Much research on pedagogy stresses the need for a broad perspective on learning. Such a perspective might take account (for instance) of the experience that informs knowledge and understanding [Tur91], the situation in which the learning activity takes place [Lav88], and the influence of multiple intelligences [Gar83]. Educational technology appears to hold great promise in this connection. Computer-related technologies such as new media, the internet, virtual reality and brain-mediated communication afford access to a range of learning resources that grows ever wider in its scope and supports ever more sophisticated interactions.
Whether educational technology is fulfilling its potential in broadening the horizons for learning activity is more controversial. Though some see the successful development of radically new educational resources as merely a matter of time, investment and engineering, there are also many critics of the trends in computer-based learning who see little evidence of the greater degree of human engagement to which new technologies aspire [Tal95].
This paper reviews the potential application to educational technology of principles and tools for computer-based modelling that have been developed under the auspices of the Empirical Modelling (EM) project at Warwick [EMweb]. This theme was first addressed at length in a previous paper [Bey97], and is here revisited in the light of new practical developments in EM both in respect of tools and of model-building that has been targetted at education at various levels. Our central thesis is that the problems of educational technology stem from the limitations of current conceptual frameworks and tool support for the essential cognitive model building activity, and that tackling these problems requires a radical shift in philosophical perspective on the nature and role of empirical knowledge that has significant practical implications.
The paper is in two main sections. The first discusses the limitations of the classical computer science perspective where educational technology to support situated learning is concerned, and relates the learning activities that are most closely associated with a cultural context to the empiricist perspective on learning introduced in [Bey97]. The second outlines the principles of EM and describes and illustrates features of its practical application that are particularly well-suited to learning in a cultural setting.