What are technology learning environments? #2

My first post for Wiki task 1 was very fruitful. The process of getting into it was meaningful. But I am not entirely satisfied with the answer on ‘What are technology learning environments?’. It was good to write about the different terms that are in use, and the different perspectives of how people talk about learning environments. So, it brought clarity. I even added something about TELE. Koen pointed me out that this wasn’t so clear.

I investigated some further and found this interesting paper. I fully agree that an increased interest in the notion of learning environments has emerged. It explores some of the ways in which technology-based learning environments may act potentially as trojan horses and, as such, drastically alter the educational landscape. 1

About being hungry, feedback and seeing differently #telic1

Reflection after session 3.

At the end of each #telic1 session we are asked to give a keyword that expresses our feeling. Last Thursday I said ‘hungry’. Not only because I really was hungry :-), but mainly because the word expressed my feeling of wanting answers to the difficult Lave paper. This paper contains a lot, and we all read the paper, reflected on it, created digital artefacts and presented them.

But what do Richard and Guy think of this? What is the essence of this paper we should take with us? Should we try to grasp everything in this paper? Are we on track? Etc.
Feeling in need for feedback…  A feeling I’m expressing in this post, but will also mention that to R & G  in person.

It is a fundamental fact of human nature that we are inquisitive. We want answers! 1

Why is that?

Because having answers creates order in our conscious minds. The scientific quest is to discover the order in the external world of space, time, energy and matter. The spiritual quest is to discover order in our consciousness.2

On feedback.

Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement, but this impact can be either positive or negative. (Hattie, 2007)3 It is essential how I  look towards this experience. I can either push this towards an opportunity to learn, or I can point towards R & G for not giving me feedback.

Not ‘what’ overcomes us, but ‘how’ we look at it makes us feel as we feel.

Secondly, the type of feedback is less important. Nearly any type of feedback can be valuable, only if there is a logical link with the challenge in which my mental energy is invested.4

Two types of feedback brought me back to the optimal experience of flow in the telic Msc programme:

1. I looked differently at the reading assignments. It is not per se about “all” the contents in the papers, but they contain links with the summative assignment of writing a paper: 'Learning always takes place in social contexts but is inevitably an individual achievement'.

2. My fellow-in-critical-reading-three Claire was smart enough to ask for feedback. After having contacted her (thanks Claire) she told me it was better to focus on one aspect in a paper than trying to tackle the whole thing. And relying on our common sense and instincts is more important.

I’m looking forward to reading the next paper this week.

It’s a puzzle, Richard said. Well, let’s start with the corner pieces: instinct and common sense, learning, social, individual achievement.  

1. http://snap.lbl.gov/science/why.php

2. http://www.pkrishna.org/Science-Spirituality.html

3. http://growthmindseteaz.org/files/Power_of_Feedback_JHattie.pdf

4. (freely translated from) Csikszentmihalyi, Optimal Experience of Flow, 1999, p.85

What are technology learning environments?

Wiki formative task 1 is:

What are technology learning environments?  Create hyperlinked pages that outline the types, characteristics, terminology, application and uses of TEL environments.

This seemed easy at first and I started gathering resources from my network enthousiastically. I googled, collected, curated. After selection, it boiled down to the following diigo list.


But when I was trying to put this together in a blog post, I got more and more confused.

I struggled to putting this in a coherent blogpost. At first I thought it was simply not clear to me, but then I realised that a lot of these articles, notions, terms are being used with different and mixed interpretations and perceptions. On top of that it is not always clear if people mean ‘learning’ or ‘pedagogy’ or ‘instruction’ or even ‘education’. So, a clear notion about the use of terms is important before going any further. Take blended learning for example. Blended learning is the integrated combination of traditional learning with web-based online approaches. (Whitelock & Jelfs, 2003)

Critical reading: Teaching, as Learning, in Practice. Jean Lave #2

When reading the paper I was wondering about the concept "learning" some more, and about some of the learning theories she is criticizing. If they indeed see learning as a merely individual mental process.

Some definitions of learning

* Definition of learning on Wikipedia: “Learning is acquiring new, or modifying and reinforcing existing knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences”. I agree with Lave that this impoverishes and misrecognizes the importance of relatedness in the learning process…
“Learning is not compulsory; it is contextual. It does not happen all at once, but builds upon and is shaped by what we already know. To that end, learning may be viewed as a process, rather than a collection of factual and procedural knowledge. Learning produces changes in the organism and the changes produced are relatively permanent.” (1)

Conclusion: the relatedness and social character is not really present. Perhaps one could think of “contextual” as “in relation to the other” but that is my interpretation.

* In a previous blogpost I wrote about Twitter as a learning environment. In that post, I also thought about the process of learning, and I came across another article (also pretty difficult) that gives following definition of learning:

“Learning can be defined as ‘changes in the behavior of an organism that result from regularities in the environment of the organism.” (2)

Conclusion: this explicitly mentions the relation to the environment.

Which seems correct to me.

* Burns (1995, p99) "conceives of learning as a relatively permanent change  in behaviour with behaviour including both observable activity and internal processes such as thinking, attitudes and emotions." (3)

Conclusion: interesting definition of learning with both activities and internal processes, but no mentioning of the relation. So, indeed individual process according to him.

Learning theories

An overview: http://www.brookes.ac.uk/services/ocsld/resources/theories.html

* Sensory Stimulation Theory > no mentioning of social, collective character

* Reinforcement Theory (Skinner)  > no mentioning of social, collective character

* Cognitive gestallt approaches (importance of experience) > no mentioning of social, collective character

* Holistic Learning > no mentioning of social, collective character

* Humanist approach (Rogers) > mentions the relation teacher-learner. But this relationship is more seen as one of creating the right conditions for the learner. So no meaningful, reciprocal relations.

* Experiental learning (Kolb) > no mentioning of social, collective character.

* Adult learning > no mentioning of social, collective character

* Social Constructivism (Vygotsky) http://viking.coe.uh.edu/~ichen/ebook/et-it/social.htm

> more emphasis on the social context and on culture. Explicit mentioning of the “others” involved, but still a relation that is not entirely on equal level.

Lave p. 150 “... learning is an aspect of changing participation in changing “communities of practice” everywhere. Wherever people engage for substantial periods of time, day by day, in doing things in which their ongoing activities are interdependent, learning is part of their changing participation in changing practices.”

p. 153 “...it is not difficult to imagine them (i.e. the law masters) as changing learners themselves … both are participants in a larger, varied constellation of participants.”

--> This goes further than Vygotsky.


Considering some general definitions and most of the learning theories, Lave is correct in her dualistic view on learning theories. They do underestimate the reciprocal, meaningful and equal relations.

Critical reading: Teaching, as Learning, in Practice. Jean Lave #1

Download the paper here.

The main purpose of the paper (to me) is challenging a number of theories that see learning as merely an ‘individual’ mental process. These theories marginalize people for being ‘not so good at learning’. Secondly, these dualistic theories create divisions: successful in learning <-> not successful, normal <-> subnormal, good results <-> bad results, ideal <-> not ideal.

Therefore she (and Wenger) reconsider learning as a social and collective phenomenon.  Her understanding of learning as a social practice is developed on two major researches: one on tailor’s apprenticeships in Liberia, and one on learning in 19th-century mosque schools in Egypt.

Lave doesn’t suggest that the entire system should turn towards an education of apprenticeship, but it is valuable to look deeper into learning as a social practice so that education can benefit from these new insights on learning in practice.

Both perspectives on learning have effect on teaching in schools. “Learning, taken to be first and principally the identity-making life projects of participants in communities of practice, has a crucial implication for the teaching in schools.”

Mere classroom instruction versus a process of facilitating the circulation of school knowledgeable skill into the changing identities of students. In this second viewpoint, teachers should be intensely involved in communities of practice in which their identities are changing as well. Teachers should be ‘premium’ learners themselves. It made me think of this video:

Great Teachers Are Great Learners - AITSL from Innovation Unit on Vimeo.

Juliun and I are putting together our thoughts in this Google Doc.

We will again collaborate on a Prezi as a digital artefact.

Creative interchange for session 2 - the Gee paper

In preparation  for session 2 on October 24th, we were asked to work in pairs. Each pair had to read and discuss a paper (more on the Gee paper in my previous post) and then present a digital artefact with the outcome of our ‘blended’ ideas. First, Juliun and I worked in a shared Google Doc. Adding our thoughts and posing some questions, remarks to what we both had added in the doc. Then we created a Prezi, that we also discussed in the online Collaborate session. Thanks to Juliun this online presenting with Prezi worked out great. Actually, I found it a better way of presenting to the others, instead of sharing our screen through the Collaborate environment. We provided the link in the chat room, and people followed the Prezi while we were talking through the Collaborate.

The Prezi:

What I particularly liked about the way Juliun and I were working together was the authentic interaction and creative integrating of ideas. The process was a good example of how people can blend thoughts, how we inspired each other  to go further, to challenge each other. I felt openness between us, and we were able to express thoughts about the paper and I could add some links to my own experience.  As a result, creatively integrating ideas between the two of us uplifted the quality of the outcome.

#satisfaction would be the hashtag if I had to tweet about it …

Secondly, I not only learnt about the content of the paper, I learnt from the interaction with Juliun as well.  How he outlined the three purposes in the Gee paper made me value the importance of pinpointing the purpose while reading. Seeking the purpose behind the words. Thanks Juliun.

Asimov The Fun They Had. About curiosity ...

In session one we read a short story of Asimov, The Fun They Had. The story is about how education is shaped in the future..

You can read the entire story here: http://users.aber.ac.uk/dgc/funtheyhad.html

Two thoughts I want to share here. First, the future of teaching as Asimov describes it is quite depressing. I really, really hope this does not become a reality. It would be aweful if the relationships between students and teachers would disappear.

Secondly, what did not change in the future of Asimov is that children still have their natural curiosity. Phew, kids are still naturally curious. Margie still wonders, wants to know more! Reassuring :-).

Does your classroom inspire and cultivate curiosity in children?

Check out this Youtube video about Curiosity (quite an uptempo speaker, that Hank, by the way).

Gee - Learning by design

James Paul Gee has written an interesting paper called “Learning by design: Games as learning machines” (1). In the article he describes thirteen principles that characterise the learning behind (successful) games. Being a gamer himself he probably has a lot of experience with theses games, and I sense that authenticity in the article. That makes me want to try out some games, I’m not a gamer myself J. It is really a very interesting idea to look at learning principles behind success stories. That could be transponed to other areas as well. Successful companies that share their vision on professionalising their staff. What makes a certain app a hit, and can that be used as a strategy in schools?

So, the question he anwers is: ‘How do good game designers manage to get new players to learn long, complex, and difficult games?’.

An overview of the principles:

Empowered Learners

  • Co-design: good learning requires that learners feel like active agents (producers) not just passive recipients (consumers).
  • Customise: people cannot be agents of their own learning if they cannot make decisions about how they are learning.
  • Identity: deep learning requires an extended commitment.
  • Manipulation: humans feel expanded and empowered when they can manipulate powerful tools.

Problem Solving

  • Well-ordered problems: problems in good games are well ordered. In particular, early problems are designed to lead players to form good guesses about how to proceed when they face harder problems later on in the game.
  • Pleasantly frustrating: challenges feel hard but doable.
  • Cycles of expertise: expertise is formed in any area by repeated cycles of learners practicing skills
  • Information “on demand” and “just in time”: humans use verbal information best when it is given “just in time” (when they can put it to use) and “on demand” (when they feel they need it).
  • Fish tanks: use simplified systems with a few key variables. Learners are not overwhelmed by a complex system.
  • Sandboxes: safe havens for learners where ‘things can’t go wrong’.
  • Skills as strategies: people learn and practice skills best when they see a set of related skills as a strategy to accomplish goals.


  • System thinking: People learn skills, strategies, and ideas best when they see how they fit into an overall larger system to which they give meaning.
  • Meaning as action image: humans do not usually think through general definitions and logical principles. Rather, they think through experiences.

How can we bring this more into schools?

Every principle can be somewhat transferred to the school. For example: let teachers and students co-design the course. The curriculum is still too much top-down and teacher-centred. Students should feel “agents” of their own learning (‘agency’ as the capacity to act in a world). Beware of the balance between skills of the students and the level of the challenges in a course (when the problems are well-ordered there will be less anxiety with students). This principle of well-ordered problems is exactly what Csikszentmihalyi means with his graphic (2):

At the third level of “Understanding”: the teacher-training program can use a more holistic approach to form teachers instead of breaking apart every task into sub-sub-sets of target goals.

Conclusion: When we think of games, we think of fun. When we think of learning we think of work. We should see schools more as places of fun. Teachers and students should have more fun in the classroom.

(1) Gee, J. P. (2003). What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, New York: Palgrave/Macmillan.

(2) Csikszentmihaly, M., 1999. Flow: the psychology of Optimal Experience, HarpersCollinsPublishers, p.107.

Twitter as learning environment #2

During the first #telic1 session, Claire raised a good question about Twitter being a learning environment, or not.

I have been thinking about this during the past week and I agree with Ian that we first need to define what a learning environment is. In fact, the more basic question is: 'what is learning?'. A lot has already been said and written on this matter and I’m not intending to cover everything here on the subject,  but it is very valuable to sum up some definitions of ‘learning’ in order to get back to the question about Twitter being a learning environment.


“Learning is a goal-directed act. Learning is acquiring new, or modifying existing knowledge, behaviours, skills, values or preferences… Learning is not compulsory; it is contextual .”

In this definition I definitely see my Twitter activities as ‘learning’. I have consciously defined my own goals: being able to connect to others, and professionally develop myself.

Definition of a Learning Lab In Ghent Uni:

"Learning can be defined as ‘changes in the behavior of an organism that result from regularities in the environment of the organism".(1)

Here also, Twitter often has changed my behaviour and that is more the result from regularity rather than a one-moment-tweet or situation (although it also has happened that one tweet changed, influenced my behaviour in the long term).

So, considering these definitions, Twitter is a learning environment but  I agree with the question that Ian puts as a conclusion: perhaps a learning environment is only as good as we make it? Not the tool itself is most important but how the learner uses the tool. And this tweet of Charlie Palmgren could not be more spot on …

Apart from the definition of learning it is interesting to look at the conditions that facilitate the learning for me. Charlie Palmgren writes in his book “The Ascent of the Eagle” about the Creative Interchange process and the conditions needed for this process. Simply put, creative interchange is a process in which human beings are working together at their best. And the conditions are: mutual intrinsic worth, trust, curiosity, connectivity and tenacity.(2)

Daniel Willingham also mentions the importance of the right conditions for learning. “People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking.” (3)

The conditions that facilitate my Twitter learning are:

1. Trust: the willingness to risk sharing some of the best ‘stuff’ I have, and the humility to be open and receptive to what others bring and say on Twitter.

2. Curiosity: exploring and appreciating new ideas on Twitter. Even if they sometimes seem contradictory to my own thinking (at first).

3.  Connectivity: I love creating links between Twitter ideas and my own situation. Using my imagination to build upon those Twitter connections to create new ideas and solutions (learning with Twitter is a goal-directed act, indeed).

4. Tenacity: the discipline and practice it takes to make new thinking into sustainable habits. Also, showing commitment to engage myself in Twitter discussions, and practicing with new tools such as bufferapp.com, diigo.com to curate my resources etc. Showing tenacity to stop with Twitter once and awhile, because it can be quite addictive.

Conclusion: Twitter is a learning environment but the conditions that facilitate the learning are more important than the tool itself.

(1) De Houwer, J.,  Barnes-Holmes, D., Moors, A., 2013. What is learning? On the nature and merits of a functional definition of learning. Psychon Bull Rev.

(2) Palmgren, C., 2008. The Ascent of the Eagle, p. xiv.

(3) Willingham, D., 2009. Why don’t students like school?, p.3.