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
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.
: complexity theory, remote learning, organisational learning, viable systems, man-agement systems.
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
. 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
.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
. 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