Learning Theories Into the Wild

Bloom visualized

I have been thinking about how some learning theories have gone "into the wild" in the way that some plants and animals have. People sometimes release pets, fish, birds or plants into the wild. Most of those will not survive, but some that do end up thriving to the point that they become an invasive species that harms the environment. 

Benjamin Bloom, an American educational psychologist, along with collaborators published a framework for categorizing educational goals back in 1956. That "Taxonomy of Educational Objectives" has become known simply as Bloom’s Taxonomy.

It has been taught to many students in education programs. I learned it in my undergraduate education courses. I had workshops about using it in professional development when I was a secondary school teacher. I taught workshops using it when I was doing professional development for college faculty. 

Some educators might groan at the mention of Bloom's Taxonomy because they have heard it so many times. But this framework by Bloom and his collaborators has stuck. It originally consisted of six major categories: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation.

The categories after Knowledge were presented as “skills and abilities,” with the understanding that knowledge was the necessary precondition for putting these skills and abilities into practice. Each category also contained subcategories set up from simple to complex and concrete to abstract.

But what has stuck as Bloom's framework and gone out into the wild are those six main categories.

Do an image search on "Bloom's Taxonomy" and you will get a wide variety of visualizations of the framework as a pyramid, stairs, wheels, pie slices. (see illustration above).

Since 1956, the six major categories were changed from noun to verb forms. Benjamin Bloom died in 1999, but new versions and interpretations have continued to be developed. I have seen technology-based versions. One version released in 2001 renamed the "knowledge" level as "remembering," comprehension was retitled understanding, and synthesis was renamed as creating. The top two levels of Bloom’s changed position in the revised version. 

One sign that a theory has gone into the wild is that other people start creating variations and visualizations. Imitation may not be the most sincere form of flattery, but it is an indicator that a theory is being accepted and considered in the public. Like any species, once something goes into the wild, it begins to change. It adapts to new settings and gets further away from the original.

DOK
A few years ago, I was working on designing online training for teachers. One of the concepts we were going to cover was Norman Webb's "Depth of Knowledge" (DOK). It is a theory of cognitive rigor. That is a combined model developed by superimposing two existing models for describing rigor. The model is widely accepted in the education system in the United States. Cognitive Rigor is the superposition of Bloom's Taxonomy and Webb's Depth-of-Knowledge levels and the two are often compared. They are used to categorize the level of abstraction of questions and activities in education.

I had found a number of visualizations of Norman Webb's "Depth of Knowledge" online, but I wasn't sure which one was the "official" version and could we use it in our training. Most of them were a wheel design, but others were charts and a few had a steps design similar to how Bloom's Taxonomy is shown. So, I contacted Webb via his University of Wisconsin website.  I was not sure if I would get a response, but thankfully he emailed this response:

"Thanks for your interest in my work. I did not create the DOK wheel. I believe someone in Florida used my work to create the DOK wheel. Because the wheel is not mine, I cannot grant or deny its use. I think the DOK chart is misleading and I do not recommend its use. Depth of Knowledge depends on more than the verb. The complexity also depends on what the verb is acting on. For example, “draw” is in the DOK level 1 sector. But a student who draws a blueprint of a new building is doing more than recall of information. Explain also can be at different levels--explain by repeating a definition (DOK level 1), explain by putting a paragraph into your own words (DOK level 2), or explain by describing an analysis of the factors contributing to the economic down turn of the US (DOK level 3). So I cannot provide you the requested permission and, in fact, I discourage you from using the DOK wheel. It is a simplification of my work that does not fully represent the issues of content complexity. The only possible use of the chart I can see is if someone took a verb and asked how it could be placed in each of the four sectors."

Ultimately, we used his reply and a simple chart version of DOK

intelligencesA third theory that I would say has gone out into the wilds of education is the theory of multiple intelligences. It differentiates "intelligence" into specific modalities. It was proposed by Howard Gardner in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Gardner chose eight abilities/intelligences/modalities: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic.

Later, he suggested that existential and moral intelligence may also be worthy of inclusion. Gardner did not like the idea of labeling learners to a specific intelligence, but of course that is what many people have done with his work in the wild.

Before Gardner presented his theory, brain research became more connected to learning theory. When the lateralization of brain function went "into the wild," and many variations on right brain / left brain learners were put forward. Much of this kind of extending of a theory has been questioned, but the wild version of the research is still out there.

In the wild, it is generally called "learning styles" and though the right hemisphere is associated with cognitive skills (creativity, emotion, intuitiveness) the right also controls the left side of the body, so right-brained people are often left-handed. Right-brain dominant people are generalized as artistic, innovative and often random. 

Gardner still maintains that his theory of multiple intelligences (not to be conflated with learning styles) should "empower learners," rather than label them in ways that might actually restrict them. 

Are You Ready for HTTPS?

police tape

A post from Doc Searls reminds me that “Google Condemns the Archival Web.” What web is that? It is the one when the URL is HTTP rather than HTTPS – the “S” for “secure.”  Google’s Chrome browser will mark all those older pages as “insecure” this summer, possibly striking fear in the clicking fingers of many users.

Google says:   “For the past several years, we’ve moved toward a more secure web by strongly advocating that sites adopt HTTPS encryption…Beginning in July 2018 with the release of Chrome 68, Chrome will mark all HTTP sites as ‘not secure’ on every current Chrome browser.”

So many “legacy” websites created in the days of yore, though they will still exist, will have a kind of Google crime tape around them. Will people dare to enter, or be scared off? I would assume all those insecure sites will see a drop off in visitors.

SSo why doesn’t everyone just fix what Google says to fix and make their site “secure?”  Well, there is some cost in money and/or time. For plain old folks who aren’t web wizards, they may not even know what needs to be done. There are old sites that no longer have an owner or webmaster but still exist on the World Wide Web that becomes more of a museum each year. For many sites -like blogs – there is no “cost benefit” to upgrading.

As of this writing this site is http://www.serendipity35.net without the magic "S." Will Brother Tim come to the rescue like a caped web crusader and make everything secure and Chrome-ready?

What happens if you use another browser like Firefox or Safari? I assume all will be well. For now. And you will be able to sneak under that police tape to those other sites – but you have been warned.

Google trumpets that developers have been transitioning their sites to HTTPS and that “progress last year was incredible” – Over 68% of Chrome traffic on both Android and Windows is now protected and over 78% of Chrome traffic on both Chrome OS and Mac is now protected. I am a bit surprised that though they trumpet this stat: “81 of the top 100 sites on the web use HTTPS by default”  I would have thought that 100% of the top 100 sites would have complied.

This in the same week that it is announced that Wikispaces is shutting down. Soon young kids will ask what you mean when you say “Internet.”

Make a mental note for July so that you’re not shocked when you see some warning signs on the information superhighway.

When Bots Attack

robot
Software bots may not be what you imagine when you hear of a robot attack

Bots, automated software tools, got a lot of attention for their involvement in trying to manipulate news and the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. They can also be used as a weapon against business rivals. They can be used just because don't like someone or their website or business, or even for the delight of being able to do damage.

A local business in my home state of New Jersey, Melovino Meadery, was a recent victim. The small business makes handcrafted mead, that fairly rare alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey and water. Many small businesses rely on online reviews to attract customers, and bots can be used to post unfavorable reviews in an attempt to bring down a business' reputation online.

The meadery was hit by Russian bots and it makes you wonder why they would have interest in a small NJ business. It may not be Russians who have an interest, but someone closer to home who is using the Russian bots.

This Serendipity35 website was hit years ago by a denial of service attack. By hitting us with comment spam in attempts to add links to sites selling drugs and other items, they were able to bring us down for a time. Those attacks also caused my Google Ads account to be suspended indefinitely with no recourse, even though we were able to show by our server logs that these excessive posts and hits (hundreds in several minutes, thousands overall) were not done by us trying to pad our numbers for gain.

We had to shut down this blog for a few days, the commenting feature totally, increase our anti-spam settings and then manually delete those erroneous comments. It hurt us.

Not all bots are evil. A bot (a common nickname for software robot or agent) is an automated tool that carries out repetitive and mundane tasks. The Wikipedia site uses bots to help maintain the 44+ million pages of the English Wikipedia. But bots can also be used to make erroneous edits very rapidly and can disrupt Wikipedia. There are currently 2,153 bot tasks approved for use on the English Wikipedia that make edits, leave messages on user talk pages, etc.

The meadery story has two further elements. The negative reviews were on Facebook and the owner posted about what had happened. Fans of the business began to post positive, five-star reviews in an effort to balance out the fake negative ones. Unfortunately, on Facebook if a rating doesn't include a written review, it can't be reported or removed.

Sergio Moutela, owner of Melovino Meadery, sarcastically thanked whoever was responsible for the fake reviews because it brought the company's fans and the business closer together. Fans defended and mounted a grassroots counter attack.  Unfortunately, that thank-you post also got him a death threat. Someone claiming to be a Navy Seal with more than 300 "confirmed kills" (a frequently copied threat that's been online for years) threatened him. Moutela took it seriously. He tracked the poster to a place outside of NJ, contacted the local police there and they met with the person and informed the poster that further interactions with Moutela would bring an arrest.

That same day, the meadery was visited by the town's health department inspector who said a telephone complaint had come in about the business. Coincidence? The inspector only noted a few minor items that were corrected on the spot.

All this stemmed from the bot attack and the repercussions of it.

Bots are tools, and like almost every tool, it can be used for good and for bad.

 

Learning Spaces: Industrial to Information Age

classroomHow important is the physical space in which learning occurs? "Learning spaces" has become not only a educational topic, but also a field along with learning space design and human-centered design.

According an online EDUCAUSE eBook on learning spaces:

"The emergence of the constructivist learning paradigm has led to a focus on learning rather than teaching. It allows us to reevaluate classrooms and to consider informal learning spaces as loci for learning. If learning is not confined to scheduled classroom spaces and times, the whole campus—anywhere and at any time—is potentially an effective learning space... learning doesn't just happen in classrooms; learning also occurs outside the lecture hall. New strategies for enabling learning and accommodating the multiple demands on student time have led to rethinking the use, design, and location of learning spaces...

Space, whether physical or virtual, can have a significant impact on learning. Learning Spaces focuses on how learner expectations influence such spaces, the principles and activities that facilitate learning, and the role of technology from the perspective of those who create learning environments: faculty, learning technologists, librarians, and administrators. Information technology has brought unique capabilities to learning spaces, whether stimulating greater interaction through the use of collaborative tools, videoconferencing with international experts, or opening virtual worlds for exploration."

Can be that changes as simple as rearranging seating in a classroom can have a positive effect on learning? In Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, TodaySheninger and Murray discuss the transformation of physical spaces and how that affects pedagogy. Murray calls the typical desks in row model the “Cemetery Effect,” a design that goes back to the early 1900s.

More than a 100 years later, this industrial era model survives. Those classrooms of 100 years ago were preparing students to work in factories. Those students would become workers that probably spent their work day performing the same routine task, and often spent their entire career at the same company. That is not the current worker model, but classrooms frequently don't reflect any change.

 

Education Versus Training

training

Factory training, 1941

Professional learning, often referred to as training, has been in companies for a long time.  But as a history of  training would show, that training is different from education and their evolutions have differed and crossed paths at times.

Education is instruction in more general knowledge, such as the history of the society, or mathematics. Training teaches how to do a specific task, such as building or running a machine.  As societies developed, there accumulated more knowledge than people could pick up on their own or learn informally from others.

That training history would reach back to antiquity when "On-The-Job Training" was the way people learned a job or career. In the Middle Ages, the apprenticeship was the new trend - learning from an expert while on the job. The Industrial Revolution brought about actual classrooms and factory schools with more formal training inside the company. 

I thought about this history when I was reading about the work of the Director of Learning at Slack, Kristen Swanson. Her job is to develop training for the tech company's employees and to help explain their messaging tool to customers around the globe. Swanson came to the company after an earlier career in EdTech. She started in education as an elementary school teacher, then served as a district director of technology, moved to directing a research department at BrightBytes, and then founded the Edcamp Foundation. That last role helped teachers run free, grassroots professional-development workshops. 

Directing learning at a company like Slack, must be very different, right? 

Amazon operates its own education division, Amazon Education. It currently offers products and services aimed at K-12 classrooms, such as TenMarks, an online math and writing program, and Inspire, a directory of online educational materials where teachers can find and share teaching materials. And Candace Thille, a professor of education at Stanford University, is now Amazon's Director of Learning Science and Engineering

A newish trend is for large technology companies to hire former educators to lead training and education efforts. Is professional learning outside academia becoming more like learning inside academia?

Returning to that training history, we saw that "vestibule training" emerged at the start of the 20th century blending the classroom with on-the-job training or "near-the-job" training. The training room was located close to the workplace and equipped with the same machines, equipment and technology that are used in production. The trainer was usually a skilled worker or supervisor, much like the much older apprentice model.

During and after the two world wars, there was a need to train large numbers of defense workers because of increased demand for products and a loss of workers to the military. Several shifts occurred during this period. Training was done by supervisors who were being trained how to teach. Training classes were smaller, generally 9-11 workers.

As training departments became established in many companies, so did ways of providing more efficient, less expensive methods of training. Individualized automated instruction came into play, and was the basis for CBT (computer-based training) which is still used in various forms in companies today.

Has training been learning from education, or has education been trying to include training in the curriculum?