The Construction of Knowledge and Future Time Orientation

Motivation: Future Time Orientation

Also called Future Time Perspective (FTO or FTP), this theory posits that different mechanisms work for proximal goals compared with distal goals. As we explore the concept of lifelong learning, we will see that motivation is an integral part of the discussion. In particular, what are the factors that determine whether a learner decides to engage in and then persist in a learning task? More importantly, how does this learning process persist over an adults’ entire lifetime? The first reading on this topic (Dembo & Eaton, 1997) summarises some of the different theoretical perspectives on motivation. Additionally, it presents a model that attempts to reflect the factors impacting on whether an individual is motivated to learn and perform in any given situation. You may note some similarities between this model and the diagram in Billett (1998, p.266) that also reflects the complex range and level of influence on an individual learner. (This is meant as a general introduction to our exploration of motivational theories.)

The second reading is a research article that introduces the theory of FTO. While I hope you read the entire article, please pay careful attention to the literature review, as this provides the clearest explanation of the theory. As you think about this theory of motivation, please reflect on how this theory relates to the andragogical theory introduced in the previous lesson.

Introduction: Knowledge Is Constructed

The way learning is defined or conceived has implications both for the manner in which educators structure their learning experiences and for the way students approach learning tasks.

This topic deals with how individuals construct knowledge. The next topic examines their awareness and control of how this learning occurs and what teaching strategies could be used to encourage this awareness. Both are primarily concerned with cognitive rather than social or affective aspects of learning (the focus of later topics). That is the emphasis is on the beliefs, knowledge and understandings of individuals.

The first reading (Svinicki, 2004) is a book chapter. The chapter to be read here follows a chapter that discusses processes by which learners can accumulate facts. This chapter explore the idea of moving from facts to understanding. This provides an introduction to the constructivist view of learning and teaching from a practical perspective.

The final reading for this topic (Biggs, 1996) explores the issue of whether the educational environment in Confucian-heritage cultures (CHC) “is the antithesis of what has been identified as a ‘good’ environment in Western research” (p. 46). There is a disparity in that Asian students are perceived by Western observers to be unquestioning rote-learners, and yet they achieve at considerably higher levels than their Western counterparts. Research findings are presented which challenge such perceptions and discussed in terms of a 3P model of learning (p. 62). Suggestions are made as to how this model might be extended to take in the cultural context of which the classroom and school are a part.

The 3P model of learning attempts to explain how different initial factors affect (a) the nature of the learning process and (b) the outcomes of the learning situation. The learning system is seen to be interactive, with changes in any part of the system affecting other parts of the system. For example, changing an institution’s assessment system (a Presage factor) from mostly objective tests to tutorial presentations requiring linking of ideas, may encourage a deep rather than surface approach to learning (a Process factor) and lead to greater understanding of the subject matter (a Product factor).

Readings (Future Time Orientation)

Dembo, M. H., & Eaton, M. J. (1997). School learning and motivation. In G. D. Phye (Ed.), Handbook of academic learning: Construction of knowledge (extract pp. 66–70). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Simons, J., Vansteenkiste, M., Lens, W., & Lacante, M. (2004). Placing motivation and future time perspective theory in a temporal perspective. Educational psychology review, 16(2), 121–139.

Readings (The Construction of Knowledge

Svinicki, M. D. (2004). Helping students understand. In Learning and motivation in the postsecondary classroom (pp. 39–60). Boston: Anker.

Biggs, J. B., & Moore, P. J. (1993). Conceptions of learning and teaching. In The process of learning (3rd ed., extract pp. 22–26). Sydney, NSW, Australia: Prentice Hall.

Biggs, J. (1996). Western misperceptions of the Confucian-heritage learning culture. In D. Watkins & J. Biggs (Eds.), The Chinese learner: Cultural, psychological, and contextual influences (pp. 45–67). Hong Kong: Comparative Education Research Centre & Melbourne: Australian Council for Educational Research.

Analogies, Cues, and the Unconscious

One issue that comes to mind with the appropriate emphasis on story grammars and text structures is a concern to distinguish these from the use of metaphor in explanation, and especially the possibility of confusion of connotation with denotation in the minds of learners.

Whilst it would be an extreme example, it is possible that a learner would apply the initial analogy of a migraine being like a cliff in terms of management (stepping away from the edge) into other characteristics about cliffs!

Less this be considered to far-fetched, the brain does manipulate symbolic representations in some strange and unconscious ways as illustrated by Robert Sapolsky:

"This potential to manipulate behavior by exploiting the brain's literal-metaphorical confusions about hygiene and health is also shown in a study by Mark Landau and Daniel Sullivan of the University of Kansas and Jeff Greenberg of the University of Arizona. Subjects either did or didn't read an article about the health risks of airborne bacteria. All then read a history article that used imagery of a nation as a living organism with statements like, 'Following the Civil War, the United States underwent a growth spurt.' Those who read about scary bacteria before thinking about the U.S. as an organism were then more likely to express negative views about immigration."

Perhaps they would have come to a different conclusion on immigration if they'd read about the health benefits of transfusions after blood-letting from violent incidents.

Sapolsky offers numerous and disturbing examples of how the human behaviour to extend symbolic metaphors leads to worrying conclusions and, thankfully, a few examples of where their application, and of other apparently only symbolic gestures, has had very positive effects.

Verbal cues that emphasize the analogous side of a metaphor can help, as can even the choice of a particular metaphor - the little I have researched about migraine, for example, suggests that they are more gradual in their phases, than a sudden and conclusive "fall" from stepping off the edge of a cliff. As the purpose of Svinicki's article is helping students understand by developing integrated (assimilated and accommodated) structured knowledge, it is not just tools but content that must be considered carefully.

Additional References

Robert Sapolsky, "This Is Your Brain on Metaphors", New York Times, Nov 14, 2010

Structural and Integrated Knowledge

Structural knowledge suggests the notion that understanding is achieved when knowledge exists in an embedded organised structure with other knowledge, and can be built to acquire further knowledge. Such knowledge can be differentiated from, for example, mere recognition (p39), even if a high level in that limited scope is achieved. It can be elaborated to suggest that other types of knowledge also not rate as structural knowledge; a high ability in several disconnected competencies may also suggest a multiplicity of inert knowledge. Svinicki argues (p41) that structured knowledge is what distinguishes the novice from the expert; the latter, because they have "deep knowledge" (i.e., that which is integrated) isn't stratching around on "surface features of a problem or bits of information".

It is questionable on whether a broad knowledge base is actually required to develop structural knowledge. Certainly Kant argued (1787) that "[t]he uniting together of all impressions requires a synthesis of them into a unity in our consciousness". In other words, knowledge itself doesn't have to be broad - it just must be rationally integrated, i.e., the knowledge must be structured. From there it can be elaborated to other circumstances. Several examples of this is provided by Svinicki (p43); existing information can be accessed in different ways and circumstances, it can be applied to novel situations, effects can be inferred etc. "[T]he existence of these connections is the existence of a knowledge structure, a mental model of the information."

The strategies are presented in such a manner that they are not particular to adult learners either as a set, or as preferences, or regardless of institutional setting. Nevertheless, the content must accord to the developmental cognitive abilities as elaborated in earlier readings in the first instance, and in recognition that institutional settings (especially those in political systems which include institutional independence and democratic adaptability) usually have a more reflexive and critical approach to education that can enhance the use of such teaching strategies. As Dewey put it, "A democracy is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experiences."

Additional References

Dewey, J., (1916) Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, The Macmillan Company

Kant, I., (1787) Critique of Pure Reason, Translated by J. M. D. Meiklejohn, Project Gutenburg

Learning and Motivation

a. It was a rather delicious description that Svinicki gave a few lines later that "[t]his is the kind of knowledge [inert knowledge] that students cram the night before the exam and forget... [s]tudents can remember it when explicitly asked for it, but can't use it for anything else. This is the ultimate evil in education". Whilst describing it as "the ultimate evil" may be slightly hyperbolic, but nevertheless one must appreciate their concern of a such an education. Svinicki, referencing Resnick (1989) suggests that it must be embedded in some organising structure. This doesn't mean in an organisation as such, but rather one which is integrated with existing knowledge and practice, where it can be used to as a basis to learn even further. Distinction is drawn with knowledge that allows for an structure, a mental model of information. Rote learning does not provide this ability; it may (contrary to the question as posed) be recollected quite well; but it is not integrated into a structure.

b. Svinicki (1995 p44-53) gives a range of practical strategies for helping students develop structural knowledge and for its use in teaching. This includes verbal cues and their development into narratives, the use of concept maps, comparative organisers, case examples, & etc. Nevertheless, these methods must also be primarily grounded by their purpose - the aforementioned teaching of the concept in an integrated manner. Times tables may be taught (albeit poorly) by rote, but their teaching with the tools for structural knowledge themselves does not ensure that integrated structural knowledge is achieved. The question being posed here - to continue the example - is for the learner to understand the question "what is a number?", "what does multiplication represent?", "how does multiplication relate to other forms of arithmetic?"

It is from such knowledge - which is best taught with the aforementioned tools - that the student can then expand such knowledge to more complicated areas such as some basic properties (e.g., communicative, distributive, associative etc), Peano axioms, multiplications of different number types, exponentials etc. This is not possible if the student doesn't understand what multiplication is.

On this note it is well to recognise the paper by Biggs (1996) which notes that which may appear to be rote (especially in the context of Confucian-heritage culture education) may in fact be repetition of conceptual knowledge.

c. This is largely answered in (b). Use the tools to teach the concepts, and integrate those concepts into structural knowledge. Ensure that what is learned can be applied and expanded in an ever-growing web of knowledge. Do not allow the knowledge to become inert through disconnection, dissociation, and fragmentation.

Confucian Heritage Learning Culture

The paper by Biggs, on the "Western Misperceptions of the Confucian-Heritage Learning Culture" has been bugging me for some weeks, and last Friday evening I had the opportunity to collect some of these issues together.

The situation is this; a colleague of mind has been conducting English classes for a number of years to overseas-born students. These students are primarily from "Confucian Heritage Cultures"; PR Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean - but also with a small number of Iranians, Latin Americans, Indonesians, & etc. On an irregular basis a number of people from this classes catch up for a meal and discussion on matters of contemporary interest, thus gaining a good multi-cultural understanding of common parts of each other's lives. This Friday I took the opportunity - focussing on the CHC group - to ask about their education system.

Now I quickly recognise that this is hardly a comprehensive study of the respective educational system, nor even something that pretends to be even remotely statistically significant. It was a few hour's discussion over dinner. But the discussion did contribute some very significant sociological factors which it seems that Biggs has overlooked.

There was much of the Biggs paper that the students did confirm; they certainly agreed that class sizes were large, that teaching styles were authoritarian, that learning methods were of the 'chalk and talk' variety, and that studies were strongly focussed on examination achievements.

There was soft support for the distinction between repetition and rote-learning described by Biggs, which was surprising, as strong confirmation of the distinction was expected. Even more surprising was the rejection of the claim that student-teacher relations were "typically marked by warmth and a sense of responsibility on both sides". At least from the perspective of the students that this discussion was conducted with, student-teacher interaction outside of the classroom was negligible at best.

When asked on why CHC students achieve so well, there was joking amusement at the suggestion perhaps they were just born smarter. It is notable that Biggs correctly discards the racial intelligence theories of Rushton et. al., as one should do so as "race" is not a viable scientific term. But certainly as intellect has a genetic component and clines within the species exist, the inheritence factor does deserve deeper consideration. Treated more seriously however was the contribution of the social circumstances of the CHC countries.

Specifically, CHC cultures hold education and educated people in an extremely high regard. This, of course, should be evident in the term "Confucian Heritage" itself, with its emphasis on meritocratic bureaucracy. The students also considered that relative economic wealth was a factor, with a very common desire for the respective cultures to "educate themselves" out of relative poverty, although with Singapore, Japan, and Korea all being high-income countries these days the continued emphasis on educational attainment suggests that this is actually a secondary factor.

Whilst inter-student group study activities were considered no more or greater than their western counterparts, something that the CHC students did emphasise a great deal is the level of support (and expectations) that parents showed towards their study activities. There were long descriptions of how parents would ensure that the student's environment was entirely conducive for their studies and the financial and personal sacrifices that they made - but also with equally high expectations and admonishments towards failure. It is this factor that seemed to be most significantly different in the study habits of western and CHC students, and would strongly account for the differences in effort and interest.

Another element was the expectation of "procedural forgetfulness" (as programmers tend to describe the activity). Many courses were studied with only moderate of interest, but rather for goal attainment (i.e., passing an upcoming exam). This was recognised as a problem, and there were certainly numerous expressions in favour of more structured integration of knowledge,
even if that meant less obvious benefits in assessment. In fact, as a whole there was an opinion that the more cooperative, practical, intergated teaching methods were preferable and that there was some indication that these were being gradually introduced in CHC teaching environments.

In summary - and it is emphasised again that this was only a conversation - the suggestions of Biggs that a distinction in CHC teaching environments and academic results is due to misconceptions of teaching environment is perhaps misplaced. Students themselves considered CHC teachning environments, content, and assessment to be problematic and expressed preference to student-focussed environments, practical problems, co-operative methods, etc. Actual achievement was perceived largely as a result of peer, cultural, and especially parental expectations and demands.

Reference List
Biggs, J. (1996). Western Misperceptions of the Confucian - Heritage Learning Culture. In D. Watkins & J. Biggs (Ed.), The Chinese Learner: Cultural, psychological, and contextural influences. Hong Kong: Comparative Education Research Centre and Melbourne: Australian Council for Educational Research.