May 19, 2010

Induction/Inferential Model of Learning

I've revised Downes' Induction Model of Learning schematic to incorporate my clarifications.

Specifically, I added the labeling for Teacher Effects (the top coil), Student Effects (the bottom coil), and Curriculum/Presentation Effects (the distance between the coils).

In the real world electronic circuit, current flowing through the top coil creates a magnetic field.  The magnetic field affects the bottom coil (depending upon the distance between the coils and the strength of the coils) which induces a current in the bottom circuit.

The model is not without its flaws; however, I think it is useful for conveying the simple notion that knowledge is not simply pumped directly into the student's head by the teacher.  Instead, the student observes the stimulus/data being presented by the teacher and induces "knowledge."  Hopefully, that "knowledge" is the  general idea revealed by the example(s) presented by the teacher.  Often it is not.

Anyway, the important take-away revealed by this model is that teacher effects, student effects, and curriculum/presentation effects are all interrelated and affect what the student learns, doesn't learn, or imperfectly learns.

A strong teacher and an average curriculum might only be able to induce the intended knowledge in a strong student.  Improving the curriculum will likely reach weaker students.  Improving the student, say by fixing his tooth ache which was causing a distraction, might also improve what the student learns.

Similarly, a strong teacher and a strong student might be hampered with a very weak curriculum.

Let me make three general statements regarding teacher effects, student effects, and curriculum/presentation effects based on my observations of our education system.

Teacher Effects:  We don't really know what makes a good teacher better than a bad teacher and we certainly cannot train a random teacher to be a good teacher outside the parameters of a specific curriculum.  teacher unions and tenure resist changes from the status quo.

Student Effects:  Have a hereditary/genetic and an environmental component, each contributing about 50%.  it is politically incorrect to even discuss the hereditary/genetic component so everyone pretends that there is only an environmental component.  Then everyone is surprised when environmental interventions directed to the student fail to achieve the expected benefits.

Curriculum/Presentation Effects:  To a naive observer there appear to be very many different curricula out there.  In actuality, most curricula are only superficially different and have little to no effect on what a student learns.  The few commercially-available curricula that have large effects are generally disfavored by educators for a variety of reasons (usually unrelated to student learning)

What do you think/

Next post will discuss education reforms and how they are explainable with the above model and why it is evident that most do not stand a chance of improving student outcomes


Hélène said...

I find this model very insightful. Thanks for the nice illustration.

Dick Schutz said...

Hmm. You switched horses in mid-story. You started by setting out to tell us why it's difficult to change schools. Now you're offering an "Induction/Inferential Model of Learning" (when you're dealing with teaching and instruction).

Let's jump to the "take-away:"

teacher effects, student effects, and curriculum/presentation effects [instructional products/protocols] are all interrelated and affect what the student learns, doesn't learn, or imperfectly learns.

Fine. But that can be said directly. The "model" is extra baggage and it leads to faulty notions of "strength."

A more productive and relevant view (for my money) is Russell Ackoff's clarification of the relationship of data, information, knowledge, understanding and wisdom:

--An ounce of information is worth a pound of data.

--An ounce of knowledge is worth a pound of information.

--An ounce of understanding is worth a pound of knowledge.

--An ounce of wisdom is worth a pound of understanding.

Data consist of symbols that represent the properties of objects and events.

Information consists of data that has been processed to make it useful.

Knowledge consists of "how to" questions. It is contained in instructions.

Understanding is contained in in explanations; answers to "why" questions.

Wisdom is qualitatively different from the the preceding It is captured in Peter Drucker's distinction between doing things right (efficiency) and doing the right thing (effectiveness).

[End of Ackoff.]

The thing about the teacher-instructional-student triangle is that we have to take the students that parents give us (Unless we can cherry-pick.) Parents give us the best kids they have.

Re teachers. we certainly cannot train a random teacher to be a good teacher outside the parameters of a specific curriculum

I wouldn't go quite that far. We can train teachers in matters that generalize across instructional programs. Matters like classroom management, behavior analysis, instructional propaganda detection, and negotiation techniques come to mind. These are in the same class as fixing a kid's toothache.

Teacher ed doesn't ordinarily give much attention to such matters, and the lack of expertise in these areas is what drives a lot of otherwise capable teaching prospects out of the classroom very early.

The most tractable element in the triad is the instructional product/protocol.

On with the next installment of your story.

KDeRosa said...

Dick, I was trying to show off my crude photoshop skills by labeling my diagram, so I tried to squeeze in another post. And, actually, the last post was entitled "Why It's So Difficult to Improve Educational Outcomes" not school. Learning is the education outcome and also the flip side of teaching/instruction. has the teacher taught if the student hasn't learned?

The model is merely a visual aid for people who don't know as much about instruction as you do. It's for Hélène, not you.

While I like Ackoff's explanation, I don't think we need to get into that level of understanding Let's just keep it simple and call everything learned knowledge.

I agree with the "we have to take the kids we get" sentiment; however, we should acknowledge that student effects are real. After all, every school has a school nurse to take care of medical issues which are a student effect.

Brian Rude said...

The induction model certainly makes some sense. But isn't it another name for constructivism? "Constructivism", of course is a loaded word. Adherents of the term have given us plenty of reason to run away from it. It is used as a justification for things that I don't care much for, like group projects, activity learning, and so on. But I think the essential observation, that learning must be constructed by each individual learner, is correct, in at least some sense, and seems to be the essential idea of the induction model.

My view of constructivism leads to something different than the practices usually associated with constructivism. My view of constructivism leads to direct instruction (in the generic sense), lecture, homework, tests, "going over the lesson" and all those mundane but essential things that sensible teachers have always done. I have expanded on these ideas at

Dick Schutz said...

A+ for your PhotoShop "knowledge." The medium is better than the message, but if a diagram of metaphors helps, so be it.

You're taking a risky shortcut in "call[ing] everything learned knowledge," but ditto.

Onward and upward with "Why It's So Difficult to Improve Educational Outcomes." That was/is the question.