Instructional Design and Learning LO28938

From: Terje A. Tonsberg (
Date: 07/31/02

Hello At and group,

This mail is connected both to At's thread History of Uncovering the Act
of Learning. I have changed the subject title, because I want to focus on
a particular aspect.

At said previously in response to me:

> by using one of the cognitive based categorizations or taxonomies (Bloom,
> Ausubel, Gagne, Merril, Reigeluth or Engelmann) their ability to act
> creatively with their knowledge of chemistry was impaired. This
> impairment did not show up so much in written tests (in which i never
> asked them to reproduce information) as in the laboratory where
> they had to do chemistry. The problem with these cognitive based
> categorisations or taxonomies is that they are based on the outcome
> (like cognition or knowledge) of the act of learning and not the act
> of learning itself.

At also said regarding rote vs. authentic learning:
> They look superficially the same, but their dynamics are different.
> In rote learning information is pushed into the mind just as a sponge
> which has to soak up more information without giving attention where
> it goes into that sponge.

My proposition:

An Instructional Design process in terms of knowledge outcomes is not
necessarily much different from that of an Learning Design (LD) process,
but since ID is focused on feeding pre-digested knowledge (highly
structured and "complete" information, including even "examples" to build
"experience" or "tacit knowledge"), learners do not strengthen their
capability to learn by themselves. This leads to having a weak learning
engine available to deal with ambiguity. An analogy would be a person who
only eats only pre-digested food; eventually his stomach will be too weak
to handle any other food.

We could say that instructional design is OK for knowledge fixes (a good
ID process can have excellent results), bad for independent learning.

I other words, if you never need to do much categorization of your own
(sureness), or make a novel connection (fruitfulness), or investigate/
develop a definition (sureness), or seeing an issue from another viewpoint
(openness), or investigating the implications of variety (otherness), or
developing measures (spareness) and investigating the limits of scenarios
(spareness) you won't be skilled at it nor will you be in the habit of it.
Both the skill, or processing power, and the habit are important. Using
the 7Es effectively needs practice, and it needs to become a habit. This
means that they need to be used during both during digestive and emergent
phases at least some of the time. If all learning is based on highly
efficient ID, then these skills and habits are impaired. The result is a
learner that is not effective at building and using knowledge under
ambiguity. The learning engine is too weak to draw upon existing knowledge
effectively, to rearrange current structures, etc.

When looking at learning as a process, and the 7Es as categories for
essential skills in the process, it becomes clear that the basic principle
of specialization (you get good at exactly what you do) and "use it or
lose it" apply here like in so many things in life.

A tentative conclusion is this: knowledge analysis and categorization in
the style of Instructional Design is useful, but needs to be applied
wisely so that learners still need to use the skills of the 7Es.

Does Learning Design need to be used throughout the process, or is it
enough to use ID and then after basics go to a stage where skills
pertaining to dealing with ambiguity are "trained"? I would like to
suggest that it may be at times, especially if the learners are good at
learning, but perhaps the problem with this is that there will be a break
in the behavioral pattern from "being fed" to "feeding oneself." So even
if one has reasonably good skills, there is an established pattern that is
hard to break?

Also, part of the problem with pre-digested knowledge is that connections
with the minds existing knowledge structure will probably be weak, since
minimum processing was involved in "understanding" it in the sense of
seeing relations of the new material to what you already know. You were
told what the relations were instead of discovering at least some of them
by yourself.

Problem: the external environment imposes restrictions on learning in
terms of required skills. These skills need to be reached within a certain
timeframe. The function of knowledge analysis and instructional design
then becomes to make sure that these requirements are met for individuals,
even on an almost rote level. How can this be changed on a massive scale
without demanding too many resources?

Related Problem: people vary a great deal in the ability to use the skills
of the 7Es both due to learning history, developmental stage and
intelligence. This means that students are best taught individually, but
this is very demanding on resources, so dividing into homogeneous groups
according to ability would be a logical choice. I don't think you'll like
this (fragmenting) much At, but I want to tease out your thoughts on the

At said:
> In digestive learning an immature part of
> knowledge within the mind pulls information from outside the mind
> into it so as to nourish that specific part into maturity.

Pulling means wanting to know (even if coerced.) Wanting to know is the
energy of learning since it pulls. Wanting to know implies a question. It
reminds me of the Arabic proverb "a good question is half the knowledge."

(At, is the ability to ask good question the best measure of the strength
of the processing engine?)

There are two basic reasons why people to ask questions:
1. Learning for the function of knowledge.
2. Learning for the love of knowledge, or passion.

The first category includes rewards sought or punishment to be avoided.

The second category may be driven by functional contingencies, but it is
not explicit to the learner (such as a need for social attention.) Perhaps
there also is a non-functional kind as evidenced by how children sometimes
seem to learn; no external contingences seem to drive it. Perhaps it is a
human instinct, like the way we know how to breath or drink milk already
as infants.

The first category is hampered by spareness (a very specific set of
questions to achieve the function,) the second is less limited, but is
hampered by a lack of spareness (confusion and even learned helplessness
might result due to lack of spareness -- learning goals were too
ambitious.) Most authentic learning probably feeds on a combination of
both categories, but has a strong component of a desire to learn with no
clear functional consequence.

I propose that authentic learning leads to a: (study --> emergence -->
pleasure of discovery) contingency loop of reinforcement along with any
functional contingencies.

OK, so if passion in learning is related to (study --> emergence -->
pleasure of discovery) then we can more clearly see how it is killed. One
way is to provide behavoral contingencies that will crowd out this
contingency or replace it (e.g. television, hunger) Another is to
associate study with something negative, like mindless drills and
memorizing (study=rote learning -> no emergence - no pleasure), thereby
leaving any learning entirely driven by functional contingencies. Another
is by always giving away the answer to problems, thereby blocking
emergences, the driving consequence of curiosity (i.e. study -> no
emergence -> no pleasure of discovery.) Yet another way, is to destroy the
pleasure of emergences, for example by having ones learning depreciated in
a social context (study -> emergence -> pleasure -> discouragement becomes
as if: study -> emergence -> discouragement)

How easy to destroy it!

But why is there pleasure in discovery? One part of it could be genetic,
but there is also the element of feeling of accomplishment.



"Terje A. Tonsberg" <>

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