The Holist and the Behaviourist
— Two Binary Opposites?
Just as workplace paradigms have experienced change, so to have curriculum paradigms. The need for change was not just recently articulated. Curriculum pioneers, John Dewey and Ralph Tyler, presented apparently opposing views on restructuring the curriculum. On the learner-centred end of the continuum, Dewey presented arguments for designing a curriculum and school environment that developed an organic, living, interactive connection between a student’s personal experience and education. In such a curriculum, it is the environment, the community, created by the interaction between learners and teachers that provides students with a context for learning. Such a community school would then not be solely concerned with the regurgitation of past knowledge, but instead would strive to provide a range of meanings and thinking skills. The teacher’s focus becomes centred on identifying an individual student’s characteristics and then luring him or her towards other interactions and other worlds. According to Dewey, curriculum decisions should be made by those who are in closest contact with student experience. Rather than planning for objectives, the teacher’s task is to plan the environment and to become a critical co-investigator with the student. Many classroom instructors will respond that this is a rather daunting task, impossible to complete with existing resources especially given the increasing demands being put on educational institutions. Perhaps the magnitude of the task of individualizing instruction is the reason the dominant educational culture, particularly as applied to instructional design and educational technology, continues to be derived from the behaviourist end of the continuum. In the early 1950’s B.F. Skinner proposed that educators apply behavioural reinforcement theory to the design of instruction. From this “scientific” approach, Ralph Tyler developed the outcome based instructional design theory known as the Tylerian Rationale. Whereas Dewey’s approach was holistic, Tyler’s was more arbitrary. Instead of a learning process that inextricably intertwined student and community experience, the Tylerian model was eclectic, deriving educational objectives from a variety of mostly external sources. Dewey saw subject content as interconnection between ideas; Tyler was concerned with the itemization of content. The content of practically all modern computer-based instructional systems is Tylerian, predetermined by agencies remote from learner and teacher. This works against the learner-centred approach favoured by many who work and write in the field of adult education, where content tends to emerge from the needs of the learners and their community. In this latter, individualized context learning can have maximum meaning for all involved in the process, rather than being defined as simply a change in behaviour. Ultimately for the Tylerian the emphasis is on control of the students and their environment. The holist on the other hand seeks to structure the learning environment so that the learners are free to pursue experiences relevant to them. This approach assumes that with the creation of a nurturing environment, learning will occur naturally. The problem the holist has to face is the gaps that inevitably come with this approach. The instructor cannot and does not want to precisely control and direct the student’s learning. The problem the Tylerian faces is that the assumptions that learning is systematic and can be made more predictable are also being questioned (Eisner and Vallance, 1974). As educational critics have noted, this teacher controlled factory model is incapable of meeting the needs of numerous knowledge age learners.
Educational critics have continued to build on Dewey’s philosophy of education. They agree on the need for a more learner-centred instructional system that gives students a sense of control over their own fate, destiny or sense of self-worth.. Thus learning is seen as a lifelong process best performed when self-directed (Coleman, 1967 and Platt, 1974, cited by Kohl, pp. 176-178). The question remains, how can the average instructor in the average educational institution effect such change? Kieran Egan writing in the February 1989 issue of Phi Delta Kappan states that the Tylerian, factory model, of curriculum development does not accurately represent how humans learn.
The problem is that we appear to have forgotten that such models are based on an analogy with an industrial process and that human learning is an imaginative activity, not merely a storage function that a computer might perform (p. 458).
To develop the learning process as an imaginative activity, requires the teacher “. . . to reconstruct the curriculum, redesign the environment, and change one’s own behavior so that one’s students will have the experiences, resources and support they need to develop their sensitivity, compassion, and intelligence” (Kohl, p. 30).
How does the teacher accomplish this restructuring? Egan declares, “. . . the new qualitative approaches would portray teaching and learning in context (p. 26).” Rather than being dependent on a preset curriculum, one needs to be responsive to the students. This is a learner-centred approach where the teacher has developed “. . . the ability to observe and discover students’ skills and needs, and build a learning environment that grows from them and does not violate them (Kohl, p. 30).” The task then is for the instructor to become an expert in a wide variety of areas. The teacher in effect becomes the instructional designer, or to use Thomas Barone’s metaphor, artist (1983). “Learn to use the tools needed to make your own curriculum (Kohl, p. 36).” Such a learner-centred curriculum is developed on a theme relevant to the students and integrated with different subject areas across the curriculum.
In light of the exceptional learning demands brought about by the knowledge explosion, how can this be accomplished? What about teacher workload? Kohl readily admits, “All of this may seem like an awful lot of teacher preparation. It certainly involves more time and research than what usually goes into making up lesson plans (p. 42).” Unlike the text book author who does a revision every five years, Kohl says to the classroom teacher-curriculum author; “You have to be constantly responding to the needs of individual students and getting resource material and people as well as developing your own ideas. Your students become hungry to learn, and the textbook will not provide fully for their needs (p. 135).”
Classroom instructors reading these elucidations could hardly be blamed for having mixed emotions. On the one hand, they might mentally nod their heads in agreement. Yes, the teacher needs to fully engage students in a learning lifestyle. Teachers, who are also learners, have all experienced the ecstasy of new found learning webs; connections of fact, knowledge and truth. They naturally want their students to share in that. On the other hand, the logistics of becoming that kind of teacher — teacher as hero — are staggering. It is one thing to hypothesize. It is another to be in the trenches. Kohl agrees. “Fitting a range of learning styles and a variety of activities into a classroom takes a lot of time and experimentation. . . (p. 136).” How can educational institutions, with decreasing resources, meet the increasing demand for a learner-centred program?
Changes can be made in public schools. There are models, customers, and support. It can be made. Those who want public schools to survive but refuse to help make major changes should think about the dinosaurs’ experience. The dinosaurs didn’t change to meet new requirements and became extinct (p. 179)!
Yet as we approach the beginning of the third millennium, twenty years after Kohl wrote his critique, little has changed.
After decades of attempts to reform schools, most of which constituted little more than tinkering with surface parts, many observers feel that schools as they are presently organized must be overhauled in ways that fundamentally change the institution of schooling itself (O,Neil. 1990, p. 5).
To become more learner-centred, a crucial change in both our schools and culture is required. Change elements in instructional design are coming from a variety of directions.
The Developmental Theories of Cognitivism and Constructivism
In addition to the humanist and behaviourist approaches to instruction are the developmental theories, one of which is cognitivism. Cognitivism offers a theoretical base on how people learn. Cognitive research, as exemplified by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Gregoric Learning Styles Inventory, have brought knowledge of individual differences in how students learn. These tools describe four domains of preferred learning styles:
- concrete sequential,
- concrete random,
- abstract sequential
- abstract random.
Recent studies have indicated that the majority of college faculty prefer the abstract sequential pattern, while the majority of first year students are concrete random. Only ten per cent of the student population matches the instructor’s preferred delivery style (Twigg, 1994, July-August). Cognitive research suggests that adult learners have individual approaches to learning.
According to Merriam (1984), one of the best-developed theoretical links between adult development and learning lies in the theory of andragogy. Andragogy is based on the assumption that, by and large, adults are self-directed beings who are the products of an accumulation of unique and personal experiences and whose desires to learn grow out of a need to face the tasks they encounter during the course of their development. (Naylor, M., 1985)
Thus many adult learners do not respond well to the lecture approach predominant at most colleges. The cognitive research encourages instructors to facilitate learner choice by involving them in active, self-directed learning. This in turn calls for a more adventurous style of instructional development. In information rich environment this would involve students in such information literate activities as seeking a wide range of knowledge sources, communicating an understanding of content, posing questions about the content being learned, using the environment (including people and tools) for learning, reflecting on their own learning, assessing their own learning and taking responsibility for their own learning (Hancock, 1993, May).
Howard Gardner’s Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences, is also worth considering when developing instruction that hopes to respond to the needs of individual learners. He suggests that there are at least seven human intelligences:
- verbal-linguistic — cognizance of language, a way with words,
- logical-mathematical — conceptualization of the abstract, arithmetic accuracy, organization, analytical,
- spatial — creation of mental images, metaphors,
- musical — sensitivity to pitch, rhythm, and the complex organization of music
- kinesthetic — control of one’s physical self and of objects,
- interpersonal — sensitivity to others and
- intrapersonal — sensitivity to oneself.
The first two have dominated North American public schooling. The latter five, with the possible exception of kinesthetic, have been virtually ignored. If instructional designers can find ways to engage all intelligences, it may be possible to increase opportunities for student success.
The constuctivist builds on these theories. However in this case it is ” . . .the learner, rather than the teacher, (who) develops or ‘constructs knowledge’ (Brennan, 1992, March).” How does that happen? In the April 1994 issue of Educational Technology, Jonassen gives a summary of the work of Duffy and Jonassen (1992) in this area. These authors believe that purposeful knowledge construction may be facilitated by learning environments which provide multiple representations of reality, thereby:
- avoiding oversimplification of instruction by representing the natural complexity of the real world;
- focusing on knowledge construction, not reproduction;
- presenting authentic tasks (contextualizing rather than abstracting instruction);
- providing real-world, case-based learning environments, rather than pre-determined instructional sequences;
- fostering reflective practice;
- enabling context- and content-dependent knowledge construction; and
- supporting collaborative construction of knowledge through social negotiation, not competition among learners for recognition
Jonassen goes on to make the point that pure constructivism would be an anathema to instructional designers as, “Constuctivists emphasize the design of learning environments rather that instructional sequences (p. 35).” Nonetheless an instructional designer can incorporate constructivist principles into instructional systems. “The best designers are those who select, use, adapt, massage, or otherwise apply attributes and components of different models, strategies, and tactics in order to accommodate the instructional methods to the nature of the learning problem (p. 37).”
The Road Best Taken
Thus in answer to the question of which instructional paradigm is best, the behavourist objectivism or humanist constructivism, it is critical to avoid thinking in binary opposites. As instructional designer Jonassen says,
Objectivist models of instruction are useful, as are constructivist models, albeit in different contexts (p. 37).
Adult educator Cross agrees,
. . . humanistic theory appears relevant to learning self-understanding; behaviorism seems useful in teaching practical skills; and (cognitivist, constructivist) developmental theory has much to offer to goals of teaching ego, intellectual, or moral development. . . . (I)f the ultimate goal is to facilitate the learning of adults, then adult educators will have to merge all these streams of research and theory into their own practice – or the field as a whole will have to attempt some synthesis.” (p. 234)
Dewey and Tyler, then, are not the mutually exclusive, binary opposites some have suggested.
“… when it comes to practical matters circumstances compel us to compromise (Dewey, p. 17).
Yet, a critical question still remains. What resources and tools are available to instructors to bring a new curriculum which will facilitate the learning needs of adults?
Instructional Design Approaches and Tools
With an understanding of the philosophical and theoretical approaches available for the development of a knowledge age instructional modules, it is time to discover what tools and practices are available to facilitate the task of changing instructional paradigms to meet the demands of information age instruction. The September 1989 issue of Educational Leadership, “Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s World,” focused on some of the tools available to help deal with the problem of restructuring schools. An element of school and societal restructuring that cannot be ignored is the “third wave” — a technology driven information wave. Humans have experienced in succession the tools that brought about the agricultural wave, then an industrial wave and more recently an information age wave (Toffler, 1980). Harold G. Shane (1989) writes,
Forecasting even further, I believe we are destined to encounter two more waves within the lifetimes of our students: a micro-electronic wave during which we learn how to process and prudently apply the present flood of data, and an informed society wave during which educated foresight and wisdom begin to transcend mere access to information (p. 5).
Shane goes on to suggest that educators can develop a “power of foresight” much enhanced by waves four and five. This could bring about a “. . .rebirth of the Renaissance spirit that motivated scholars to study the world in its many complexities (p. 5) [and] . . . help us cope with the dilemmas and grasp the opportunities for educational changes that the 1990s promise to bring” (p. 6).
Technology has always played a major role in the development of the human race. Many will point to all of the ills: gun powder, the car, nuclear weapons and so on. Others respond with what men and women of good will have been able to accomplish with these same as well as other technologies. Where would society be without the printing press; the machine that allows human thought and experience easy passage through time and space? This tool helped Martin Luther to marshal forces against the hypocrisy of the then established church. His namesake Martin Luther King was able to harness the communications media of the early 60’s to stir public opinion against racism. The labour movement and the women’s movement all owe a debt to these enabling technologies. What of the modern schooling system? How can tools and practices benefit today’s learners?
If teachers were supplied with appropriate technologies of instruction and trained to use them effectively, they would be freed to focus on what they can do best if properly trained and educated, that is deal with students in a humane, one-on-one learning environment. (Fawson and Smellie, p. 25)
Information age learners need access to facts, places, processes, events, and records. Most importantly they need interaction with a community who will share tricks of their trades, the rudiments of their skills as well as the technology that drives this age.
This project provides an opportunity to develop an informatics curriculum using this information technology. Design parameters can be taken from the following specific guidelines by instructional developers Fawson and Smellie (April, 1990):
- Mastery learning models should be implemented more efficiently and effectively with the use of technology, providing students with a greater role and responsibility for their own learning outcomes.
- Technology should permit teachers to become facilitators of learning experiences rather than dispensers of information.
- Technology should reduce the time teachers spend on the many administrative functions that now encumber them.
- Technology should permit a transformation of the instructional process that leads to alternative teaching configurations It should also expand the learning environment, which would result in increased creativity and more on-task behavior by students.
- Technology should help schools and school districts reduce instructional time and administrative cost.
- Technologies of instruction should be designed to increase, not reduce, the amount of personal contact between teacher and learner (p. 19).
Instructors can create an andragogic structure and environment that facilitates access to enabling information technology. Robert Logan of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education builds on the work of Marshall McLuhan at the Toronto School of Communications. He has come up with a cogent theory on how recent breakthroughs in microelectronics have influenced and will influence communications. He does so by bringing a media perspective to the effects of educational technology on cognition, communication and education. Electronic tools such as the word processor, spreadsheet, graphics and database are made accessible to students a new understanding to coming to the phrase, the power of the press belongs to those who own one.
Logan, however, goes beyond simply putting the tools into the hands of learner and teacher. He argues for a greater emphasis on computer literacy; a literacy he defines as an understanding of the language of computers. Logan argues that computer literacy is as essential for success in science, engineering, the humanities, the arts and most aspects of commerce as literacy and numeracy once were. Logan defines computer literacy as:
” . . . the ability to take advantage of the enhanced information processing capabilities that computers make possible over the manual techniques of paper and pencil or those of print and the typewriter (Logan, Ch. 5, p. 9).”
Some authorities have described the feeling of freedom that word processing gives as ‘liftoff’. These curriculum development ideas can be implemented in classrooms. They make use of word processing’s evolutionary advantages to integrate English language and communication skills with other subjects. Initial research and feedback from students have demonstrated the computer can help stimulate the development of ideas, manipulation of data and individualized instruction in the classroom. Logan further illustrates his position by focusing on the role of computers in the development of civilization and education. The growth of our civilization and the education systems that support them can be linked to the development of the ‘languages’ of speech, writing, mathematics and science. Computing, which incorporates all of these, is the next evolutionary step in humankind’s language development.
Logan postulates microcomputers will have a significant liberating effect on education. “The microcomputer is a medium of communication which is interactive, and hence, has the potential to promote exploration and discovery (Ch. 5, p. 2).” Another factor that Logan alludes to is the synergy available when computers and humans from around the world are linked. A computer on its own is a bit like a television without access to cable or broadcast signals. Even with a VCR capable of storing video, one can enjoy only limited access to information. However once the TV is connected to the rest of the world, either through cable, wireless broadcast or satellite, there is an almost unlimited amount of data available. A computer connected to the Internet, unlike the TV, has two way interactive, user controlled access. One now begins to get a glimpse of the potential for information sharing. As teachers are given the appropriate tools to incorporate these media into classroom practice they will be using these tools to structure information into a format that allow it to become, for the student, knowledge.
Implications of Curriculum Theory on Adult Basic Education Practice
If lifelong learning is critical to the young students of today, it is even more critical to the adult learner. In the industrial paradigm, schooling was for young people. Once they had graduated, earned their degree or trades ticket, they were finished with formal education. All of that has changed in the last few decades, however. The average age of those attending higher education institutions is no longer in the early twenties. The two largest constituencies are now the thirty year olds and the forty plus age group. They are struggling to meet society’s information age requirement for lifelong learning. As adults who have been away from the classroom for sometime, they come back to school bringing with them rich and varied backgrounds as well as a different set of needs and demands.
In addition to the common learning traits found in all learners, adults are often likely to display characteristics quite different from those of children (Knowles, 1973, 1984; Westmeyer, 1988 quoted by Ference and Vockell, 1994).
- Adults tend to be self-directing.
- Adults have a rich set of experiences that can serve as a resource for learning.
- Adults tend to have a life or task centred approach to learning as contrasted to a subject matter orientation.
- Adults are generally motivated to learn due to intrinsic factors as opposed to or extrinsic forces.
Malcolm Knowles suggests the first question an instructor of adults needs to ask is, “What is the question I (the learner) want an answer to (1975, p. 25)?” He recommends that through a learning contract, learners should develop their own learning objectives, ascertain what learning resources and strategies , evidence of accomplishment and criteria and means of validating are appropriate (p. 26). The teacher still has a major, but different, role to play. Kemp’s traditional instructional design criteria are pertinent:
- What content needs to be covered?
- How can this content be organized into manageable units?
- How can these units be organized into a logical sequence?
- What means of transmission will be most efficient for transmitting each unit?
However, the instructor’s self-concept is changed from ‘foreman’ in charge of dispensing information to that of facilitator of learning. Knowles makes a number of recommendations to accomplish this change in mind set. He suggests the instructor ask him or herself the following questions:
- Climate setting – How can I most quickly get the learners to become acquainted with one another as persons and as mutual resources for learning?
- Planning – At what points shall I decide what procedures to use, and at what points shall I present optional procedures for them to decide about?
- Diagnosing needs for learning – How shall we construct a model of the competencies (or content objectives, if you prefer) this particular learning experience should be concerned with?
- Setting goals – How can I help them translate diagnosed needs into learning objectives that are clear, feasible, at appropriate levels of specificity or generality, personally meaningful, and measurable as to accomplishment?
- Designing a learning plan – What guidelines for designing a learning plan will I propose?
- Engaging in learning activities – Which learning activities shall I take responsibility for to meet objectives that are common to all (or most) of their learning plans, which activities should be the responsibility of subgroups, and which should be individual inquiry projects?
- Evaluating learning outcomes – What should be my role in feeding data to the learners regarding my perceptions of the accomplishment of their learning objectives? How can I present these judgments in such a way that they will enhance rather than diminish the learners’ self-concepts as self-directed persons (pp. 31-35)?
While these principles of adult learning may appear radical to some when compared to the lecture style predominant in most colleges, they are really in line approaches being taken in the modern workplace. There the paradigms of collaboration, team-work and synergy facilitated by information age technologies are bringing “. . . productivity increases of not a hundredfold but a hundred times, and yet a hundred times, a hundredfold–and more (Heterik and Sanders, 1993).” Just as in the transition from agrarian to industrial age perhaps educators can learn from way business is altering its activities for the information age. Critics of the education system have used a business concept, the factory model, to describe the present school system. Yet most modern businesses have left this model far behind. Nowhere has the microcomputer had a bigger impact than in the fastest growing business sector, the small office or home office (SOHO). There the computer does little of the actual ‘business’. The computer’s principal task is to help the owner manage the business’ information flow. It assists in payroll, inventory, written communication and other information management requirements. In fact many of these SOHO businesses are in existence because of this medium’s capabilities. Thus the designer of instructional modules for adult learners has two reasons for pursuing a paradigm that bears a close relation to the present and near-future working world. One is the result of studies by adult educators like Knowles and Cross that indicate the most effective instructional approaches for adults. Second is that this approach reflects the work place reality that these lifelong learners will find themselves in when they return to the workforce. In summary, the late twentieth century shifts in the global economy and education are especially critical to the Adult Basic Education community. These learners are being increasingly affected as their learning skills fail to meet the challenges of the new economies. An instructional model that bears a closer relation to the present and near-future working world, thoughtfully implemented in the school environment can evolutionize what education is able to do for students.
At Camosun College ABE instructors are currently implementing many of the ideas on adult education articulated by Malcolm Knowles and others as a viable alternative to the factory model. Seymour Papert of MIT’s Media Lab explains how this model is put into practice. “Many (students). . . are held back in their learning because they have a model of learning in which you have either ‘got it’ or ‘got it wrong’ (Brand, 1988, p. 127).” Papert draws an analogy.
But when you program a computer you almost never get it right the first time. Learning to be a master programmer is learning to become highly skilled at isolating and correcting ‘bugs’, the parts that keep the program from working. The question to ask about the program is not whether it is right or wrong, but if it is fixable (Brand, p.128).
English and math ABE programs at Camosun use a variation of Papert’s debugging model with individualized, competency based curriculum. Students are not tested to see if they pass or fail. Tests are diagnostic tools. To use Papert’s analogy instructors test to see if there are any bugs in the students’ skill development. Once the bugs are identified, they can be fixed. The same approach is taken with written assignments. The instructor interacts with individual students over a succession of drafts, until a polished draft has been completed to the satisfaction of both instructor and student. This competency-based approach is a hallmark of adult instructional practice in most ABE classes. It is also a paradigm espoused by most computer-based instructional systems. However it is the next area, critical to the adult learner, where these electronic learning systems fall short.
A crucial component of this proposed hypermedia learning web is the provision of an instructional environment that recognizes the adult learners’ “need and capacity to be self-directing, to utilize his experience in learning, to identify his own readiness to learn, and to organize his learning around life problems (Knowles, 1978, p. 119; emphasis Knowles’)”. Too often it is precisely because of this need for and lack of self-directedness that the adult learner has had an unhappy experience with schooling. Thus it is up to the adult educator to encourage the learner who is not yet self-directed “. . . by structuring the learning environment that weans the student from dependence and encourages interdependence (Kidd, 1975, p. 26).”
How should the learning environment be constructed to provide a responsive environment for learners? “A logical outcome of these assumptions is the use of a collaborative teaching model that involves the learners as partners (Knowles, 1980, quoted by Imel, 1994).” Such an environment implies choices for students (Mink, 1977), including self-pacing, variable kinds and amounts of feedback, provision of structure to encourage development of good habits, and a new role for the instructor as “learning coach” or facilitator. This is accomplished by melding the approaches of Dewey and Tyler. The instruction distributed to ABE learners should include clearly stated learning objectives and mastery learning conditions (Crane, 1983), that are modified according to individual student need. Roueche and Mink (1975) claim that students provided with this kind of responsive learning environment develop greater feelings of control over their lives, and self-direction. Some interpret a self-directed approach as an abrogation of responsibility by the instructor. This is not the case according to Pratt (1988, quoted by Imel, 1994). The amount of control given into the hands of the learner will depend on the individual learner’s circumstances.
Pratt’s model establishes the level of learners’ competence in deciding what to learn and how to carry out the learning process (direction) and their competence to do so (support). These key factors provide the foundation for initiating a partnership between instructors and learners. Even though learners may need both direction and support, they can still be involved in designing and directing their learning in meaningful ways (Imel, 1994).
With a overview of the hallmarks of a responsive learning environment the proper approach to designing ABE instructional modules is clear. In summary . . .
Merriam (1984) proposes that adult educators consider the following as among the most effective instructional techniques for use with adult learners: contract learning, experiential learning, portfolios, and self-pacing. Merriam also suggests that teachers strive to make learning experiences as meaningful as possible for individual learners and that they attempt to refrain from the stereotypical role of authority figure and transmitter of knowledge, functioning instead as a role model or resource person (Schroeder, 1991).
The rub is how to provide this responsiveness to student need; “. . . most educators would agree that (while) the individualization of learning is a good ideal . . . it is extremely difficult to accomplish” (Dewey, 1975, p. vii). This is where the hypermedia information management capabilities of the networked computer must be implemented.
By providing information in a variety of modalities, providing a context for the information, and allowing multiple paths through this knowledge, the (hypermedia instructional) system allows the learner to select information in the format or formats best suited to his/her learning style, ability level, and information needs through one unified system of access. All of this will increase the learner’s engagement with the learning situation as he/she elaborates on current knowledge (Schroeder, 1991)
Thus the information technology that has brought such productivity gains to the business world properly applied in the light of what we know about how adults learn can bring equally high productivity gains to the education of adult learners. Hypermedia used in individual, cooperative learning or group composition with a group of users contributing to a common database of information is the lynch pin for the hypermedia instructional modules being piloted in this project.