Other angles on Learning
When I started accumulating the material for what eventually became this site, many years ago, I was naïve enough to believe the neat classifications of "learning theory" the textbooks promulgated.
It is worth asking why textbooks do this (divide everything up so neatly) when anything of any interest is so much messier.
- Is it because they believe students find a hierarchical structure easier to "learn" (i.e. memorise) than a number of separate ideas?HIRST P and WOOLLEY P (1982) [Social Relations and Human Attributes London; Tavistock. p.37] argue that the hierarchical system developed in mediaeval times when scholars did not have access to original sources in books, and had to memorise material. They may be right.
- But what does that say about how they see their readers? I am struck by the way in which authors of popular science books seem so much better at making them "flow" than are text-book authors covering much the same material.
- Or is it because—being tied to the linear structure of the book [which is not actually linear in the hands of a skilled reader who can scan, skip, skim, and really read, of course]—they need that structure for themselves in order to put the book together? One of my reasons for writing for the web like this is that I am not tied to such a linear, sequential pattern: hyperlinks enable you to jump about and follow the way you want to explore the topics.
- And why do they have the need to interrupt a perfectly readable account of something with a "box-out"? Or even worse, a question for the reader to think about? (Texts on teaching are particularly given to this facile device.) The questions occur to me quite naturally, thank you very much. I don't need to be patronised.
- I am of course aware of the irony that I am now doing exactly what I castigate!
Meanwhile, back at the ranch—there are many ideas on learning which do not fit neatly into the usual neat categories of:
— which is as it should be. Learning is a multi-faceted phenomenon which cannot be packaged quite so simply. All theories are abstractions from the infinite complexity and confusion of reality: groupings or packages of theories are meta-abstractions, and to let them dominate distorts things too much.
So the topics in this section (links listed on the left)—tend to be on the blurred boundaries of learning theories, but nonetheless relevant to the practice of teaching and learning.