Tag Archives: Cognitive Theory

The Cognitive Style Revolution – Excerpts from MOOC Research

Note:  I will use this space over the next month to share excerpts from my dissertation The Evolution & Impact of the Massive Open Online Course.  The research was a Delphi study bringing together 20 MOOC experts to discuss the MOOC in educational, political, and sociocultural terms (slides from the oral presentation can be seen here). Upon library clearance, the entire document will be available through a Creative Commons license.  The following is from Chapter 5, the conclusions of the research study.  This excerpt tackles one of the educational implications of the study — the re-emergence of cognitive learning theory in the educational milieu.

1. Computer science replaces education research & theory.  In the time since the Delphi research study (note:  the expert study ran in October and November of 2013), prominent MOOC voices involved in development and surrounding political affairs have continued to advocate for educational solutions engaged within a cognitive worldview.  Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng recently promoted the book “Why Students Don’t Like School:  A Cognitive Scientists Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom,” in doing so advocating for the cognitive approach, saying, “[This is a] great book on applying cogsci principles to teach better. Loved this!” (Ng, 2014). This exchange, passed along the social media platform Twitter to over 14,000 followers, marked some of the first recognized link to educationally rigorous learning theory, a change in the histories MOOC developers have heretofore shared with the world. Since 2011, those at the forefront of developing MOOCs have either linked their structures with very recent technological phenomenon such as Khan Academy (Vanderbilt, 2012), or avoided making a link to the history of education at all (Koller, 2013). The link between the artificial intelligence and machine learning backgrounds of the primary MOOC developers and the cognitive principles at the foundation of their academic disciplines now has been linked to existing learning theory literature. This link suggests MOOC developers believe the principles they employ for teaching machines are ideal principles for teaching humans.

Such developments might be ideal if, as Marvin Minsky put it, the brain is a computer made of meat (Minsky, 1982).  Such a comparison may be provocative but does not withstand psychological scrutiny. The evolution of educational psychology, generations removed from the dawn of cognition in the 60s and 70s, has rendered cognitive learning theory archaic (Siemens, 2013a).  While cognitive theory remains popular in computer science and among some educators, the work of educational psychologists and social scientists such as Jean Piaget, Etienne Wenger, and Bonnie Nardi have identified the limits of cognitive learning theory while using its strengths to create new theories of learning such as constructivism, communities of practice, and activity theory, theories accepted within education as more robust than cognitive theory (Wenger, 2013). A theoretical return to cognition thus creates a rift in the field of educational research, where a focus on the MOOC phenomenon as a learning model substitutes the field of computer science for educational psychology theory.  Moreover, the ahistorical attitude of the MOOC movement (Khan, 2012) implicitly invalidates prior education research.  The end result is a whitewash of the field of education, where prior initiatives and research are discarded without consideration, and where the MOOC model and similar education initiatives can grow and thrive despite sizable concerns existing within prior and contemporary education research.

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#ALN13 Presentation – MOOC Cartography (A Literature Review)

I presented my dissertation literature review at the Sloan International Conference for Online Learning on Wednesday at 12:45pm at the Swan & Dolphin Resort at Walt Disney World.  Several technological glitches threw me off-point, and the topic was expansive by design (perhaps too much), but attendees were positive and responsive to the presentation.

Looking back over my literature review (I completed my oral defense in July of this year), I see not only a great deal of change in the field, but also a greater understanding within myself of the field and its tribulations.  There is a lot of news and hullabaloo about MOOC platforms, MOOC economics, MOOC battles on campuses, but there is still a significant lack of writing on MOOCs from the dominant ideology from a theoretical perspective.  The MOOC as we see it in everyday literature was built by computer scientists interested in artificial intelligence and machine learning.  AI and Machine Learning are byproducts of cognitive science, which has a sister learning theory, cognitive theory.  Obviously the 1960s and 1970s sent the psychologists and educators down one road where a human mind handled information and grew into education theories such as constructivism, social learning theory and activity theory…while the computer scientists went down another road with expert systems and intelligent agents.  But both constitute learning from a certain perspective.
The theoretical voice missing in this MOOC debate is the AI voice.  What is the learning theory behind the AI movement that helped usher MOOCs into existence?  Who are the seminal authors in the field?  Why is learning designed for machines considered applicable to humans? Once all sides have an understanding of these issues we can better engage in dialogue about MOOCs and their role in the future of higher education.

MOOCs: Where’s the Lit Review?

One of the purposes of research is to establish a foundation of prior knowledge for future experiments to engage and extrapolate before proposing a new design that will further the field.  This is important; without an understanding of what came before, research runs the risk of reinventing the wheel, or even (worse yet) coming up with something more rudimentary than the wheel.

In my days of teaching creative writing, it used to be quite the stressor to get smart, motivated teenagers to take notes of their plots and characters.  These were students used to doing everything right and being able to beat the system just with what was stored in their heads.  I explained that creative writing was not about beating a system, and the more complex a story and a group of characters became, the more important it was to create a system where you could record those complexities so you could return to it as the story developed.  Some listened right away and got to work.  Some needed trial and error before coming to me so we could devise strategies.  Some never listened and became increasingly frustrated.  In the end, it was more likely for someone from the first or second group to have a coherent, rich story than someone from the third group.

I think about this as I read more literature on the history of MOOCs as described by the MOOC creators.   Continue reading

Education, 1972

Missed this a few weeks back, but at Inside Higher Ed author Ry Rivand covered a summit hosted by Harvard and MIT entitled Online Learning and the Future of Residential Education.  While the proceedings were not quotable to the press, Rivand and other journalists had full access to presenters, professors and other dignitaries invited to discuss this future.

My focus as a researcher is on how massive learning technologies affect instruction and the instructor; contemporary learning theory puts a great deal of importance on creating a learning environment (that could turn into a community), experiencing learning through authentic hands-on projects, and contextualizing information.  xMOOCs, as they have been sold, herald pedagogy but present a learning system of short videos and interactive quizzes, which original MOOC visionary George Siemens labels a return to 1960s educational theory and pedagogy*.

*If you didn’t click that link, do it.  Siemens has a fantastic idea on how MOOCs could utilize gaming theory from World of Warcraft or Call of Duty in establishing grouping for projects, the sort of thing that education professor and community learning researcher Linda Polin sees as an authentic use of gamification in learning.

Anyone thinking Siemens’ quote is overly critical or cynical should view Rivand’s direct quote of Anant Agarwal, the director of MOOC provider EdX:

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Disruptive Tech via the Experts

A sadness fell over the Ed Tech circles of Twitter yesterday.  Maybe not a sadness, but a resignation.  The fervor that often accompanies information or artifacts from dichotomal points of view (which I love to call PsOV) was replaced with a more subdued conversation, one indicative of licking wounds, falling back, and regrouping.

A lot of MOOC related information entered into the conversation yesterday, and I’ll dedicate specific blogs to each.  But most important, from my perspective, was technology and new media maven Clay Shirky weighing in on the MOOC debate (oddly enough, I linked to a 2009 article of his just the other day when discussing my journey of putting MOOC and disruptive technology together).  The article is powerful to say the least, and makes a compelling argument…so compelling that if you haven’t read it and are interested enough in MOOCs to be at a blog all about MOOCs, you should go to it now.

Clay Shirky – Napster, Udacity & the Academy Continue reading

Comparing MOOCs

My dissertation chair pointed out a problem with doing a dissertation on MOOCs…unless the scope is specific enough, the venture becomes an attempt to define a moving target.  This is evident in the manner in which we define MOOCs…in this blog I have begun looking at the MOOCs of Siemens and Downes as urMOOCs (coined by Bryan Alexander among others), although there are many who refer to them as cMOOCs (for Connectivist MOOCs).  That leaves the Udacity/EdX/Coursera model as MOOC, and any good sociologist or cultural theorist will tell you that by defining one as standard and another as derivative, we have already set false assumptions and beliefs.

C.O. Rodriguez wrote a paper for the European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning on the differences between the cMOOC and what we refer to as only MOOC, and even he had difficulty defining the terms, using “AI-Stanford Like Model” to delineate.  The paper is an ideal start for scholarly research on the topic, and as I read through his citations and continue to look over the work I will share those outcomes.  A few initial points I found noteworthy: Continue reading