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John B. Murdock © 2006 Introduction Learning objectives in visual communication programs typically begin with perceptual studies based on formal values and craft. At the junior level, students transition to applied problems that incorporate quantitative and verbal information. In the final year, learning objectives are characterized by an emphasis on concept, problem-solving, and independent work in preparation for professional practice or further academic pursuits.
Students frequently express frustration during the transitional phase of the junior year over the difficulty of integrating formal values with verbal and quantitative information. Additionally, transfer of prior knowledge appears to be confounded by the complexity of information design assignments.
This paper examines visual communication education from the perspective of learning theory and makes recommendations for practices that will facilitate students’ transition from purely formal exercises to information design exercises incorporating verbal and quantitative information. This analysis places particular focus on L. S. Vygotsky’s social development theory of learning.
Overview of learning and learning theory Driscoll (1994) defines learning as a persisting change in performance or performance potential as a result of interaction with the learner’s environment (p. 9). In order to be considered learning, this change must be demonstrated in some empirical fashion.
Learning is closely related with the concept of development. Development is distinguished from learning, change, and growth in that it is the transformation of “undifferentiated, unspecialized cognitive abilities into cognitive competence and problem-solving skill” (Driscoll, p. 171). It is qualitative rather than quantitative improvement.
There are a staggering number of learning theories, sub theories, and elaborations. It is not the goal of this paper to examine these exhaustively. However, Mergel (1998) proposes a taxonomy comprised of three broad classes that are useful in this analysis: behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism.
In education. later evolved to resemble a cognitivist approach. We inevitably use common sense and method in sharing information with others. His method was proved by observation. The theoretical landscape becomes even more complex as a result of the contributions of other areas of psychological research. and used as indicators as to what is happening inside the learner's mind. they nevertheless have strong implications for learning and instruction. systems of instructional design (ID) are necessary to apply theoretical implications to practice. Even the Stone Age hunter. and common sense. once considered representative of behaviorist traditions. Changes in behavior are observed. We employ tacit theory and instructional method in most social . Constructivism focuses on preparing the learner to problem solve in ambiguous situations. IDs may be derived on an ad hoc and intuitive basis from practical necessity. may be based on formal theoretical traditions. that we teach and learn without awareness. in fact. Learning theories provide a basis to understand and construct education. Cognitivism: Based on the thought process behind the behavior. learning theories are only useful if they result in practical applications. Teaching and learning are integral to human social behavior. and also that theorists’ views may evolve over time. So integral. Although these do not fall under the rubric of learning theory. Because of this.She summarizes these as: Behaviorism: Based on observable changes in behavior. such as motivation theory. Behaviorism focuses on a new behavioral pattern being repeated until it becomes automatic. people have attempted to understand the nature of knowledge and how it is transmitted. It is important to note that theories may contain elements that seem to fit into more than one class. pragmatism. or even developed as independent theoretical systems such as Gagné’s theory of instruction. Constructivism: Based on the premise that we all construct our own perspective of the world. through individual experiences and schema. For example. crafting a stone point passed his technique along to others through some sort of instruction. Why bother with learning theories? From the time of Aristotle. Gagné’s instructional theory.
A third view.. et al (1996) proposes a “reflective construction” model (fig.interactions. (1993). claims and methods of these traditions to create models of instructional design appropriate to specific areas of education. Performance Improvement Quarterly. In fact. J. constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Pragmatic concerns ultimately determine the lifespan and utility of a theory or practice. understanding learning theory affords a basis for examining and understanding these social interactions. reflection. any practice must address specific goals. cognitive. contexts and domains. This model provides an organic strategy of construction. From Ertmer. and constructivist viewpoints based on the learner’s level of task knowledge and the level of cognitive processing required by the task. Ertmer and Newby (1993) take the position that learners’ different levels of knowledge and sophistication call for different instructional methods drawn from the various traditions. 1) Figure 1. Behaviorism. To be useful. The rich history of research and thought about learning provides an opportunity to draw on the sundry propositions. 6(4). 2) for incorporating various theoretical principles into specific curricula. cited by Mergel (1998). P. is Reigeluth’s elaboration theory. and revision to address particular goals. Newby. which organizes instruction on a continuum of increasing complexity and learner control. Comparison of the associated instructional strategies of the behavioral. cognitivism. 50-70. McCown. A. . They propose that the major traditions in fact represent a continuum of instructional strategies (fig. T.
viii). However. For example. behaviorism does not acknowledge the mediation of mental functions in behavior. students must be knowledgeable about the appropriate use of visual elements in communications and must also develop abilities necessary to transform non . Considerations for visual communication education Meggs (1989) defines graphic design (henceforth referred to as “visual communication” or “visual communication design”) as a hybrid discipline in which “Diverse elements. Roop. M. words and pictures. Some authors object to this eclectic approach. Common sense and pragmatism dictate that objectives should drive methods rather than the reverse. The most important thing that visual communication design does is give communications “resonance. what are the implications for design education? First. are collected and assembled into a total message. Therefore behaviorist methods of conditioning. . al. suitable for simple behavior modification. Given this. Driscoll. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. R. Educational psychology: A learning-centered approach to classroom practice. in the face of classroom realities it seems clear that certain methods are more or less fitting for particular learning goals at particular times. et..” according to Meggs. symbols..” (p. P. (1995) take the position that isolating concepts and strategies from their theoretical context in a piecemeal fashion renders them meaningless. (1996).Figure 2. including signs. may have limited utility in promoting cognitive development and problem solving capabilities. Bednar. G. Continuous process of reflective construction From McCown. These graphic elements have a dual nature as both communicative sign and visual form.
analogy. self-expression must be sublimated and manifested only within the constraints of the design objective. This requires developing a complex set of competencies that include motor. but designers are frequently called upon to employ purely visual forms as the most resonant and economical means of communication. In visual communication education this transformation involves both cognitive and motor skills. and development primarily within a studio environment. association. An overview of undergraduate visual communication education The visual communication program: objectives and problems The focus of this paper is on the transitional period that occurs in the first semester of the junior year. Figure 3. This is accomplished through instruction. The content of the communication must drive the creation of visual forms. and symbolism are several devices used to accomplish this. Symbolic systems such as language and typography play a crucial role as well. Metaphor. motor skills and perceptual understanding. .visual information into meaningful visual information. Because communication is the imperative. Ultimately the goal of education is transformation. analytic/synthetic. conceptual. Therefore the production of visual objects is an essential skill. to semi-autonomous problem solving involving research and the incorporation of verbal and quantitative content in visual design. In this period students move from directed studio projects that focus on creation of form. and self-assessment skills. visual/perceptual. problem solving. learning.
Problems are graduated in complexity and build upon previous stages. Students must develop mental schemata and models adequate to cope with this increased complexity. Students are introduced to research methods and use them in projects. 3). Sophomore year Sophomore projects build on projects introduced in the previous year. The enhanced cognitive and metacognitive skills required are consistent with cognitive information . Junior year As students migrate to the junior year the emphasis changes to include problem solving and self-direction. gestalt principles. Photo pairing exercises begin to introduce the concept of visual literacy. Freshman year Freshman learning objectives emphasize motor skills and craftsmanship. Instructional techniques consistent with cognitive information processing models are useful in building perceptual schemata. Behaviorist instructional methods are appropriate in these tasks. Drawing and painting exercises develop formal conceptual abilities. These developments require a paradigm shift: in addition to excellence in form. The advancement of manual and formal/visual skills is consistent with prior years’ experiences. but students are assigned increasingly complex projects that incorporate quantitative and verbal information with the knowledge of craft and formal values. individual choices are encouraged within these limitations. spatial and relational components are introduced at this level. Limited conceptual problems involving order and translation of basic verbal concepts such as “static” and “dynamic” into visual form are introduced. Craft. Teamwork and cooperative learning become part of the classroom routine in preparation for internships and “real world” studio experiences.For the sake of clarity this discussion will briefly summarize the undergraduate visual communication program at Arizona State University in order to provide a model and context for the subsequent thoughts and recommendations (see Fig. Although instructors set goals. and the use of color. Information design projects introduce visual story telling. Perceptual studies that teach an understanding of form. Drawing becomes a tool for ideation and concept development. increased individual self-direction and autonomy are emphasized. Perceptual studies advance in complexity and include considerations for spatial organization. Moreover. an understanding of structure and analysis of form are learning goals of these exercises. which include repetitive exercises and those requiring precision hand to eye coordination. they require complex ideation and problem solving skills.
he argued for a theory of development rather than the simple accumulation of knowledge. cognitive. He maintained that humans are distinct from animals because of the use of these mediating tools. L. He defines this as: “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the . That is. Wertch (1985) identifies three themes that are central to Vygotsky’s theoretical framework.processing instructional methods. A key operational concept of this social basis for development is internalization: higher mental functions begin in external social interactions that individuals subsequently transform into internal cognitive structures (McCown. he maintained that cognitive development and the development of higher psychological processes were a result of social interactions. The concept of the zone of proximal development is central to Vygotsky’s theory of development is. behavioral. S. A critical issue is the transfer and application of previous knowledge to the new. and was not published again until 1956. like Piaget. they learn “rules” rather than method. Vygotsky maintained that development was a complex. his perspective influenced the later work of behavioral. Too much guidance or direction results in declarative rather than procedural knowledge. Second. Vygotsky distinguished between material tools such as physical objects and psychological tools such as cognitive structures and language (McCown. self-directed explorations are consistent with constructivist instructional approaches. However. but from the teacher’s point of view that may short circuit the goal of cognitive development. and cultural development (Driscoll. These novel demands often leave students feeling “lost. Vygotsky held the Marxist position that culture and society arise from the social organization of labor and use of tools. In addition. This organization enables and provides the context for higher intellectual. 1996). 1994). They would like more guidance. Although his work was banned for political reasons shortly after his death. developmental and constructivist theorists and exerts a profound influence on contemporary theorists and instructional designers. projects.” They cannot relate the nature of new problems to what they have learned before. 1996). he held that mental processes could only be understood if we understand the tools and signs that mediate them. in contrast to Piaget’s stages of development. more advanced. life-long process without discrete or age dependent stages. Vygotsky and social development theory of learning Russian born Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky (1896-1934) made seminal contributions to learning theory and instructional design. First. Third.
1978. For example. Metacognitive strategies are internalized assessments of the value and propriety of various approaches to problem solving. the proposed learning task may be too advanced for the student’s abilities or not difficult enough to result in cognitive development. or pulled. participants share problem solving strategies in order to develop multiple cognitive approaches to material. Development is defined as cognitive change and is led. Again. Reciprocal teaching is a practical application of intersubjectivity. p. observe the teacher as a model. This means that the partners must negotiate a mutual understanding of a task and how to proceed to a solution (McCown. along as a result of new learning in the zone of proximal development. 47) Scaffolding is the process by which an advanced individual (peer or teacher) facilitates the cognitive development of an individual at a lower level of development. in a program to teach reading . the process is social and interactive. Riddle cites studies showing evidence that instruction based on social development theory facilitates greater cognitive development than traditional recitation approaches to teaching. In other words. Failing this. p.46). This stands in contrast with Piaget’s view that a stage of development must be attained prior to an individual’s capability for new learning in the context of that stage. 86). For success. The concept is the same as that of using physical scaffolding in constructing a building: providing temporary support for the building of new structure. The process is interactive and not unidirectional as in recitation teaching or rote learning. new learning facilitates development and must occur before development can happen. p. then are encouraged assume the teacher’s role. In Vygotsky’s model.level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult [or expert] guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky. CGI encourages students to transcend simply expanding their tactical “bag of tricks” and develop metacognitive strategies. This deepens students’ comprehension and perspective on subject matter.” (McCown. 1999). thereby enabling more complex learning and thus development. the advanced partner changes the amount of support in concert with the progress of the less advanced partner. Students. scaffolding must occur within the context of intersubjectivity. In cognitively guided instruction. It encourages students to go beyond simply asking questions and engage in a behavioral dialog. Reciprocal teaching and cognitively guided instruction are two principles of instructional design that follow from the preceding theoretical concepts (Riddle. In this sense Vygotsky’s model is more “aggressive.
Hausfather. This encouraged social interaction. based on the observations detailed above: Identify students’ zone of proximal development. collaboration. Emphasize cooperative learning and social interaction through the formation of small teams. few students posess the experience. knowledge. It is the hope of this paper to foster discussion of various theorists’ approaches to instruction with a view to furthering the interests of ASU’s highly effective program and developing a working document for future discussion. The central concept in Vygotsky’s approach is working with students within their zone of proximal development. and small group instruction (Riddle. Conclusions and recommendations Application of Vygotsky’s instructional guidelines to learning in the transitional phase of the junior year. Brown and Palincsar (1989) demonstrated significant improvements when compared with other instructional approaches (Driscoll. McCown (1996) offers practical advice on discovering students’ zone of proximal development. interview students one on one and look for evidence of their knowledge constructs. or cognitive ability sufficient to formulate or complete entirely self-directed programs of study. Limit the use of liberal constructivist instructional methods. These methods guide the instructor in formulating a strategy for individual and team development. and assisted effort. Second. clarification. Learning objectives should be liberal but directed and supervised (as in graduate programs). conduct formal assessments and evaluate the results in the context of cognitive development. and revision. cooperative learning. observe students’ activities and discussions during class. 1994. This in turn may serve as a model for visual communication programs at other institutions. First. peer instruction. Vygotsky advocated a classroom layout with clustered desks and small groups of students. Suggestions for facilitating student progress in the transitional phase follow. seems sound because of their emphasis on social negotiation. Third. In the protocol of visual communication education it also prepares students for internships and professional studio practice. Present information in multiple modes of representation . The practices in Arizona State’s undergraduate program are already largely consistent with these principles and others discussed above. At the undergraduate level.strategies. 1996). 1999). when students experience a period of vulnerability. This is also consistent with collaborative learning schemes proposed by others. Identifying this zone is the first task of the educator.
Add simple and short projects in the second semester of the sophomore year that prepare students for the transitional phase. symbolic) facilitates communication to student populations with diverse cognitive abilities. Schunk & Gaa. 1994). 1998). These small projects are intended is to introduce students to the more complex problems of the transitional phase in stages that they can cognitively assimilate and build on. Constructivist and other theorists also endorse this principle (Driscoll. Simple comparative color studies 4. Dweck & Leggett (1998) revealed that learning goals foster the belief that intelligence is plastic and therefore that improvement is possible regardless of particular outcomes. This is particularly relevant within visual communication instruction where translation of quantitative and verbal into visual form is necessary. Drawing as a process of ideation: learning and practicing the distinction between concept sketches and comprehensive sketches Motivation A final note about motivation and educational goal setting: researchers distinguish between proximal and distal goals and also learning and performance goals. These findings present something of a conundrum for visual communication education given the distal commitment required to complete the program. Translation of words to visual form (verbal). resulting in learners maintaining a higher level of motivation when learning goals are emphasized (Driscoll. Similarly. (1981) showed that setting challenging proximal goals enhances learners’ task motivation. and cognitive information processing theory (see Atkinson and Shiffrin’s multistore.g. Translation of numbers to visual form (quantitative) 3. visual. while distal goals set some criterion for achievement in a distant future. linguistic. Gagné’s third “Event of Instruction” (1985). learning goals emphasize the process of improvement as contrasted with performance goals that focus on the achievement of discrete outcomes. 2. Likewise. Proximal goals are those that are close at hand and achievable in the short-term. multistage theory of memory. These suggestions have their basis in Vygotsky’s scaffolding within the zone of proximal development (1978). and the performance requirement to produce a high volume of .Presenting material in different forms (e. 1994). Some suggested projects would include: 1.
. (1998). R. References Bednar. Performance Improvement Quarterly. B. Retrieved June 15. B. Hausfather. (1985).usask.. K. (1995). J. J.. Roop.htm. R. Leonardo. Gagne. if teachers keep these guidelines in mind and set goals accordingly. . MA: Allyn & Bacon. R.tangible work. Educational psychology: A learning-centered approach to classroom practice. P.. J. 31(4). Type & image:The language of graphic design. Cunningham. P.). Psychology of Learning for Instruction. Ertmer. (1998).. Newby. Needham Heights. Theory into practice: How do we link? In G. R. 2006 from http://www. A. Driscoll. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. M.). In the interests of continuity. design and gestalt theory. The conditions of learning (4 ed. Driscoll. Vygotsky and schooling: Creating a social contest for learning. S. (1993). T. 50-70. Rinehart & Winston.. Instructional technology: Past. cognitivism. . 1-10. The recommendations offered parallel many of the practices currently in place in ASU’s undergraduate program and represent an elaboration rather than a departure from the current instructional style.P. Meggs. P. Action in Teacher Education. J. 6(4). 18. Particular focus was placed on Vygotsky’s theory and its application to instruction in the junior year. 299. T. Instructional design & learning theory [Electronic Version]. Inc. Englewood: Libraries Unlimited. P.M. Behaviorism. Mergel. G. Perry. Behrens. 100-111). New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold. Art. This paper reviews considerations for visual communication education from the perspective of learning theory. it may compensate for flagging student motivation due to adverse circumstances. D. McCown. But. A. (1996). M. present and future (2 ed. Anglin (Ed. (1996). it may be prudent to test the above recommendations one at a time in order to limit interactions among them and assess their individual efficacy. (1989). pp. Duffy.ca/education/coursework/802papers/mergel/brenda. constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. (1994).. M. New York: Hold.
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