Thursday, December 29, 2011

Learning Concepts (Part I)

Anxiety
Anxiety can be an inhibiting factor in learning and therefore has received considerable attention. It is closely related to arousal, attention and motivation as well as the entire topic of emotions (Clark & Fiske, 1982; Mandler, 1984). Anxiety is usually triggered by a situation that involves a decision or judgement; tests and exams are common precursors of anxiety in educational settings.
A distinction is made between state anxiety, increased arousal due to environmental factors, and trait anxiety, an individual's characteristic way of reacting to arousal. The level of anxiety displayed by a person is a mutual function of both types of anxiety. Trait anxiety is an aspect of personality and social behavior; for example, it correlates with self-esteem and defensiveness.
Anxiety has been shown to impair performance in a wide range of cognitive functions including attention, memory, concept formation and problem solving (e.g., Sieber et al., 1977; Spielberger, 1966). There is an interaction with task difficulty; anxiety results in poorer performance in complex tasks but may improve performance on very simple tasks. This result can be explained by Hull's drive reduction theory in so far as arousal increases the strength of responding but competing responses are activated in complex tasks. Because of its influence on performance, anxiety is highly relevant to Aptitude x Treatment Interaction (ATI) research .
Anxiety can be reduced in an instructional context by:
1) instructions that minimize stress and prepare individual
2) increased use of positive feedback during a task
3) reduced opportunities for failure in a task
References:
Clark, M.S. & Fiske, S.T. (1982). Affect and Cognition. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Mandler, G. (1984). Mind and Body. New York: Norton.
Sieber, J., O'Neil, H.F., & Tobias. S. (1977). Anxiety, Learning and Instruction. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Spielberger, C. (1966). Anxiety and Behavior. New York: Academic Press. 

Arousal
The concept of arousal has been a major aspect of many learning theories and is closely related to other important concepts such as anxiety, attention, and motivation.
One of the most important findings with respect to arousal is the so-called Yerkes-Dodson law which predicts a U-shaped function between arousal (motivation) and performance. Across a broad range of experimental settings, it has been shown that both low and high levels of arousal produce minimum performance whereas a moderate level of arousal results in maximum performance in a task. This suggests that too little or too much stimulation tends to be ignored by individuals.
Berlyne (1960) attempted to explain the relationship between arousal and curiosity based upon Hull's drive reduction theory . According to Berlyne, there is an optimal level of arousal for an individual at a given time. If the level of arousal drops below the optimal level, the organism will seek stimulation (i.e., exploratory behavior). Berlyne argued that curiosity was a consequence of "conceptual conflict" that could be caused by: doubt, perplexity, contradiction, incongruity, or irrelevance.
Eysenck (1982) examines the relationship between attention and arousal. He concludes that there are two types of arousal: a passive and general system that can raise or lower the overall level of attention, and a specific, compensatory system that allows attention to be focused on certain task or environmental stimuli. Mandler (1984) argues that arousal is the key element in triggering emotional behavior.
References:
Berlyne, D. (1960). Conflict, Arousal, and Curiosity. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Eysenck, M. (1982). Attention and Arousal. NY: Springer-Verlag.
Mandler, G. (1984). Mind and Body. NY: Norton. 

Attention
Attention is a major topic of study in psychology and is closely related to the subject of consciousness which was the principal focus of the early psychologists such as Wilhelm Wundt and William James.
In 1958, Broadbent proposed his filter theory which specified that we could only attend to one input at a time. The theory suggested that stimuli can be filtered based upon physical attributes, prior to full processing by the perceptual system. Filter theory proposed that attention was a limited capacity channel that determined the serial processing of the perceptual system.
Filter theory did not allow for the influence of long-term memory or meaning of the stimulus. However, studies showed that semantic characteristics of the stimulus did affect attention. Theories proposed by Deutsch & Deutsch (1963) and Norman (1968) suggested that all inputs are analyzed but only pertinent stimuli were attended to. Neisser (1967) outlined a two-process theory that made attention (and hence consciousness) a matter of degree. According to Neisser's theory, both properties of the stimuli as well as semantic factors, play a role in attention. Neisser argues for a constructive view of cognition in which perception is shaped by existing knowledge and hence attention is influenced by experience.
Kahneman (1973) introduced a model of attention that introduces the idea of deliberate allocation. The model suggests that in addition to unconscious processes, attention can be consciously focused (such as when someone mentions our name). The model also introduces the idea of attention as a skill that can be improved (i.e., as a learning strategy). In his Conditions of Learning theory , Gagne suggests that gaining the attention of the student is the first step in successful instruction.
Eysenck (1982) examines the relationship between attention and arousal. He concludes that there are two types of arousal: a passive and general system that can raise or lower the overall level of attention, and a specific, compensatory system that allows attention to be focused on certain task or environmental stimuli.
References:
Broadbent, D. (1958). Perception and Communication. London: Pergamon Press.
Deutsch, J. & Deutsch, D. (1963). Attention: Some theoretical considerations. Psychological Review, 70, 80-90.
Eysenck, M. (1982). Attention and Arousal. NY: Springer-Verlag.
Kahneman, D. (1973). Attention and Effort. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Neisser, U. (1967). Cognitive Psychology. New York: Appleton-Century-Croft.
Norman, D. (1967). Memory and Attention. New York: Wiley.
Trabasso, T. & Bower, G. (1968). Attention in Learning. New York: Wiley 

Attitudes
Attitudes are usually defined as a disposition or tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain thing (idea, object, person, situation). They encompass, or are closely related to, our opinions and beliefs and are based upon our experiences. Since attitudes often relate in some way to interaction with others, they represent an important link between cognitive and social psychology. As far as instruction is concerned, a great deal of learning involves acquiring or changing attitudes. Attitude change is especially relevant to management and sales training .
Hovland, Janis, & Kelly (1953) provided one of the first major theories of attitude change, developed in the framework of Hull's learning theory , and oriented towards the effects of persuasive communication. According to the Hovland et al theory, changes in opinions can result in attitude change depending upon the presence or absence of rewards. The learning of new attitudes is no different in nature than any other verbal or motor skill, except that opinions relate to a single proposition whereas other skills involve a series of propositions. The acceptance of a new opinion (and hence attitude formation) is dependent upon the incentives that are offered in the communication.
Heider (1958) developed a balance theory of attitude change that was influenced by Gestalt principles . In Heider's theory, when beliefs are unbalanced, stress is created and there is pressure to change attitudes. The two main factors affecting balance are the sentiment (e.g., liking, approving, admiring) and unity (e.g., similarity, proximity, membership) qualities of beliefs. Balance exists if the sentiment or unity between beliefs about events or people are equally positive or negative; imbalance occurs when they are dissimilar in nature.
Abelson (1968) and others developed theories of cognitive consistency. Cognitive consistency suggests that people will try and maintain consistency among their beliefs and make changes (i.e., accept or reject ideas) when this doesn't occur. For example, if a college student who wants to live in a coed dormitory and also wants to get good grades is presented with the fact that students who live in coed dorms get poor grades, the student will either reject this proposition or change his attitudes about coed dorms or good grades.
Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance is one of the best known and most researched frameworks pertaining to attitude change. According to this theory, attitude change is caused by conflict among beliefs. A number of factors determine the strength of the dissonance and hence how much effort is required to change attitudes. By manipulating these factors, attitude change can be facilitated or inhibited.
Attitudes are one of the five major categories of learning outcomes in Gagne's theoretical framework.
References:
Abelson, R. (1968). Theories of Cognitive Consistency Theory. Chicago: Rand McNally.
Heider, F. (1959). The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations. New York: Wiley.
Hovland, C., Janis, I., & Kelley, H. (1953). Communication and Persuasion. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Triandis, H. (1971). Attitude and Attitude Change. New York: Wiley.

Cognitive/Learning Styles
Cognitive styles refer to the preferred way an individual processes information. Unlike individual differences in abilities (e.g., Gardner, Guilford, Sternberg) which describe peak performance, styles describe a person's typical mode of thinking, remembering or problem solving. Furthermore, styles are usually considered to be bipolar dimensions whereas abilities are unipolar (ranging from zero to a maximum value). Having more of an ability is usually considered beneficial while having a particular cognitive style simply denotes a tendency to behave in a certain manner. Cognitive style is a usually described as a personality dimension which influences attitudes, values, and social interaction.
A number of cognitive styles have been identified and studied over the years. Field independence versus field dependence is probably the most well known style. It refers to a tendency to approach the environment in an analytical, as opposed to global, fashion. At a perceptual level, field independent personalities are able to distinguish figures as discrete from their backgrounds compared to field dependent individuals who experience events in an undifferentiated way. In addition, field dependent individuals have a greater social orientation relative to field independent personalities. Studies have identified a number connections between this cognitive style and learning (see Messick, 1978). For example, field independent individuals are likely to learn more effectively under conditions of instrinstic motivation (e.g., self-study) and are influenced less by social reinforcement.
Other cognitive styles that have been identified include:
scanning - differences in the extent and intensity of attention resulting in variations in the vividness of experience and the span of awareness
leveling versus sharpening - individual variations in remembering that pertain to the distinctiveness of memories and the tendency to merge similar events
reflection versus impulsivity - individual consistencies in the speed and adequacy with which alternative hypotheses are formed and responses made
conceptual differentiation - differences in the tendency to categorize perceived similarities among stimuli in terms of separate concepts or dimensions
Learning styles specifically deal with characteristic styles of learning. Kolb (1984) proposes a theory of experiential learning that involves four principal stages: concrete experiences (CE), reflective observation (RO), abstract conceptualization (AC), and active experimentation (AE). The CE/AC and AE/RO dimensions are polar opposities as far as learning styles are concerned and Kolb postulates four types of learners (divergers, assimilators, convergers, and accommodators) depending upon their position on these two dimensions. For example, an accommodater prefers concrete experiences and active experimentation (AE, CE).
Pask has described a learning style called serialist versus holist. Serialists prefer to learn in a sequential fashion, whereas holists prefer to learn in a hierarchial manner (i.e., top-down).
Theoretically, cognitive and learning styles could be used to predict what kind of instructional strategies or methods would be most effective for a given individual and learning task. Research to date on this problem has not identified many robust relationships (see Cronbach & Snow). However, the 4MAT framework based on the work of Bernice McCarthy which suggests 4 learning modes (Analytic, Imaginative, Common Sense, and Dynamic) has been widely applied in education (see http://www.aboutlearning.com). And the learning styles framework developed by Dunn & Dunn (1999) seems to be useful in terms of creating teacher awareness of individual differences in learning. 
For more about Learning Styles, see http://www.oswego.edu/~shindler/lstyle.htm.  Application of learning styles to engineering is discussed at http://www2.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/Learning_Styles.html . Discussion about the relationship between learning styles and the Multiple Intelligences theory of Gardner< can be found at http://www.ldpride.net/learningstyles.MI.htm  and http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/learningstyles.htm .

References:
Dunn, R. & Dunn, K. (1999). The Complete Guide to the Learning Strategies Inservice System. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential Learning. Englewood< Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Messick, S. (1976). Individuality in Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Sternberg, Robert (1997). Thinking Styles. Boston: Cambridge University Press.
Witkin, H.A. & Goodenough, D.R. (1981). Cognitive Styles: Essence and Origins. NY: International Universities Press. 

Creativity
There have been many different approaches to the study of creativity. The relationship between creativity and intelligence has been always been a central concern of psychology (Guilford<, 1950). Much effort has been devoted towards the measurement of creative potential (e.g. Guilford<, 1989; Torrance<, 1979). There have also been many attempts to increase creative behaviors (e.g., Osborn, 1953; Parnes, 1967). Taylor & Williams (1966) provides a survey of the relationship between creativity and instruction.
While there are many views about the nature of creativity (see Sternberg, 1988; Finke, Ward & Smith, 1992), there is some agreement that the creative process involves the application of past experiences or ideas in novel ways. The Creative Problem Solving (CPS) Model, based upon the work of Osborn and Parnes, suggests that the creative process involves five major steps: fact-finding, problem-finding, idea- finding, solution-finding, and acceptance-finding (VanGundy, 1987). Certain cognitive skills seem to underlie creative behavior such as: fluency, flexibility, visualization, imagination, expressiveness, and openess (resistance to closure). These skills may be personality characteristics, they may be learned, or they may be situational. There is also general acknowledgement that social processes play a major role in the recognition of creativity (Amabile, 1983).
Langley et al. (1987) have argued that creativity in the context of scientific discovery is a form of problem-solving. Specifically, they propose that finding problems and formulating them involves the same underlying cognitive processes of heuristic search and subgoal generation as any other kind of problem-solving behavior.
Other work closely related to creativity includes: originality (see Maltzman ), productive thinking (Wertheimer ), and lateral thinking (DeBono). Creativity plays a central role in management training) .
References:
Amabile, T. (1983). The Social Psychology of Creativity. New York: Springer-Verlag.
Guilford, J. P. (1950). Creativi ty. American Psychologist, 5, 444-454.
Guilford, J.P. (1986). Creative Talents: Their Nature, Uses and Development. Buffalo, NY: Bearly Ltd.
Finke, R.A., Ward, T.B., & Smith, S.M. (1992). Creative Cognition. Cambridge, MA: Bradford/MIT Press.
Langley, P., Simon, H., Bradshaw, G., & Zytkow, J. (1987). Scientific Discovery: Computational Explorations of the Creative Processes. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Marks-Tarlow, T. (1995). Creativity inside out: Learning through multiple intelligences. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.


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