. Through reformers like John Knox, schools were formed in every parish and they were to shape the Prussian model under Friedrich Wilhelm I, then the Napoleonic model and much of modern institutional learning, even into North America.
Calvin and print
Literacy was a virtue as it enabled the personal study of scripture direct from the printed word. Luther was another great influence on this policy. As an active promoter of the new publishing industry, he saw our personal relationship with God being truly mediated, not by the church and priests, but through personal reflection. Calvin’s support for the printed word, mostly scripture, came at a time in Europe when the print revolution was exploding and as books were no longer scarce, reading became a major pedagogic force.
Teaching as preaching
Perhaps his most enduring, influence is on preaching, exposition and the repetition as pedagogic techniques. In other words, the traits of the preacher were to become that of the teacher. Regular singing of Psalms, repetition of the Lord’s Prayer, moral assemblies each morning all made their way into schooling, reinforced in the Victorian era when schooling became compulsory and large numbers of children had to be looked after and schooled, as their parents were working in factories. We are still mired in this protestant pedagogy, if not its theological predilictions.
It has been argued that the Reformation, and Calvinism in particular, sees education as the rectification of weakness and not the building of strengths. What is produced and exposed is not success but failure, leading to fixed curricula, obsessive testing and a deficit model that interprets education in pathological terms. It can also be argued that many of the institutional behaviours and practices in schools regiment children in a way that as unnatural and unnecessarily restrictive. Morning assemblies, the teacher as transmitter of knowledge , rows of desks, bells on the hour, drill and practice, can be seen as strict Calvinist practices, where students are regarded as sinful beings that have to be saved from ignorance.
Calvin’s influence on education through universal schooling has been immense, as is his influence on attitudes towards education as a deficit model, where the students are seen from the start as a flawed creatures. This led to methods of teaching that are only now being re-examined. In a sense Calvin has been a curse and a blessing, with his emphasis on the virtues of education combined with the vices of, for example, teachers as preachers.
Calvin, J. Institutes for the Christian Religion
Tillich, Paul, (1968) History of Christian Thought, New York: Harper and Row
Reid, W. S. (1972) John Calvin: His Influence on the Western World, Michigan: Zondervan
Graham, W. Fred (1971), The Constructive Revolutionary: John Calvin and His Socio-Economic Impact, Richmond, Virginia: John Knox Press
Helm, Paul (2004),John Calvin's Ideas, Oxford

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Maslow (1908 - 1970) Hierarchy of needs. 5 or 7 levels? Useful or useless?

Abraham Maslow, the American psychologist, claimed that living beings prioritise needs. In his paper, A Theory of Human Motivation, published in 1943, he took a rather simplistic view of developmental psychology based on an examination of successful people. The hierarchical theory was fully realised in his 1954 book Motivation and personality where he stripped learning and training back to a hierarchy of basic human needs and desires, in an attempt to understand what motivates people to learn.
Hierarchy of needs
He created a hierarchy of needs, with five layers:

Deficit  or D-needs
The first four are all ‘deficit’ or ‘D-needs’. If they are not present, you’ll feel their absence and yearn for them. When each is satisfied you reach a state of homeostasis where the yearning stops. All of these are survival needs and mostly genetic.
The last, self-actualisation, does not involve homeostasis, but once felt is always there. Maslow saw this as applying to a tiny number of people, whose basic four levels are satisfied leaving them free to look beyond their deficit needs. He used a qualitative technique called ‘biographical analysis’ where he looked at high achievers and found that they enjoyed solitude, close relationships with a few rather than many, autonomy and resist social norms. Spontaneity, simplicity and respect for others were other characteristics.
Changed from 5 to 7 levels of needs
What is rarely known is that Maslow in 1970 changed his original model, developed in the 1950s, from 5 to 7 levels of needs. He added 'Know and Understand' and 'Aesthetic'. This upgraded model was largely ignored, as the earlier model had become so embedded in teacher and trainer training courses.
Although hugely influential, his work was never tested experimentally and his ‘biographical analysis’ was armchair research. The self-actualisation theory is now regarded as of no real relevance. Another problem is his slapdash use of evidence. Self-actualised people are selected by him then used as evidence for self-actualisation. As there is no control group, this is simply circular. An even weaker aspect of the theory is its strict hierarchy. It is not at all clear that the higher needs cannot be fulfilled until the lower needs are satisfied. There are many counter-examples and indeed, creativity can atrophy and die on the back of success. In short, subsequent research has shown that his hierarchy is crude, as needs are pursued non-hierarchically, often in parallel.
His hierarchy is often hauled into teacher training programmes, without any real understanding of why and whether the theory is indeed correct beyond some simple truisms. Indeed, apart from being fossilised as a component in bad teacher-training and train the trainer courses it is hard to see how it has any real relevance to what teachers, trainers, lecturers or instructors actually do when they teach.
Maslow has been almost omnipresent in education and training. However, it is not clear that his theory has had any real effect in real education and training. This is an entry from Maslow's own journal in 1962, 'My motivation theory was published 20 years ago, & in all that time nobody repeated it, or tested it, or really analyzed it or criticized it. They just used it, swallowed it whole with only the most minor modifications'. He was right. It isn’t a hierarchy, wasn’t tested and as a theory of human nature it is simplistic and banal. It seems to live on, perhaps because of the colourful triangle that looks great as a PowerPoint slide!
Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper.
Maslow, A. (1971). The farther reaches of human nature. New York: The Viking Press.
Maslow, A., & Lowery, R. (Ed.). (1998). Toward a psychology of being (3rd ed.). New York: Wiley & Sons.
Wahba, A; Bridgewell, L (1976). "Maslow reconsidered: A review of research on the need hierarchy theory". Organizational Behavior and Human Performance (15): 212–240.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bloom (1913-1999) one e-learning paper you must read plus his taxonomy of learning

Bloom and e-learning
One famous paper by Benjamin Bloom, The 2 Sigma Problem, compared the lecture, formative feedback lecture and one-to-one tuition. Taking the straight lecture as the mean, he found an 84% increase in mastery above the mean for a formative approach to teaching and an astonishing 98% increase in mastery for one-to-one tuition. Google’s Peter Norvig famously said that if you only have to read one paper to support e-learning, this is it. In other words, the increase in efficacy for one-to-one because of the increase in on-task learning is immense. This paper deserves to be read by anyone looking at improving the efficacy of learning as it shows hugely significant improvements by simply altering the way teachers interact with learners. E-learning, in the widest sense of the word promises what Bloom called ‘one-to-one learning’, whether it’s through self-paced structured learning, scenario-based learning, simulations or informal learning.
Bloom’s taxonomy
However, Bloom is far better known for his hugely influential classification of learning behaviours and provided concrete measures for identifying different levels of learning. His taxonomy includes three overlapping domains;
  1. Cognitive (knowledge)
  2. Psychomotor (skills)
  3. Affective (attitude)
It was devised to assist teachers to classify educational goals and plan and evaluate learning experiences. Unfortunately, this is about as far as most people get. They rarely dig deeper into his further six levels in the cognitive, six different aspects of psychomotor skills and his less useful, three types of affective.
Six levels of learning
This domain consisted of six levels, each with specific learning behaviours and descriptive verbs that could be used when writing instructional objectives.
Cognitive learning
1. Knowledge
·         Observation and recall of information
·         Knowledge of dates, events, places
·         Knowledge of major ideas
·         Mastery of subject matter
·         Verbs: list, define, tell, describe, identify, show, label, collect, examine, tabulate, quote, name, who, when, where, etc
2. Comprehension
·         Understanding information
·         Grasp meaning
·         Translate knowledge into new concept
·         Interpret facts, compare, contrast
·         Order, group, infer causes
·         Predict consequences
·         Verbs: summarise, interpret, contrast, predict, associate, distinguish, estimate, differentiate, discuss, extend, etc
3. Application
·         Use information
·         Use methods, concepts, theories in new situations
·         Solve problems using required skills or knowledge
·         Verbs: apply, demonstrate, calculate, complete, illustrate, show, solve, examine, modify, relate, change, classify, experiment, discover, etc
4. Analysis
·         Seeing patterns
·         Organising of parts
·         Recognition of hidden meanings
·         Identification of components
·         Verbs: analyse, separate, order, explain, connect, classify, arrange, divide, compare, select, explain, infer, etc
5. Synthesis
·         Use old ideas to create new ones
·         Generalise from given facts
·         Relate knowledge from several areas
·         Predict, raw conclusions
·         Verbs: combine, integrate, modify, rearrange, substitute, plan, create, design, invent, what if?, compose, formulate, prepare, generalise, rewrite, etc
6. Evaluation
·         Compare and discriminate between ideas
·         Assess value of theories and presentations
·         Make choices based on reasoned argument
·         Verify value of evidence
·         Recognise subjectivity
·         Verbs: assess, decide, rank, grade, test, measure, recommend, convince, select, judge, explain, discriminate, support, conclude, compare, summarise, etc
Psychomotor Learning
Objectives not usually set at this basic level
Fundamental movements
Applicable mostly to young children
Descriptive verbs: crawl, run, jump, change direction, etc.
Perceptual abilities:
Descriptive verbs: catch, write, balance, distinguish, manipulate, etc.
Physical abilities
Descriptive verbs: stop, increase, move quickly, change, react, etc.
Skilled movements:
Descriptive verbs: play, hit, swim, dive, use, etc
Non-discursive communication:
Descriptive verbs: express, create, mime, design, interpret, etc.
Affective Learning
Attitudes of awareness, interest, attention, concern, and responsibility
Ability to listen and respond in interactions with others
Ability to demonstrate those attitudinal characteristics, or values, which are appropriate to the situation and field of study
Just three years before behaviourism was to receive its fatal blow from Noam Chomsky, Bloom published his now famous taxonomy of learning. Few realise that this taxonomy is now 50 years old. There have been lots of taxonomies since then that slice and dice, many variations on existing categories. Indeed we've had dozens of taxonomies which sliced and diced in all sorts of ways. We've had Biggs, Wills, Bateson, Belbin and dozens more. We seem to got stuck in the Bloom  taxonomy.
The problem with taxonomies is their attempt to pin down the complexity of cognition in a list of simple categories. In practice, learning doesn’t fall into these neat divisions. It’s a much more complex and messier set of cognitive processes, so attention has shifted to how learning meshes with memory and techniques that improve organisation, chunking, encoding, practice and recall.
Another danger is that instructionalists, like Gagne, take these taxonomies and attempt to design learning that matches these categories, destroying much of the more useful approaches which an understanding of brain science brings; such as cognitive overload, working memory limitations, top-down processing and so on. Learning theory has moved on in terms of a more detailed understanding of memory, which has put everything on a more empirical and scientific basis.
We have Bloom to thank for addressing the basic but important issue in education – that group learning is not always better learning. He showed that formative feedback and one-to-one tuition are indeed powerful amplifiers of learning. Bloom was also the first to really establish a solid, working taxonomy of learning, had to have his theories extended, as people realised that the tripartite classification was too narrow. The cognitive, psychomotor and affective distinction is still widely used today, which is either a testimony to Bloom’s vision, or a tendency for the training world to become stuck in old models. His taxonomy was at least a start, which ultimately led to a more professional approach to instructional practice.
Bloom, B.S. (Ed.) (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals: Handbook I, cognitive domain. Longmans, Green.
Guskey, T. R. (2005).Benjamin S. Bloom: Portraits of an educator. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Kolb - Experience & learning: a 4 stage cycle, also learning styles (doomed to succeed!)

David Kolb is best known for his work on experiential learning. Heavily influenced by Dewey, and Piaget, he preferred an experiential model for learning, as opposed to purely cognitive models. We obviously learn much from experience, either formally in terms of structured exposure in training or in work and life itself through informal learning. Kolb and others since have tried to examine how we learn experientially and how this can be used to guide instructional strategies.
Four stage learning cycle
Kolb (with Roger Fry) created his famous four stage learning cycle.

He claims that we can enter the cycle at any point and that learning is really a process of looping round and round, seeing improvement on each loop. We may, for example, be able to do something but not express it in abstract terms. In the end, however, learning is formed through real experience, where one’s ideas are put to the test. Feedback then shapes the learning so that performance improves.
Learning styles
In Experiential Learning Kolb presents a learning styles theory:
Convergers like to take abstract ideas and reason then apply them to solve problems
Divergers use concrete experience and reflective observation to come up with imaginative solutions
Assimilators take abstract ideas and reason and combine it with reflective observation
Accommodators use concrete experience and active experimentation and like to get on with doing things
This schema gave rise to a learning styles assessment that could be used to determine the most appropriate form of learning for that individual.
Models such as Kolb’s four stage, experiential, cycle model can be over-simplistic. They rarely match the reality of the learning process and one can argue that stages can be skipped or performed in parallel. Subsequent tests of the model by Jarvis (1987, 1995) have indeed shown that things are more complex. The model is less of a cycle and more of a causal web. Others have argued that it pays too little attention to theory, information tasks, memorisation and reflection. Research into skills acquisition and the use of simulators has taken us well beyond the Kolb model into far more sophisticated analyses of learning and practice through experience.
On learning styles, it is hard to believe that people fall into these categories or that learning styles do, as many learning styles theorists claim, usually fall neatly into four categories. One negative influence on learning theory, although Kolb cannot be held responsible, is that the model had a direct influence on Honey and Mumford’s learning styles theory leading to a simplistic, four-category description of types of learning and learners. Neither Kolb nor Honey & Mumford’s learning styles theory were in any real sense, empirically researched. In fact recent research as doubted their usefulness and thrown doubt on their very existence.
Kolb is a refreshing alternative to the overemphasis on academic, knowledge-based learning and the idea of cyclical learning informed by experience is sound, as is the importance of formative experiences themselves in learning. However we must be careful in reducing experiential learning or learning by doing to such a simple schema. Although this model is a useful guide, in practice, the design of experiential learning is more complex.
Kolb, D. A. (1984) Experiential Learning, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice Hall.
Kolb, D. A. (1976) The Learning Style Inventory: Technical Manual, Boston, Ma.: McBer.
Kolb, D. A. (with J. Osland and I. Rubin) (1995a) Organizational Behavior: An Experiential Approach to Human Behavior in Organizations 6e, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Kolb. D. A. and Fry, R. (1975) 'Toward an applied theory of experiential learning;, in C. Cooper (ed.) Theories of Group Process, London: John Wiley.
Jarvis, P. (1987) Adult Learning in the Social Context, London: Croom Helm. 220 pages.
Jarvis P. (1995) Adult and Continuing Education. Theory and practice 2e, London: Routledge.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Gagne (1916 - 2002) Universal recipe for learning (9 steps)

Robert M Gagne is best known for his nine steps for instructional design. Hetook an interest in the information processing view of learning and memory in The Conditions of Learning (1965), which outlined his learning theory. An article Learning Hierarchies in 1968 was followed by Domains of Learning in 1972. In these texts he developed his five categories of learning and a universal method for instruction defined in his nine instructional steps.
Five categories of learning
Gagne’s theory has five categories of learning:
1. Intellectual Skills: Demonstrated by classifying things and problem solving
2. Cognitive strategies: Demonstrated by their use and appropriate application
3. Verbal information: Demonstrated by stating the information accurately
4. Motor skills: Demonstrated by physical performance
5. Attitudes: Demonstrated by preferring options
This was an attempt to move beyond and widen Bloom’s tripartite distinction: Cognitive (knowledge) Psychomotor (skills) and Affective (attitude), with a taxonomy that focuses on real world activities, rather than abstractions.
Nine instructional steps
But he is better known for his single method of instruction that can be applied to all five of his categories of learning. This instructional process was to be the recipe for good instructional design. You were expected to move through them, step by step.
1. Gaining attention: Get the learner into an expectant state
2. Stating the objective: Get the learner to understand what they will be able to do as a result of the instruction
3. Stimulating recall of prior learning: Get the learner to appreciate that they posses existing relevant knowledge
4. Presenting the stimulus: Expose the learner to the content
5. Providing learning guidance: Get the learner to understand the content
6. Eliciting performance: Get the learner to demonstrate what they have learned
7. Providing feedback: Inform the learner about their performance
8. Assessing performance: Reinforce the learning
9. Enhancing retention and transfer to other contexts: Get the learner to indulge in varied practice and to generalise the new capability
 ‘Gaining attention’ is often reduced to clichéd ice breakers or overlong animation in e-learning and rarely a truly engaging interactive event. In ‘Stating the objective’ the learner is often presented with a dull list of objectives (At the end of this course you will…). This works against the attention and arousal, necessary for learning. There is a strong argument for emotional engagement at the start of a learning experience and not a dull list of objectives. Stimulating recall of prior learning is fine but not if the content is truly new to the learner who has no real past experience to draw on and ‘Presenting the stimulus’ betrays behaviourist tendencies. However,Providing learning guidance’, ‘Eliciting performance’, ‘Providing feedback’ and ‘Assessing performance’ are all sound strategies, as is ‘Enhancing retention and transfer to other contexts’. In practice, much of this is reduced to exposition.
Learning and instructional designers often use Gagne’s nine steps and there is much to commend if it is seen as a checklist. However, it can be argued that his instructional ladder leads to predictable and over-structured learning experiences, a straightjacket that strips away any sense of build and wonder. It is also inappropriate for all learning strategies, as he claimed. Scenario-based learning, many types of simulation, games pedagogies and sophisticated adaptive learning are just a few techniques that do not fit readily into this step-by-step recipe.
Gagne has influenced much of what has appeared as self-paced e-learning over the last 30 years. This has served designers well for simple self-paced e-learning, but the step-by-step approach is now seen as inappropriate for alternative informal learning, especially informal learning and more advanced pedagogies. Some see this approach as producing formulaic, often uninspiring and over-long courses.
Gagne was one an early learning theorists who provided some simple and practical advice on instructional design, which in some way accounts for his success. Although his instructional model is not applicable to all types of learning, and can be seen as a restriction, he brought a certain method to design which produced lots of solid learning experiences and content.
Gagne, R. M. (1965). The Conditions of Learning, New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Gagné, R. M. (1970). Basic studies of learning hierarchies in school subjects. Berkeley,Calif: University of California.
Gagné, R. M., Richey, R., ERIC Clearinghouse on Information & Technology., International
 Board of Standards for Training, Performance, and Instruction., & United States. (2000).The legacy of Robert M. Gagné. Syracuse, N.Y: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information & Technology, Syracuse University

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