Learning design principles: educational pragmatists

I am trying to write a proper academic paper about the principles we used when developing FSLT12&13. But, as I do I find myself getting bogged down. So in the spirit of Digital scholarship (Weller 2011) I am going to exercise some of the ideas here.

We are educational pragmatists. Change is brought about through critical, experiential, social learning activity in connected communities where people collaborate to achieve outcomes. All actors and contexts are hybrids and knowledge is distributed through the network of connections between people, places and things (and ideas are things).

Our principles flow initially from a particular epistemological orientation and a belief that teachers (in all sectors) can use an awareness of their orientation to knowledge as one among several means with which to approach developing and improving practice. We further believe that it can help learners if teachers act with reflective self awareness of their orientations to knowledge, making those orientations as explicit as may be appropriate to the level and topic being addressed. This is to say that, whatever other underpinnings, we are pragmatists, grounded in experience (Dewey 1910/1997) and we are engaged (sometimes participatory) scholars with a purpose to bring about change through activity as much as understanding (Dyrness, 2008)

Our perspective is broadly sociocultural and critical-theoretical. Socioculturalism “…focuses on the link between language and learning, both of which are viewed as fundamentally social phenomena…” (Lillis 2003, p.xv). Neither language, nor learning, exist outside communities of use. Beliefs, dominant and oppositional, shape orientations to action (Herman & Chomsky 1988). Further, all language is suffused with cultural assumptions that makes learning highly context-dependent. (Galison 2007a; Galison 2007b; Kuhn 1962). As Popper would have it, “All observation is theory laden” (Popper 1996 page).

Our epistemology takes a middle road between relativism and realism. There is a reality “out there” but knowledge of that reality is a quality of the knower: one reality; many interpretations. In essence we are critical realists (Collier, 1994). Knowledge is not simply a quality of the individual. Knowledge is distributed and inheres also in the artefacts and abstractions of culture (Pea, 1993; Moll, Tapia, & Whitmore, 1993). We might say that knowledge is in the network (Downes 2009), or simply that knowledge, like language is sociocultural. With respect to learning we would recognise ourselves as social constructivists (Vygotsky, 1962). The learner builds knowledge and understanding of the world through language and activity engaged in with others, some of whom are more knowledgeable and practiced, and others who may be less so. Learning can be expressed as a journey through a zone of proximal development with more experienced and practiced individuals providing “scaffolding” (Wood, Bruner & Ross 1976, Anghileri, 2006; Rourke & Coleman, 2010) to aid that journey.


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Lillis. (2003). Introduction: mapping the traditions of a social perspective on language and literacy. In S. Goodman, T. Lillis, J. Maybin, & N. Mercer (Eds.), Language, literacy and education: a reader (pp. xiii–xxii). Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books.

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Rourke, A. J., & Coleman, K. S. (2010). A Learner Support System: Scaffolding to Enhance Digital Learning. International Journal of Technology, Knowledge & Society, 6(1), 55–70.

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Wood, D., Bruner, J. & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 17, 89–100

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