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Towards Learning Audit in Viable Learning Systems

Towards Learning Audit in Viable Learning Systems

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Published by myolles
Many learning situations offer what, to novice learners, seems to be complex learning material. With the development of Web based courseware, we are seeing more interest in learning ap-proaches that are remote from course providers. It therefore seems a good time to consider the need for non-retrospective automatic auditing systems that can enable learners to recognise whether their learning capability may be diminished. Unfortunately, such systems are not cur-rently feasible because existing learning theory is not sufficiently mature to permit us to model them. A possible approach based on viable systems theory is explained. It comes from the field of management system, and has application to the notion of learning organisations, and links with complexity theory.
Many learning situations offer what, to novice learners, seems to be complex learning material. With the development of Web based courseware, we are seeing more interest in learning ap-proaches that are remote from course providers. It therefore seems a good time to consider the need for non-retrospective automatic auditing systems that can enable learners to recognise whether their learning capability may be diminished. Unfortunately, such systems are not cur-rently feasible because existing learning theory is not sufficiently mature to permit us to model them. A possible approach based on viable systems theory is explained. It comes from the field of management system, and has application to the notion of learning organisations, and links with complexity theory.

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06/16/2009

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Towards Learning Audit in Viable Learning Systems
Presented at the International Conference in Computer Based Learning in Science (CBLIS), 1995M.I.Yolles, Liverpool John Moores University
Abstract:
Many learning situations offer what, to novice learners, seems to be complexlearning material. With the development of Web based courseware, we are seeing more interestin learning approaches that are remote from course providers. It therefore seems a good time toconsider the need for non-retrospective automatic auditing systems that can enable learners torecognise whether their learning capability may be diminished. Unfortunately, such systems arenot currently feasible because existing learning theory is not sufficiently mature to permit us tomodel them. A possible approach based on viable systems theory is explained. It comes fromthe field of management system, and has application to the notion of learning organisations,and links with complexity theory.
Keywords
: complexity theory, remote learning, organisational learning, viable systems, man-agement systems.
1. Introduction
Viable systems are those that are able to survive in complex situations even though they mayexperience perturbing chaos. They maintain their structures and processes through self-regulation, and adapt to changes through self-organisation. They experience tension, which isseen to represent the source of adaptation. When tension becomes exessive, it is a stress thatinterferes with the adaptability of the system. While these ideas are applied to organisations,they derive from explorations in biology.It can be argued that people too are viable systems. This relates to all forms of their behaviour,including learning. Thus, for instance, stress can adversely affect the learning rates of novicelearners
7
. New learning domains can, for many novice learners, often be seen as complex,while for those who know the domain, it is not. Complexity is a subjective phenomenon.In complex learning situations, novice learners are unable to understand all of the details thatsurround them. Chaos occurs here with bounded learning instability, and this occurs whenlearners are exposed to unexpected entities that are manifested within, or impact on, the situa-tion. It can perturb continued learning. This can be serious for remote learners – those who aregeographically (as in distance learning), or socially (as in very large classes) remote from acourse provider, where tutor led remedial action is not feasible. Learners may deal with this byeventually seeing “emergent” concepts that can simplify the situation for them. These conceptsdo what Cohen and Stewart
10
call
collapsing chaos
.An automated computer based system that is able to recognise and warn remote learners of changes in their learning capability can therefore be useful. However, learning theory is not yetsufficiently mature to enable such a system. This paper will propose some underlying theoryfor this that comes from viable systems theory. The subject is part of management systems, afield that applies systems principles to organisational management. It has interests in organisa-tional learning, and links some of its developments to connectionism, artificial intelligence,cognitive psychology, chaos theory, and cybernetics.Our interest in learning theory derives from Yolles
29
. It centres on three ideas that have devel-oped since the concepts of programmed learning in the 1960s. These are: the notion that learn-ing behaviour exists, and can be associated with a style; that learners have learning strategy;and that learners can learn to learn (metalearn). These concepts can be expressed in terms of 
 
Viable Systems Theory (when we can refer to them viable learning systems), and explored interms of complex situations.
2. Learning Behaviour, Strategy, and Metalearning
Learning behaviour is a pattern or schedule of learning actions. Kolb
14
proposed that learningbehaviour can be described as a continuous learning cycle (Figure 1) that explains the experientialstages that learners pass through during learning. Learning cycle approaches can be a useful sim-plification of learning behaviour. However, Kolb’s work was deficient in a number of ways
11
:(i) as a reaction against theory based learning, there can be an over-value of experience basedlearning;(ii) learning can be perceived to be based entirely on what others hand down and by self-reasoning;(iii) research evidence does not support learning cycle theory: e.g., the cycle does not indicatehow learners gain ability in learning.
 Experiencial
Concrete experience
Reflectivelearning learningquadrant quadran
Active Reflectiveexperimentation observation
 Active Abstraclearning learningquadrant quadran
Abstract conceptualisation
Figure 1: The Kolb Learning CycleNow, Kolb’s phases of behaviour are not defined in terms of more
detailed 
subsidiary behav-iour. Perhaps this is because his interest did not lie in learning behaviour as such, but rather inthe associated concept of learning
style
. In learning cycles, learning behaviour may be seen as aconstrained set of activity steps. Let us consider this a little further by illustration. In many tra-ditional paper-based open learning texts, a programme of work is structured into units. Eachmight begin with the objectives of the learning materials, have summaries, embed examplesand have a glossary. If a tutor adheres to a rigid learning strategy, then s/he will devise a set of very tight constraints on learning strategy. This will define a unique behavioural schedule per-mitting only one possible way for a learner to pass through this material. Thus for example, asequential ordering of objectives, summaries, and so on may occur that defines only one learn-ing path for a learner. This may not be consistent with the personal strategy of a given learnerwho may wish, for instance, to sample parts of the learning material or consult the glossary be-fore embarking on the learning material. This is what Crampes
34
would refer to as a phase of 
discovery
that is personal to the learner. Perhaps a more flexible approach is for a tutor to offera menu that enables the learner to define his or her own strategy of learning within less tightlytutor defined constraints, for example presenting materials on a Website. Therefore, the degreeof flexibility on learning strategy offered to a learner is tutor determined through the constraintsimposed on the learning material.
 
While learning can occur through circumstance rather than intention, more often than not it oc-curs through the creation of learning purpose, especially in formal pedagogic settings like uni-versities. Learning purpose is associated with learning strategy. It is often expressed in terms of goals that are to be achieved, and as such, it can be seen that learning strategy is to do with thecontrols and constraints that enable these goals to be achieved. Examples of control features area content index and a content map. Laurillard
18
argues that constraint minimisation providesbetter results in learning than its maximisation. Constraints are apparent when learning goalsare predefined for a learner, rather than allowing them to be learner-defined.Consistent with the ideas of Laurillard and others
18, 20, 28, 29
, an argument will be put that learn-ing strategy has associated with it not only control and constraint processes, but in additionboth cybernetic and rational processes. As part of this, learning strategy is also connected tometalearning and learning behaviour
21, 22, 26
. These ideas are not prevalent in learning theory,but rather derive from viable systems theory
30
, that can be used to construct a theory of viablelearning as we shall explore later. From this, it is propositional that change in learning strategywill likely result in learning behaviour change.It is axiomatic that learners have cognitive processes that are affected through metalearning (orcognitive learning about learning). Indeed, a base notion in management systems is the notionthat organisational learn through “double loop learning”
1
, when cognitive processes arechanged in some way. According to the principles of viable systems theory, cognitive learningis connected to the worldview of a learner, as discussed in the next section. Worldviews are ul-timately responsible for the nature of the manifest strategy that a learner will adopt, andchanges in that learning strategy. It also ultimately defines the behavioural schedule that alearner adopts within the learning process. When a learner is faced with new learning material,s/he may redefine what constitute the elements of a learning domain by creating new (perhapspersonal) conceptualisations, thus explicitly influencing the nature of a learning strategy. Itrepresents another feature of cognitive learning that is capable of dealing with complex learn-ing situations. This in turn is likely to affect the behavioural schedule or sequencing of learningmaterial in the learning domain. It can enable new maps of learning material to be created,based on the new conceptualisations. It can result in new logical strategic processes that se-quence learning material, and can result in the definition of new rules of learning to provide away of overcoming highly constrained learning domains.Once learning purposes have been expressed in terms of explicit or implicit goals, part of strat-egy is to achieve them. If learners are to achieve their learning goals, then it may not be suffi-cient to be motivated and have a good learning strategy. They also need to learn how to learn.The nature of how this can be achieved will be determined by the paradigm to which learnersattach themselves. Learning about learning (metalearning) enables learners to:(1) have knowledge to reason about its own operation;(2) have a structure which simplifies the reasoning process;(3) infer conclusions from a chain of inference rules;(4) determine accuracy, consistency, and plausibility of its conclusions;(5) explain reasoning behaviour.Metalearning induces learners to assess the
patterns
by which they learn
11
.
3. Worldviews
It is of interest to realise that pedagogic perspectives involve different worldviews. The notionof worldview is a literal translation from the German
weltanschauung
that derives from
24
.Worldviews are relative to the institutions that one is attached to in a given society, and they

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