Going with the flow of non-linear learning

I have just read Renata Phelps’ article – Developing Online From Simplicity toward Complexity: Going with the Flow of Non-Linear Learning.

It is interesting from a variety of perspectives and has certainly made me think.

1. I don’t find all aspects of the article very clear. The development of a non-linear course structure is described. The author presents a non-linear curriculum as one that is not presented in a linear format, that can be accessed in a non-linear way by the learners and that is open to choice about how much and what is studied.

2. The article describes the development of a teacher training course – ICT in primary and secondary education. I don’t think enough is made of the fact that the context is ICT education, as I do think that when talking about non-linear learning, going with the flow and that the ‘curriculum becomes a process of development rather than body of knowledge to be covered and learned’, the context is important. I suspect that some subjects can have a more flexible curriculum and course structure than others. I’m not so sure how selective a trainee medic can be about curriculum. 

3. The article doesn’t really evaluate the success of changing the curriculum from a linear to a more complexity-based model, other than to quote two positive remarks from students. In the 60s it was very fashionable to ‘go with the flow’ in school classrooms in the UK. I remember on being appointed to a new job and asking for the maths syllabus (so that I would have some idea of what we should cover in the term), being told by the headteacher that they didn’t teach in that way in his school – they followed the children’s interests, so if the children wanted to talk about birds’ nests all week,  they could.  The very strictly linear National Curriculum was introduced in the UK to combat the massive gaps that were becoming in apparent in children’s knowledge as a result of ‘going with the flow’ and ‘discussing birds’ nests for a week’ at the expense of time spent on the 3 Rs. My experience suggests that a curriculum is actually a good thing, so long as you don’t expect learners to learn in a linear way. You only have to observe young children learning mathematics to know that they don’t and won’t.

3. The article then equates learning objectives with domination, control, reductionism and an undermining of emergent learning. I have always thought about learning objectives as being about clarity of forward thinking and about knowing what to assess. I don’t see that learning objectives need to control or undermine emergent learning.  Assessment isn’t mentioned in the article and that seems to me to be a big omission.

4. There is a lot in the article about ‘authentic’ and ‘problem-based’ learning that encourages reflective and self-directed learners. This is not new. Donald Schon’s book on the reflective practitioner was published at least 10 years before this article was written and my teaching colleagues have been discussing how to encourage learners to become independent, motivated, self-directed and reflective since the 60s and I’m sure previous generations of teachers have done the same.

So although any article which promotes this way of working is welcome, I don’t think the ideas presented in terms of learning are particularly new. However, it is interesting to think about to what extent you want your curriculum to be ‘flexible, open, disruptive, uncertain and unpredictable ….accepting …tension, anxiety and problem creating as the norm’.

I would be interested in knowing whether a course structure such as the one described in the article would work for a curriculum such as medicine.

3 thoughts on “Going with the flow of non-linear learning

  1. suifaijohnmak October 15, 2008 / 9:13 am

    Hi Jenny,
    I have the same view as yours, when I read the article. I don’t see how elegant it was a solution, by the use of complexity theory. Throughout my last 9 years of on-the-job training and assessment with few hundreds of trainees and supervisors here in Australia, I have been using a similar approach as that cited, only to add the human elements into the learning, without bordering too much about “computer networks”.

    Rather, we don’t need to rely on the computers that much. We could rely on the job itself as the training ground and learning platform. In essence, the job is the training, and the learning takes place in an emergent manner. In this manner, connectivism is always built into the work, especially when people are using emails, websites, computer networks and various technology tools.

    So, I don’t see anything that is amazing, even if they were quoting from great theories found.

    Also, this was based on just one research finding.

    One could conduct numerous research on all these case studies, only to find that the results of each case would be different, mainly because the learners are different and the context are different.

    What I think is most important comes back to 3 main points:
    1, Human element must be given the highest priority in any learning environment
    2. A choice must be offered to the learners
    3. A learning paradigm of letting the learners to learn what, when, where, how and who to learn with is of paramont important

    I will continue my response later.. To be continued.


  2. suifaijohnmak October 15, 2008 / 2:07 pm

    Hi Jenny,
    I have written another response that reflect my thinking about metaphors, that may be a “hot topic” nowadays. You are invited to my blog: http://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com
    for comments.
    Great to learn from you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s