Thursday, December 11, 2014

Gardner's Multiple IntelligenceTheory


“An intelligence is the ability to solve problems, or to create products, that are valued within
one or more cultural settings.” -- Howard E. Gardner, Frames of Mind (1983)

There are many theories dealing with how learners learn, what cognitive processes they use, how instruction should be created, what conditions should be provided  to facilitate learning, and so on. All these theories apply to a single category of learners and there is no individually tailored method to cater to the varied learning styles of learners. This changed with Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence theory. 

"Human cognitive competence is better described in terms of a set of abilities, talents, or mental skills, which I call intelligence." -- Howard E. Gardner, Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice (2006)

Gardner took into consideration the cognitive science (the study of the mind) and neuroscience(the study of brain). He believed that every person had an intelligence (mental skills, abilities, talents) but with varying degrees of development and multiple combinations. Therefore, every person/learner has a unique individual intelligence that defines his/her learning style and ability to respond to stimuluses in a unique manner.  

Let's say, you are meeting with a couple of people for the first time. You introduce yourself, while trying to remember their names and faces simultaneously. Fast forward one week, you see this person and you are trying to remember where you met him - at the meeting of course! But what's his name? Chances are you might not remember that...not because you were not paying attention, but most likely because you belong to the 'Visual-Spatial' intelligence group, the ones who remember things like faces, images, graphics, and pictures more easily, than say names or telephone numbers of people. 

This theory stress the fact that educators and instructional designers must take into consideration the various types of intelligences have - and then design their instructional materials accordingly.  

There are seven types of intelligences as per Gardner. Let's take a look at each one:

  • Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence
  • Visual-Spatial Intelligence
  • Logical-Mathematical Intelligence
  • Musical-Rhythmic Intelligence
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence
  • Interpersonal Intelligence
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence

Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence

If you fall under this type of intelligence, you most likely have very well developed verbal and auditory skills. You have a highly developed sensitivity to rhythm of words and sounds that those words make. You tend to accumulate knowledge using "language" as a vehicle - reading, writing, and speaking. You think in words, so to describe a picturesque valley or envision the rising sun over the horizon, will come naturally to you. 

You, like most people with this intelligence, are the ones usually playing scrabble, solving crossword puzzles, writing poetry or novels. You love to be part of discussions, debates, formal speaking, creative writing, assignments and comprehension activities. You are best taught by including 'words' and 'rhythm of words' that make connections in the materials being taught - therefore help you remember things  better. 

Visual-Spatial Intelligence

If you fall under this type of intelligence, you think in terms of images, illustrations, graphics, pictures, shapes, designs, patterns, textures, and diagrams. For you, a picture is worth a thousand words. You have the ability to visualize any concept and remember it. You have interests in jigsaw puzzles, in reading maps, and in drawing. 

Designers and architects fall into this category - give the designer a blank room or give the architect a piece of land, and they can come up with the most amazing designs - on a piece of paper. They have an inherent sense of design and colors - what goes with what. You are best taught by including a great deal of pictorial information in the instructional materials. 

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence

If you have this intelligence, you are good at reasoning and calculating. You have the ability to think in numbers and patterns. You have a knack to visualize things conceptually and abstractly. You can use numbers, math, and logic to identify patterns in real-life, which are often overlooked by others. You can identify visual patterns, numerical patterns, thought patterns, color patterns and so on and try to make sense out of it. 

For you, reasoning and logic are part of your inherent process of thinking - and you try to make sense out of everything in terms of these two characteristics.  You love solving complex problems and tend to be very systematic and organized. You have a logic explanation to everything you are doing at any time and often try to apply logic to every situation you come across. 

You enjoy experimenting things, solving puzzles, and debating philosophical questions. To learn anything, you faculty should present you an empty house (abstract concept), which you will fill later - with the details. You enjoy learning through use of games that involve logic and investigations. 

Musical-Rhythmic Intelligence

As the name suggests, if you fall in this group, you love the sound of music and the vibration of rhythm. You are sensitive to various sounds and vibrations in your environment - and often react to what you 'hear'. Remember the friend with the ear-plugs on at nearly all times - well, that one was not listening to music all the time - rather was using music to concentrate on other tasks. Or that girl who could remember the entire song that she had heard, only once - well, this is their musical intelligence at play. 

You can work, study, and concentrate better with music in the background. You like creating music, mimicking different sounds, types of speech, and language accents. You can identify different instruments from a composition. You are best taught by including rhythms and sounds in the instructional materials. This includes using multimedia, CD-ROMs, musical instruments, radios, stereos among others.

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence

If you have this intelligence, you have a heightened sense of awareness about your body. You are the 'learn by doing' types. You like to get involved in physical games, hands-on learning tasks, acting-out things, role-playing activities, dancing, and building things and inventing stuff with your hands.

You often perform activities better after seeing someone else perform them first - remember the friend who could copy the precise dance movements of anyone on that TV show - well, that's a bodily-kinesthetic intelligence for you. You can be taught by getting involved in any type of physical activity, else you will get bored easily.

Interpersonal Intelligence

You are the 'go-to' people of a group - need advice, need help, need empathy - you fit the bill. You have a heightened sensitivity to the feelings of others and most of you learn by interacting with other people. You usually have a large group of friends and you tend to develop an empathy towards most people. 

You have very effective people and communication skills. You are proficient at bringing people out of their shells and getting them involved in discussions. You are skilled at conflict resolution and enabling people with radically opposing views reach a satisfying compromise. Your intelligence group can be called the peacemakers of the society. 

The best way to teach you is to get people involved somewhere down the line. Group activities, seminars, and dialog are some modes that interest you as modes of learning. In addition, various media such as audio and video conferencing, individual one-on-one time, and telephonic conversations can also be used.

Intrapersonal Intelligence

If you have this type of intelligence, you have an ability that most people don't- self introspection and self-awareness. How many of us have ever wondered about our purpose on this planet, what we will accomplish in a lifetime (non-materialistic things), or how can we improve ourselves for the greater good? If you answered to any of these questions, you have an intrapersonal intelligence. You have the ability to introspect every situation that you are in, step aside and see it subjectively. 

Rather than looking outwards for solutions, people with your type of intelligence look inwards for the answers - introspective intelligence. They understand the inside world - emotion, self, values, beliefs, and the ever continuous adventure to attain perfection.  You tend shy away from people and tend to be loners. You are self-motivated, confident, strong-willed with an intuitive nature. You will enjoy learning if your learning materials allow you to introspect and to foster independence of thought.  Things that can help you learn are books, creative materials, and diaries, all of which will provide the privacy you need (shy nature) and provide an independent learning environment that is best suited for you.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Gagné - Nine Events of Instruction


I have already discussed two of the three elements comprising Gagné's theory - conditions of learning and domains of learning outcomes. Now, I will discuss the remaining third and probably the most important aspect of his theory - The Nine Events of Instruction. This will answer the third question about how should we design our instructions so that the learner achieves the desired learning goals.

The nine events of instruction are:

We will begin with an example. I will be using this example side by side with the theoretical concepts to explain each of these nine events. I hope that this will help in providing a basic case study on how to design courses using this methodology. 

Please note that this case study is for a fictitious company. 

Nine Events of Instruction

Consider this, Mary is an instructional designer with CompLanguages Inc,. She has been asked to create a course - Microsoft Silverlight for beginners. She is familiar with Gagne's work and now wants to use his theory to design this new course. Assuming that Mary has gathered all the necessary external information, such as books and articles describing Silverlight, she begins her work. Her first lesson is introducing her learners to the basics of Silverlight and creating a small application in Silverlight.

1. Gain Attention of Learners

This is the first and foremost thing to do. You can gain the attention of the learners by providing adequate stimulus. 

Mary shows the students an application built in Silverlight and informs them that they will be creating this application by the end of the lesson.

2. Inform Learners About the Objectives

This is an important step as an instructional designer or teacher, you can lay a roadmap for your learners. The introduction of objectives also sets an expectation and the learners know exactly what they will be able to accomplish at the end of the learning session.

Mary creates the following terminal objective for her learners:
  • By the end of this lesson, you will be able to build and run a sample Silverlight application.  
Now, she needs to create the enabling objectives that will allow the learners to achieve the stated terminal objective. These objectives can be as follows:
  • Introducing MS Silverlight
  • Using the Silverlight interface
  • Identifying components of the Silverlight architecture
  • Building a Silverlight application
  • Running a Silverlight application
As you can see, informing the learners about objective will let them know beforehand what all they can expect to cover in that session. 

3. Stimulate Recall of Prior Learning in Learners

By providing a stimulus to recall previously learnt information, the learner brings in previously stored information that is relevant to the current context from the long-term memory into the short-term or working memory. This causes the activation of the short-term memory.

Mary runs a similar application to the one she showed in Step 1. She asks them if they can identify the functions and properties that enabled her to create this application. She then tells them that similar functions and properties are used in Silverlight to build applications. 

By doing this, she is causing the learners to bring into their short-term memory any previously learnt information about building similar applications, but by using a different software. 

4. Present Content to Learners

The content has to be chunked and  presented in a meaningful manner. This is because when any information is presented to the learner, the cognitive load theory kicks into action. By applying this theory and presenting information in a way that makes sense to the learner, you are able to stimulate information retention. This means that this information has a greater chance of being transferred from the short-term memory to the long-term memory. 

Mary now presents the content of the course as per the enabling objectives. She uses the strategy of first presenting a theoretical concept and then showing its practical application. In the process, she is also building the sample application that the learners were shown in Step 1. 

This way, she is accessing the intellectual skills domain of the learners, by building cumulative learning - moving from simple rules/concepts to difficult rules/concepts. This helps the learners understand one concept (small meaningful chunks of information - cognitive load) at a time. By introducing more complex concepts, she is building on their prerequisite knowledge.

Now, you can see how the domains of learning , especially the intellectual skills domain comes into play. You can visit my previous blog, Conditions of Learning to refresh your knowledge.  

5. Provide Learning Guidance to Learners

To ensure that the content that has been presented to the learner will be stored in the long-term memory, it is important to provide additional aids, such as using text, video, audio, examples/non-examples, case-studies, graphical representations, mnemonics, and analogies. 

Some methods to provide learning guidance include the following:
  • Making instructional support available, such as scaffolds (cues, hints, prompts) that can be removed after the learner has understood/learned the content/task.
  • Using different strategies such as mnemonics, content mapping, role-playing, and visualizing throughout the course.
  • Using examples to reinforce concepts learned and non-examples to understand what not to do.
  • Using case studies for real-world applications, analogies for knowledge construction, visual images for visual association, and metaphors for supporting learning.

Such aids help the learner to fit this 'new' knowledge into the existing schemas by the process of assimilation or accommodation. You can refer to my previous post, Schemas, Assimilation, and Accommodation for further information.

Mary uses a sample case study to build her Silverlight application. She provides several examples and non-examples along the way to show how they can affect the final application - by displaying an incorrect application or not displaying anything at all. Further, she uses graphical representations to explain concepts like the architecture of Silverlight. 

6. Elicit Performance From Learners

To reinforce the concepts learned, the learner is asked to practice the new skill or apply the new concept learned. It is important to ensure that the learner has understood the concepts, else they need to make corrections. Repetition of a concept enables retention of that concept, in other words, repetition facilitates the movement of concepts from the short-term memory into the long-term memory. 

Certain strategies, such as activities based on concepts learned or recall strategies can be used to activate learner processing.

Mary asks the learners to create a visual representation their understanding of Silverlight's architecture. She asks them to write code snippets similar to what they have been taught, but changes some of the parameters of the application. By doing this, she is reinforcing the concepts taught and providing a chance to rectify their mistakes(if any).

7. Provide Feedback to Learners

The learners are provided feedback on the questions they have been asked in Step 6.  Questionnaires or quizzes can be used to test the learners on the concepts, facts, principles, or procedures that have been taught. This step stresses that the teacher must provide immediate feedback to facilitate learning.

There are four types of feedback options:

  • Confirmatory Feedback: Informs the students that they did what was expected of them.
  • Corrective and Remedial Feedback: Informs the students about the accuracy of their performance or feedback.
  • Remedial Feedback: Guides the learners towards the path to the correct answer in form of cues and hints, but does not provide the correct answer.
  • Informative Feedback: Provides information (new, different, additions, suggestions) to the student as per their response.
  • Analytical Feedback: Provides students with suggestions, recommendations, and information to enable them rectify or correct their performance.
These options can be used individually or combined to provide a more comprehensive feedback.

Mary provides them with informative feedback on the theoretical question about visual representation of Silverlight architecture. She provides analytical feedback on the code snippet questions to enable them to understand why a particular function/parameter was used and how can they can be tweaked so as to optimize them. This enables the learners to understand why their response was correct/incorrect. 

8. Assess Performance of Learners

This is to test the understanding of the learners regarding the objectives (enabling, terminal) of the course. This step is to ensure that the instructional designer or teacher verifies if the learning outcomes or task assessments have been fully understood by the learners. 

Some of the methods used for testing are:

  • Conducting a pre-test to verify mastery of prerequisites for the course
  • Conducting a post-test to verify mastery of the content or skills taught in the course
  • Embedding questions throughout the course and testing learners using oral questioning and/or quizzes
  • Including objective-referenced questioning to test learners how well they have learned a topic
Mary has embedded small quizzes throughout her course to ensure that the learners have understood the topics that are being taught. She has also embedded code snippets and tests the learners on their ability to spot the incorrect parameter/function that is causing the incorrect output/result to be displayed.  Finally, she gives them an online test that encompasses the entire course.

9. Enhance Retention and Transfer of Knowledge to the Job of Learners

For a skill to become stored in the long-term memory and become useful to the learner, it is important that they are able to use these newly learned concepts and apply them in real-time. Practice enables the learners retain the newly acquired information, especially with verbal information, intellectual skills, and motor skills. The instructional designers can help internalize this knowledge by providing spaced reviews.

Some of the methods to help learners internalize this newly learned knowledge are:
  • Paraphrase content
  • Use metaphors
  • Generate examples
  • Create content maps or outlines
  • Create job-aids, references, templates, or wizards
Mary provides her learners with job-aids and content maps to ensure that they remember this information even after they have left the classroom. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Gagné - Conditions of Learning and Classification of Learning Outcomes


In my Learning Theories article, there was a particular question we were interested in - "how can I design a course that will help learners achieve their desired outcome - total learning?"  There are three parts to this question:
  • What conditions should we provide to facilitate learning?
  • How can learners achieve their desired learning outcome?
  • What should be the actual design this course?
All these questions can be answered by Robert Gagné's Instructional Design theory. He is known as the father of instructional design. His early works were influenced by the behavioristic theories and later by Miller's Information Processing theory. 

Gagné identified five different domains of learning along with the conditions that were required for learning to occur in those domains. Further, he also provided a solid framework for designing instructions by describing nine events to create those instructions. But before we begin with describing the various facets of this theory, we need to ask a question, "what is learning"?

What is learning and learning outcome?

As per Gagné, learning is a change in human capability that lasts for a particular duration of time. This change in capability is measured as the change in behavior of a learner. This reminds us of the behavioristic approach to learning - that learning has only happened if there is an observable change in behavior. 

Gagné further adds that to measure this observable change in behavior is by comparing the 'before learning' behavior of the learner with the 'after learning' behavior. If a significant observable change has happened, only then can you safely assume that learning has occurred. 

Gagné proposed that there were particular types of human behaviors that could be learned. These observable behaviors are called learning outcomes and a learning theory should be able to explain how these behaviors change ( in other words how did learning happen since there was an observable change in behavior). 

There are three elements comprising Gagné 's Conditions of Learning theory:
  • Conditions of Learning
  • Classification of Learning Outcomes
  • Nine Events of Instruction

Conditions of Learning

There are two types of conditions that are common to all the learning outcomes: external conditions and internal conditions. 

External Conditions
These are conditions that exist outside the learner. These conditions are the learning situation, the learning environment, and any external aids such as books, videos, or audio that an instructional designer or teacher uses to facilitate the learning process. The external conditions are different at every point in the learning cycle for the same learner. This is attributed to the fact the learning might begin at a different point each time and the external environment will usually be different for that point in time. 

Internal Conditions 
These are the inherent capabilities of a learner and are already present within him or her even before any external learning begins. These internal conditions are transformed and they cause a change in behavior of a learner. This change is observable and proves that learning has occurred. 

These learning outcomes or observable behaviors that change are influenced by both, external conditions and internal conditions. Gagné identified different domains of learning outcomes and therefore was able to provide insight into how an instructional designer can control the external conditions of learning to facilitate learning in the appropriate classification or domain.

Classification of Learning Outcomes

Gagné identified five classifications or domains of learning outcomes:
  • Intellectual Skills
  • Verbal Skills 
  • Motor Skills
  • Attitudes
  • Cognitive Strategies 
Gagné believed that the variables associated with the learning tasks within one domain may not influence the learning tasks within another domain. However, these variables can affect other learning tasks within the same domain. For example, any learning tasks within the intellectual skills domain, such as identifying a different shape from a group of similar shapes, can influence another learning task such as identifying a different color from a group of similar colors. But this learning task cannot affect another task, such as writing a name on a piece of paper using a pen, which falls within the motor skills domain. 

Intellectual Skills Domain

This domain is based on the concept of cumulative learning. It means that a learner needs to have some prior information or prerequisite knowledge about a topic before adding more onto this existing knowledge base. This construction process of building new knowledge blocks on top of existing knowledge base creates a learning hierarchy, which only exists within the intellectual domain. 

What is Prerequisite Knowledge?
This comprises knowledge that a learner already possesses. It is the foundation used by the learner to build upon as new knowledge is assimilated or accommodated. This knowledge possessed by the learner is at an easier/lower level before the learner moves onto a more difficult/higher level of the same concept in the same domain. 

What is Learning Hierarchy?
As I said previously, this hierarchy or levels of learning exist only within the intellectual skills domain. You can imagine this hierarchy as learning pyramid, with the simple skills forming the bottom layer, the prerequisites forming the middle layer, and the complex skills forming the top layer. 

To solve a problem, the learner should have first mastered a set of simple rules. These simple rules become the prerequisite knowledge a learner must possess. These prerequisites enable more knowledge blocks to be constructed on top of them,in this case combining the simple rules to form complex rules. These complex rules will ultimately be used solve the problem. 

For example:

Simple rule: if B= A + 5; then solve the problem: A+B = A+ (A+5) = 2A +5; 
Prerequisites: (A+B) = 2A + 5
Complex rule: If A = C - 2, solve (A+B) - (B+2A) ;  You must solve B+2A = (A+5)+2A = 3A +5 , then solve the total equation (2A+5)- (3A +5) = 2A + 5 -3A - 5 = -A, and finally substitute the value of A in the final solution = -(C - 2) = 2+C, which is the final solution.

The five sub-domains within the intellectual skills domain are:
  • Problem Solving Skills
  • Rule Learning Skills
  • Defined Concepts 
  • Concrete Concepts
  • Discrimination Skills
Problem Solving Skills
A learner has to find a solution to a new problem - something that the learner is confronting for the first time. The learner has to decide which set of rules to use or which combination of rules to apply to generate a solution to the problem. For example, how to increase the work productivity by 10%. 

Rule Learning Skills
A learner has to apply a new rule, a formula, or a principle to solve a problem. For example, convert 10 degrees Celsius into Fahrenheit or find the speed of the train if it covers 100 miles in 30 minutes ( speed = distance /time).

Defined Concepts
A learner has to group objects based on a particular rule. For example, identify all the countries that have the red color as part of their flag, or identify the objects that have four sides (triangles, octagons, hexagons, pentagons, rectangles, squares, and so on).

Concrete Concepts
A learner has to group objects based on their physical characteristics. For example, group the elements from the periodic table that have a positive charge on them (Sodium, Calcium, Magnesium, and so on..) or arrange the toys according to their color.

A learner has to identify the object that is different from the rest of the objects in that group. For example, identify the object that has four wheels from a group of automobiles (trains, buses, airplanes, wagons, cars, trucks, buses, and so on..)

Remember, that the variables associated with the learning tasks within one domain can affect other learning tasks within the same domain. 

Verbal Skills Domain

This involves the learner stating the previously memorized knowledge, which includes facts, concepts, principles, and procedures. There are certain conditions that you can provide to the learner to enable mastery over the verbal skills:

  • Provide a meaningful context: For example, to create a secondary color such as yellow, a learner needs to know about the primary colors (red, blue, green). After this context has been established, a learner can understand that primary colors can be combined to create newer colors,  and that combining red and green colors will create the yellow color. 
  • Provide an opportunity to practice the newly mastered skills: Continuing with the previous example, you can provide learners with the primary watercolors and ask them to mix up various combinations of primary colors to see what all 'new' secondary colors they can create.
  • Stress relationships among the content to be learned: Using the previous example, you can tell the learners that primary colors can be combined to create newer secondary colors. Here, the keyword that stresses the relationship among the content (primary and secondary colors) to be learned is 'combined'. 
  • Provide additional practice over time: For the colors example that we have discussed, you can ask the learners to create more colors by combining primary as well as secondary colors and creating collages out of their 'newly' created color palate.

Motor Skills Domain

A learner has to execute body movements in a coordinated manner to accomplish a learning task. For example, to write a name in cursive handwriting using a pen, a learner has to learn to hold the pen, and then connect the individual alphabets to create a cursive hand, and know the spelling of the name that he/she will be writing. Other examples include swimming in a pool (use motor muscles of entire body) or playing a game of basketball (motor muscles of hands, arms, and legs).

There are certain conditions that you can provide to the learner to enable mastery over the motor skills:
  • Observe an expert at work: For example, in soccer to hit the ball with the feet, allow a learner to observe how a professional hits the ball to score a goal.
  • Provide an opportunity to practice the skill: Continuing with the previous example, now allow the learner to hit the ball.
  • Provide positive reinforcement or feedback on the performance and tips to improve the skill: Using the soccer example, you can provide a note of encouragement to the learner and then go ahead and provide some tips on how he/she can hit the ball better.

Attitude Domain

This pertains to the choices a learner makes that defines his or her behavior towards a particular situation. These choices a learner makes are in response to a given situation. Therefore, to enable a learner to obtain 'master' over the skills in the attitude domain, you must help them gain control over their responses to the situation, as learners will seldom have control over the variables in a given situation. 

There are certain conditions that you can provide to the learner to enable control over their response in terms of attitude skills:
  • Provide a role model to show the desired response to a given situation: For example, in a situation where another person (variable) disagrees with the learner's point of view, you can show a co-worker handling the situation in an amicable manner and avoiding a full blown confrontation rather than being disrespectful and causing a scene in the office. This will help the learner understand the desired behavior (resolve situation amicably) and will reinforce the desired result (avoid confrontation).
  • Engage the learners to make the correct choices and then reinforce the decision by providing positive feedback: Continuing with the previous example, you can provide cues and hints to guide the learners towards the choosing the correct behaviour response. If they do this, you can provide a feedback that due to resolving the situation amicably, the learner has been promoted to a team-lead position. However, if the learner is unable to make the correct decision, you still have to provide a feedback that might tell them why the decision they made was incorrect. 
Mostly, the attitude domain is covered under the soft skills courses that organizations provide to their employees.

Cognitive Strategy Domain

This involves engaging the learner in tasks that will help them control their thinking and learning processes. Have you heard of Lumosity, or any website like that? Well, Lumosity provide 'exercises for the brain' that look like games. In reality, these exercises stimulate different parts of the brain to increase their capacity and response times for any given situation. These exercises fall under the cognitive strategy domain. You can design similar activities for your learners that will engage their brains and modify their cognitive capabilities.

There are certain conditions that you can provide to the learner to enable mastery over their cognitive faculties:

  • Introduce new problems to stimulate the learner's cognitive processes
  • Allow learners to monitor their cognition
  • Allow learners to observe the experts at work

Despite whichever domain your learner may fall into, one thing remains constant - the learning outcomes that need to be learned. Each learning outcome can be defined using a set of learning objectives. These objectives are of two types: enabling objectives and terminal objectives.  The enabling objectives are the smaller individual tasks that a learner must complete that will culminate towards achieving the final task -  the terminal objective. A learner must complete the enabling objectives first and then will he/she able to reach the terminal objective. 

For example:
Terminal Objective (TO): Use MS Word to save your work
Enabling Objectives (EO): 
  • Open a new file in MS Word
  • Save a file in MS Word
A learner will have to accomplish the individual tasks of opening and saving a file (EOs) that will lead to him/her being able to use MS Word to save his/her work (TO).

In my next post, I will continue with Gagné and his Nine Events of Instruction.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Schemas, Assimilation, and Accommodation


Taking off from where I left in the previous post, we were asking ourselves, “how does a learner store all the information that I provide in his/her brain?”  Before we begin, here is a question for you - what is a Komondor? Hmm, before googling it, some of you might think it’s a bird or an airplane (pun intended) or something like that, right?

Well, a Komondor is an exotic dog breed. Suddenly, now you know everything there is to know about a Komondor – it has four legs, has two ears, has a tail, is loyal, is playful, and is a dog. A second ago, you were thinking this is a fruit and now you know so much about this new entity. How did your brain manipulate this incoming new information? This process of acquiring knowledge (such as what is a Komondor?) through thought, experience, and senses (touching, seeing (reading text in our case), hearing, smelling, tasting) is called cognition. 

What is a Schema?

The Cognitive Load theory is based on the premise that the most efficient way for learning to happen is under conditions that are aligned with the human cognitive architecture. This architecture comprises the brain’s storage structures, also called a schema. A schema, by definition is a representation of a plan or design in the form of an outline or model. For the human cognitive architecture (STM and LTM), the schema will be a series of structures that are intricately interrelated, like a big supermarket with aisles and its various shelves. You can also think of the schema as the supermarket, with each information chunk with its own aisle, and various facets of that information given its own shelf space. And, your brain is the manager of this supermarket and knows exactly what goes where.

Schemas are the cognitive structures that make up the knowledge base (Sweller, 1988). This knowledge base comprises the entire learning of a person. Schemas are the main reason why we learn. They are the information storage units of the brain. These storage units are the cognitive structures that comprise the knowledge base of a learner, which is ever changing. The knowledge base is the entire supermarket of your brain, which is accessed by you all the time, either to add information, to update information, or to delete information. Since these processes are continuous, therefore learning is continuous and the knowledge base is ever changing. Ever heard the old adage, ‘only change is constant’, - think about it. But how do schemas do that? They do this through assimilation and accommodation.

What is Accommodation?

When any new learning (knowledge/information/concept) is introduced to the learner, the cognitive processes of the brain modify the existing schema structure to “fit” this new learning. This process of modifying existing schema structures so that new learning can fit in them is called accommodationRevisiting the supermarket again, if you were to introduce tinned produce, such as beans for the first time what would you do? You would build a new aisle to house this new line of products by shifting the existing aisles to make more room. Here, the brand new line of products (new information) will be accommodated by adding a new aisle to the existing aisles in the supermarket (modification of schema).

What is Assimilation?

However, if the learning introduced is reasonably familiar to the learner, these cognitive processes will simply “fit” this learning into the existing schema structures without any modification. This process of fitting new learning into existing structures is called assimilationContinuing with the supermarket example, if you were to add a new product –sugar free chocolate cookies to the Cookies aisle, you will only have to create space for it on the existing shelves where the other types of cookies are placed. The sugar free cookies (new information) will be assimilated in the Cookies aisle (existing schema) simply by making space for it (no modification of schema). The concepts of assimilation and accommodation introduced by Miller in his Information Processing theory, and later on used by Sweller in his Cognitive Load theory.

To assimilate or to accommodate?

Now, a new question arises - how does the brain make a decision - accommodation or assimilation? Well, this is based on the precept that when new information is encountered, the brain takes a quick look at its schema structures to see if this new information has any links to the already existing knowledge base stored there. If the brain finds even a remote link to this new information, it will use the process of assimilation (add information as in into the structures), else it will use the process of accommodation (modify existing structures to fit in this new information).

Did you know that a Komondor is a large Hungarian dog with a long, corded coat? Ah yes! But you already know that Komondor was a dog, right? So what did your brain do with this new information that I gave you? Your brain used the process of assimilation and fit this new information as is into your existing schema structure, hypothetically labeled ‘Dogs’. No modifications required here!

But when you saw this for the first time, your brain could not link this new information “Komondor” to anything it already knew, as it was new. And when you were told that it was a dog, your brain used the process of accommodation and modified the hypothetical ‘Dogs’ schema structure to add this somewhat familiar entry into the a subset of the ‘Dog’ structure, labeled ‘Dog Breeds’.

What is Disequilibrium and Equilibration?

What happened to your brain the first time around was disequilibrium, which is a state of confusion encountered when the brain is unable to integrate new information into any existing schema structures. However, when you were given additional information about Komondor, your brain used the process of equilibration, which is the cognitive process within your brain that causes restructuring of information for assimilation or accommodation (in our case accommodation) caused disequilibrium.

We cannot assimilate or accommodate all the time, otherwise we would never be able to retain any information as our brain structures would be in a constant state of flux – and nothing would be stable anymore. Therefore, the process of equilibration is used by the brain to restructure and control the processes of accommodation or assimilation.

In my next post, I will continue with our next theory, Instructional Design Theory - Nine Events of Instruction (R. Gagné).

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Cognitive Load Theory


This theory was proposed by John Sweller. Lets begin with a small exercise, (similar to the one illustrated by Mr Howard Soloman at

Take a look at the following for only three seconds and try to memorize them and then, write them down in the same sequence (now only 3s, nothing more.. ready..go!)


How many of you were able to write it down - all of it? Now, let's try doing this exercise again, you will again have only three seconds to memorize and write them down:


Yes, this time it was so easy, wasn't it.. or so it seemed. But look carefully at both strings of text, you see it? Yes, they are made up of the same alphabets. Only, the arrangement was different. Let's dig a bit deeper. In the first string, there are ten chunks of information while the second one only has four.

This leads us to the first question that I discussed in my previous post: How much information can I provide the learner at any given time, that he/she understands and retains all of it? 

What is the Cognitive Load Theory?

To answer this question, we have to understand the Cognitive Load theory. The Cognitive Load theory is based on the premise that the most efficient way for learning to happen is under conditions that are aligned with the human cognitive architecture. As per this theory, there are two important terms associated with learning - the cognitive load and the cognitive limit

The cognitive load is the amount of information a person is trying to process in the working memory at one time. 

The cognitive limit is the maximum number of chunks of information a person can process in the working memory at one time, which is 7 plus/minus 2 (maximum of nine and minimum of five). That's why you were able to remember the second string much more easily than the first one.

Lets try to apply this in real-life ID. I was told that while creating a powerpoint presentation, "No more than eight words per sentence and no more than five bullet points per slide." Suddenly, this makes much more sense - we have to take into consideration the cognitive load and the cognitive limit of learners before dumping a truck load of information on them. We have to provide this information in smaller chunks (cognitive limit) for easier memorization and recall.

But should this be the only criteria for us to use - breakdown larger chunks of information into smaller chunks of information, or is there something else?

If we were to just follow this, our learners would have silos of information, which would be meaningless. Its like having a multi-storeyed building but no staircases or elevators connecting them. Each storey is the individual chunk of information but cannot communicate with the rest of the building. Now, lets go back to the exercise that we tried doing. Remember how those four chunks were easier to remember? Can you correlate the four chunks? If yes, then congrats! You have reached the next level of understanding how the brain works.

The first two chunks are acronyms of universities, and the next two the programs they might provide. See how you were able to make sense of unrelated pieces of information. How did you do that? Well, this leads us to the second question that I discussed in my previous post: How does a learner store all the information that I provide in his/her brain?

I will discuss this in my next post!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Learning Theories - Information Processing Theory

I was reading up on some instructional theories and it was very interesting to see how these theories have influenced and shaped up the way we design and create instructional materials today. In this post, I will share with you my understanding of some of these theories. Just to lay out a road map for you, I will be discussing the following theories:
  • The Information Processing Theory (G. Miller)
  • The Cognitive Load Theory ( J. Sweller)
  • Instructional Design Theory - Nine Events of Instruction (R. Gagné)
  • Multiple Intelligence Theory (H. Gardner)
The Information Processing Theory
According to this theory, learning is a series of transformations of information/knowledge as it moves through various structures/containers within the brain. As information passes through each individual container, it is transformed as per the container's specifications, and then passed on to the next container for further action.

However, in reality, our brain does not have any physical containers of different shapes and sizes to transform information in a unique way. The Information Processing theory tries to understand how the brain interprets and makes sense of the information being sent to it. The Information Processing theory divides the section of the brain responsible for learning into six different containers.The seventh container is the environment, which is not part of the brain.

The environment triggers the input-process-output cycle. Within the brain, each container receives information or input from the previous container. It transforms or processes this information as required and then sends this transformed information or output  to the next container. The final destination of this transformed information is the environment. These seven containers are:

1. External Environment
2. Sensory Receptors
3. Sensory Registers
4. Working Memory (STM)
5. Long Term Memory (LTM)
6. Response Generator
7. Effectors

The external environment (1) sends information in the form of small electrochemical packets to the sensory receptors (2), also called the senses. These packets are stored for a very short span in the sensory registers (3) (one-fourth of a second for visual images [Sperling, 1960], and a bit longer for auditory messages), then are sent to the STM (4).

STM and LTM are used by the brain to store information for short-term and long-term respectively. You can think of the STM as the RAM of the brain. It stores information packets temporarily and then after a particular period of time, forgets them. Now, we wouldn't want that to happen, would we? To solve this dilemma of forgetfulness, the brain takes these information packets from the STM container (4) and puts them in the LTM container (5) where they are stored for a much longer duration of time. Further, only meaningful information will reach the LTM for storage. Once these packets have been stored in the LTM, they can be retrieved anytime and put back into the STM as per demand.

This poses another question - which information packets should the brain accept and which ones should it discard as it is constantly being fed with so much information all the time? Our brain is equipped to handle this information overload using a process called selective perception. Selective perception is the process of filtering selective information packets from the barrage of continuous packets being received from the external environment. Selective perception ensures the information packets being received by the brain are desired and relevant.

The response generator (6) retrieves the appropriate information packets (as per requirement) from the LTM (5) and sends them to the effectors(7), such as muscles, glands, or nerves to create the desired response. This response is finally sent back to the environment (1).

The key point in the Information Processing theory is "only meaningful information is stored in the long-term memory". To store this information, the learner first should be able to make sense of this information. As an instructional designer, you have to ask yourself these questions:
  • How much information can I provide the learner at any given time, that he/she understands and retains all of it?
  • How does a learner store all the information that I provide in his/her brain? 
  • How can I design a course that will help learners achieve their desired outcome - total learning?
  • How can I utilize the learner's individual learning style or intelligence to help him/her achieve the desired learning outcome?
Answers to these questions will come in the form of more learning theories - in my next post: The power of four- Four Time-tested Theories. In this post, I will be covering the answers to these four questions:

  • How much information can I provide the learner at any given time, that he/she understands and retains all of it? - Cognitive Load Theory
  • How does a learner store all the information that I provide in his/her brain?  - Assimilation and Accommodation in Information Processing Theory
  • How can I design a course that will help learners achieve their desired outcome - total learning? - Robert Gagné's Nine Events of Instruction
  • How can I utilize the learner's individual learning style or intelligence to help him/her achieve the desired learning outcome? - Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Pragmatism in Instructional Design

Pragmatism is a philosophical perspective that takes into account a practical consequence and then traces back the underlying theory that caused this consequence. This underlying theory is then modified or reinterpreted and applied back to the practical application. Therefore, a pragmatist will evaluate the theories or beliefs by taking into account the success of their practical application.

In the work of two very influential pragmatists, Charles Sanders Peirce(1839–1914) and William James(1842–1910), the most famous application of the pragmatist’s belief was to the concept of truth. Pragmatists measure knowledge in a “truth for now” frame. The truth is valid only for a certain period of time till the underlying theory for this truth is modified and the new truth becomes the "truth for now". 

Now, pragmatism can be considered a form of radical empiricism because it rests on the tenet that knowledge is gained from experience. Let me explain this further. Every situation that we face helps us gain experience. On the basis of this experience, which is the practical application, we gain knowledge, which is the theory. When we are faced with the same situation again, we apply this knowledge or in other words, modify the theory and act accordingly. This way, we have applied the theory (knowledge) to create new practical consequences (experiences). Therefore, knowledge is being constructed using experience and is being applied back in the same situation to gain more experience.

So, again the crux of this leads to the fact that knowledge and experience are the two important facets of learning.