Uncertainty and learning

This week the Critical Literacies course bears the title ‘Change’ and Stephen has made a great post about ‘Patterns of Change’. Whilst a lot of this was not new to me (down to having a science background), I was really impressed by the lucidity with which the information was presented.

I have had a good look at the Report capacity, change and performance article as it relates to some research that I am currently involved with and I sent the link about 50 ways to foster a culture of innovation to my eldest son who is an entrepreneur, although if you are an entrepreneur you probably don’t need to read articles like this.  And I have lightly skimmed this – Technology, complexity, economy, catastrophe – Article Globe and Mail . But I haven’t yet had time to check out the other readings.

I’m going to be very interested to hear what Dave Snowden has to say this week (assuming that I can hear the presentation – I wasn’t able to hear Grainne’s last week) – because it seems to me that the critical literacy that is being addressed this week is an ability to cope with uncertainty. I don’t know enough about this to comment about it any further at this stage.

Related to this is Heli’s post today in which I was struck by her comment:

The Basic Message is that learning and development is not linear, it has individual phases, it goes up and down or straight foreward.

I would add to this that it can also go sideways – and diverge into areas that teachers do not expect. In thinking about this I was reminded of a course I went on a very long time ago about teaching mathematics to young children. We were asked to carry out an action research project about how children progressed through the National Curriculum (UK) for mathematics – and what were our findings? Well that the National Curriculum expected children to follow a linear course through prescribed stages – but did they? No – they certainly did not. They jumped all over the place – forwards in jumps instead of a nice linear sequence, sideways and even backwards.

This would suggest that a good teacher needs to be able to cope with this unpredictability in students’  learning – this uncertainty as to how learners are going to learn.

3 thoughts on “Uncertainty and learning

  1. Ruth Howard June 9, 2010 / 6:53 am

    Jenny I appreciate your ‘National Curriculum for Mathematics’ example it reminds me once again of how this Connectivist learning experience mirrors my naturally self-directed web surfing experiences. I might connect apparently divergent materials by an unexpected link. The link is made inside my unique circuitry, it may or may not be apparent to others. But it extends the neural pathways somewhat further down a particular road. It’s exploratory and discovery learning at the same time, highly tuned to my own interests, therefore self motivated. I am making personal something that is otherwise not in my field of experience (Maths Curriculum) and giving it meaning so that I can recall the example and the application-most likely to something else entirely!

    “They jumped all over the place”I have a visual of neurons firing in all directions at once (like children and hyperlinks). I imagine neuron pathways wending deeper grooves as familiar patterns correspond, coincide, alright serendipitously connect and reinforce in feedback loops?

    Gradually we anticipate particular outcomes because of these familiar zones of experience, I’m sounding Behaviouralist but this isn’t at all what I mean. I’m challenged because I dont really wish to reduce the above experience down to a predictable pattern-despite this being our subject. I believe for each learner finding the connections is a unique path, not necessarily predictable nor prescriptive-‘just in time’ learning is an example of this in action. Another individual could arrive at a very different time and place or route because they have different feedback signals, seek different stimulus, are motivated by different desires. It almost makes me think how a totally chaotic mishmash of experiences (in the classroom, but preferably somewhere else entirely) could deliberately catalyse a self selecting order.

    An educator is used to the linear progression of the curriculum, therefore would you say we have adapted over years of training to anticipate in very specific ways? But it’s not our natural bent, thus the great unlearning that is Connectivism.

    What I loved about Stephen Downes ‘Patterns of Change’ piece is the revealing of the disconnections behind each of the change theories and the power of connecting them in order to greater comprehend the whole- in the now.

  2. Heli Nurmi June 9, 2010 / 10:45 am

    Yep, Jenny
    human development can go sideways too 🙂
    Enjoy reading your posts every day..

  3. jennymackness June 9, 2010 / 7:12 pm

    Hi Ruth and Heli – Many thanks for your visit and comments. What you both write about – the unpredictable nature of learning is what I have been reading about today in this article

    Morrison, K. (2008). Educational Philosophy and the Challenge of Complexity Theory. Philosophy, 40(1).

    For anyone interested in teaching in networks, it an interesting read!


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