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An email discussion of construals and learning (summary by SBR)

Making Construals and Learning : a Summary

[for more context - see SBR's editorial comments and the transcript of original email sources from which this summary is drawn]

Meurig : making construals is not of its essence concerned with learning, or with programming/software development, it has its own identity and role that may or may not contribute to either of those activities.

Hamish: … we probably … *have* to identify what we think that the idea of “making construals” contributes to .. .learning. …
The construct of “experience” [in the context of Kolb] may be “re-packaged” as “learning by doing” or “active learning”, … it’s about making of connections. Knowledge is constructed … often facilitated by active engagement with objects in the physical world. … Both Papert and Kolb are concerned with ‘reflecting on experience [or doing]’. … A big part of “learning through programming, [or design, or construction]” is to make internal mentations open to public scrutiny. … I would see a “construal” as just such a “construction”. The maker is exposing his or her understanding, in a systematic way, such that it can be talked about. This is an exercise in “showing one’s working”. … Structuring in some way obviates ‘handwaving’ and the computer is then a useful tool, in that it demands that all variables are declared, and in this case needs [structuring] through the language of ODA.

Piet: naïve constructivism lets students explore (Bruner’s discovery learning), then guided discovery seeks to prune certain parts of the learner's problem space. Main effect is the learner feels .. (s)he is in control. After Papert’s Mindstorms the larger community of "intelligent instruction" started to give up "modelling the learner" and pursued techniques like reflection and metacognitive methods.

It is now our job to (re)conceive the moment of 'aha' in construals. Should we try to elicit these moments ofter, and/or should we make learners utilize its merits, for instance through reconstructing what would escape from awareness otherwise?

Hamish: that is a very good definition of what a teacher does - to “elicit moments …”. There is a phrase which I like - the “orchestration of experience” which I attribute to Caine, R. N. and G. Caine (1994). "Making connections : teaching and the human brain”.
[There is ] the idea of the teacher as “creating events” which, it is hoped in turn, will cause learners to have certain experiences. …. I would always want to think of course design as a matter of designing good tasks for students to engage with.
Alger, B. (2002). The experience designer : learning, networks, and the cybersphere. Tucson, Ariz., Fenestra.

Meurig (referring to Hamish’s first contribution above):
…. it's certainly possible to relate many of the interactions with a construal to something that is remarkably consistent with the Kolb cycle. … But if you read (e.g.) the very nicely presented account of the Kolb learning cycle at
there is no satisfying match between what is described there under the four categories and the activity of interacting with the construal.

What I'm mainly drawing attention to in distancing the activity of making construals from Kolb's cycle is the fact that in interaction with the construal the blend of what we might call "concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualisation, active experimentation" is such that that classification is obstructive and distracting. …. much interaction with construals is concerned with familiarisation, idle exploration and playful activity where we might quite legitimately say 'I've learnt nothing from that'.

…. Kolb's cycle applies so much more vividly to traditional sw development, … you may argue …. that our interactions with a construal are just the same thing as the sw process in microcosm. I don't buy that and would regard the distinction as qualitative, fundamental and profound.

James's focus in his account of pure experience is on the continuity of the stream of consciousness and knowing as the apprehension of connection. …. Kolb appears to be blithely associating a rationalised account of learning with a passage in which James is setting out a completely different agenda.

Perhaps my point is that making construals is to my mind 'just' a way of engaging with experience in the sense in which James and Dewey use the term - but it's a novel medium (or at least a magnificent enhancement of a commonplace, familiar, everyday medium of living and being) - and allows us to explore making connections in unprecedented ways.
[long message much abbreviated here]

Meurig (again): experiential learning in the Jamesian idiom …. only has digital support courtesy of adopting the fresh (and distinctive) perspective that we are advocating in making construals.

Meurig (again): I am working on … a construal … intended to reflect experience that someone learning linear algebra would find helpful. …. It's proving useful to think of this as connected with Kolb's experiential learning perspective - at any rate as far as 'reflection on concrete experience' is concerned.

I look forward to Steve’s reaction to how Kolb’s can materialize James’ view on the role of direct experience in learning.
……. current schooling paradigms in Western Europa attribute an increasing role to reflection (relying on introspection and self control) as a main source for metacognition through increased awareness. See the line Wundt, Dewey, Bartlett, Ausubel, Bruner and later for instance Anne Brown who claimed that essentially learning is nothing more at all than metacognitive processes. So now, I think that Hamish’ claim becomes opportune, that consciousness cannot simply be abandoned as just an epiphenomenon as there is a wide scale of time windows that allows a learner to consolidate or even aggregate learning experiences that might got lost otherwise …