Technology, Learning and the Person by Peter Jarvis
Aim - uncertainty • I want to confess that my aim is not so much with the uncertainty of technology – but our uncertainty about the nature of the learner • I want to do no more than unravel this problem – but it still remains uncertain
Introduction • Over the whole of my academic career the world has been changing rapidly - the process of globalisation speeded up in the 1960s when I began my career in higher education, and has increased in speed ever since. Globalisation has been discussed in a very wide variety of books and papers (Jarvis, 2007, inter alia)
Technology • The dominance of technology is a major aspect in a new world that has appeared – • Science and technology have dominated daily life, in precisely the same way as has capitalism/liberal economics. • These three have been the driving forces of global change, supported by the American forces in the world - both political and economic
Dominant Philosophies • Liberal economics and technology, including information technology are based on a pragmatic philosophy • Science has been based upon a philosophy of empiricism. • Other philosophical forms have been down-played, even undermined, by what is occurring - especially the humanities.
Education • Education has also changed as these dominant forces in the world have changed • It has reflected these changes • My thesis is that, like the wider world, we in education have neglected these underlying, or implicit, philosophies – indeed we do not even consider them
Structure of Presentation • Three Parts • Technology, • Learning • Person. • But, at the same time, I want to acknowledge that my perspective is that of a Western scholar not one from a Buddhist’ or Eastern perspective • Those from other philosophical perspectives might well produce a different argument.
Part 1 • Technology
The Robotic World • We live in a world of technology and robots • It has recently been reported in a number of media that a robotic computer passed the Turing Test and was identified as human (eg Guardian 2 July 2014, p2). Many media reports in the last week or so • Robots as security guards • House cleaners • Carers • Hospital ward assistants • Driverless cars to be licensed
Value of Technology • We have entered a world of robotic technology – which is very beneficial in many ways • But - Technology itself has no intrinsic value, its use-value can be very great indeed.
Education and Technology Education is always a process of human interaction but not always face-to-face Education and teaching and learning have been using technology for a long time: For over 2000 years – letters Wireless – University of the Air Electronic Web Social media
Growth in Use of Technology Education by distance and its technologies have advanced Fundamentally there has been a moral commitment: • to expand the opportunities for learners • But one suspects that the universities have also sought to make financial gain and increase political influence. • However, there was little sophisticated philosophy of education or of learning underlying these moves and this is quite understandable given the liberal economic world of the dominant West.
Initial Fears as Education expanded • There is no doubt then that technology has been very beneficial in expanding learning opportunities to a large body of students - many of whom would not have had such opportunities had it not been for the advancements in technology. In this sense, the outcome of introducing technology into education has been profoundly good. • But there was a fear of colonisation – universities from the first world inhibiting the growth and development of universities in the countries they colonised • UNESCO claims that they have certainly aided in the decline in the significance of indigenous knowledge • Perhaps, because these universities operate in a capitalist, competitive world, they are more concerned with their own success than they are with the people and the cultures whom they serve
Instrumentalism • This is an Instrumental world • Education has always been instrumental – whatever the technology used since we teach in order to achieve learning
Education is more than learning • What we have seen in distance education was that in the first instance technology operated in precisely the same way that it has done in many occupations in order to achieve its ends - deskilling the occupation and depersonalising the process, but teaching is intrinsic to education and it could not be removed. It has, in a sense demonstrated that there is more to education than just the learning processes and that creative education cannot be depersonalised.
Redefining Teaching • With the introduction of this technology throughout the world, there has been a de-skilling of many occupational roles and this has also occurred in education. During this process, we have also seen the creation of new educational roles in course work preparation, the writing of learning materials and so on. We have also seen the development of teamwork and the sharing of knowledge amongst academics - all of which is highly commendable - but we have also witnessed the decline of traditional teaching and initially the de-personalising of the teaching process itself, as all the emphases was upon learning
The Strengths of Having a Teacher • But we still need both the teacher and personal contact, even in distance education. • Despite the emphases on learning – and theoretically I have contributed to it – but from a publisher’s perspective sales of books on teaching have always been high
My own experience • In the early days - working with post-graduate students at a distance it found that it was necessary to meet them and discuss their research with them and that these sessions were much more creative than many correspondence sessions - electronic and otherwise, with them. • But underlying this was a different philosophical approach • .
Part 2 Learning
Relationship • Fundamentally, we will argue that human relationship is necessary to generate new ideas; individuals find it very much harder, almost impossible, to do it alone – although great geniuses might!. The Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber (1958) argued that relationship is fundamental to our humanity - arguing that ‘In the beginning is relationship’.
Relationships and Learning • What early distance education did was, in common with the world of science in general, to downplay the significance of human relationship. • In the early days of distance education, just as in the early days of education in general, the focus was on the individual and the transmission of knowledge and the acquisition of skill - behaviourist and cognitivist- both having a pragmatic philosophy.
Implications of Behaviourism • Behaviourism is a learning theory focusing upon overt action - learning has occurred when action is changed, as a result of experience. This school of thought generated the theories of conditioning, with the great early scholars - Pavlov, Thorndike, Watson and Skinner. Some of both the theories and the research of these scholars, notably Skinner, have been criticised. In my own work, for instance, I have criticised both Skinner’s conceptual definition of learning and his research methodology - but even more significant criticisms have been made by leading scholars, such as Chomsky (1959) who argued that ‘Skinner’s claims exceeded what he was “lawfully” demonstrated by his research’ (cited from Harasim, 2012,p.36).
Despite the criticisms • This approach to learning, instructional technology emerged from this school of thought with the introduction of teaching machines, programmed learning and computer-assisted instruction. • Consequently, we can see some of the fundamentals of distance teaching universities and, in part, for the development of artificial intelligence. • One other fundamental weakness of this approach to teaching and learning is that it assumes that we have an active brain but no mind, which is in line with the dominant philosophies of the scientific age - and this is a point to which I wish to return shortly.
Cognitivism • This is other dominant theory of learning which is both a critique and an extension of behaviourism. The critique lies in the fact that learning is seen as a direct response to a stimulus, which it clearly is not - because the brain is active and processes the stimulus rather than merely responds to it. Cognitivism is a data processing theory. The stimulus is processed, like the input to a computer, and the learning is the process itself, and the answers achieved are the learning outcomes. This data processing theory of learning has given rise to the idea that the brain is rather like a glorified computer which can be programmed. It is a theory that is responsible for the development of computer-assisted instruction and, ultimately, for the development of artificial intelligence as computers became much faster and could process greater amounts of data.
Criticisms of Cognitivism • But artificial intelligence is not intelligence because it dos not involve a person - it is just what it says it is - artificial. Having said this, artificial intelligence is a great leap forward in our understanding of technological potential - but is does not really turn the computer into a person, even though the robot has recently passed Turing Test • For instance what if the computer could think for itself?
Both of these theories form a foundation f or learning theory • They share a number of features – • they are instructor-based • regard knowledge as being transmitted to the learner. • they are materialistic which fits perfectly into the world of science, and even of neuroscience, and appear to be common sense. • Both have a similar philosophy of the person as being a programmable creature responding to external stimuli and adapting accordingly . • They are what we might call monist theories which fit perfectly into the worlds of science and technology
Changes in Distance Teaching • Now distance learning has certainly moved away from this approach creating collaborative learning opportunities as we all know and as was shown by our speakers yesterday - the emphasis is now on discourse and the generation of new knowledge through discourse and collaboration. • We now know just how important it is to generate and to emphasise collective discourse in student learning groups mediated through the internet, and in recent years there has been advancements in course design that has included generating on-line seminars and collaborative projects and many of these involve a teacher in a facilitating role - helping to generate ideas and then organise them, so that there can be an intellectual convergence (or even divergence) between members of the group. – these are based on a different philosophy
Other Theories of Learning These emerged in the 1970s and 1980s – these were fundamentally constructivism. – we construct our own sense of meaning These theories involved such concepts as intentionality and consciousness - phenomena that are hard, if not impossible, to explain by the materialistic philosophies that have dominated the world of science.
Implications of the new approach • Amongst these learning theories are experiential learning, transformative learning, problem-based learning, role play and simulation. These are the theories that underlie some of modern distance teaching which we are all well aware. These theories were as much concerned with the roles played by the learner and the meaning that the learner gives to the learning as it is with the learning processes themselves. This is the significant difference - and it is the point at which the philosophy of learning takes a new path, since neither meaning nor intentionality can be programmed into a computer, whether the computer is human or not.
Human Discourse • In the same manner we have to recognise that interactive discourse cannot be programmed into a computer, or into the human being. Merlin Donald (2001, p.144) argues that pedagogy - where ‘one person consciously regulates the learning process of another, while the learner tracks the teacher’s intent’ is beyond programming. It is beyond the theories of behaviourism and information processing: - this is when we have to recognise that humanity is more than the sophisticated computer and that another philosophy of learning is required which, in some way, challenges the dominant ones. It calls for a broader philosophical understanding. Indeed, new pedagogies in distance learning, as they are in education in general, are utilising processes of learning that demand a different concept of the person and one which challenges the dominant philosophies.
Part 3 The Person
Beyond Materialism • As new pedagogical programmes have developed in distance learning, it is necessary to see that we have moved into a more sophisticated concept of the person - beyond behaviourism and beyond data processing - beyond materialism - • to a theory that demands a conscious creative person: one that requires a conception of the person that not only has an active brain, but requires a creative conscious mind.
Dualism • Once we postulate that we have an active mind, we enter the world of dualism. Dualism specifies that there are two substances - one being material and the other non-material - in the human being. This has given rise in early Christian theology, for instance, to the idea of body and soul. The soul was regarded as being separate from the body, but as the world has secularised this non-material phenomenon has become the mind. • We now have a brain (material) and a mind (non-material), which was first made famous in modern philosophy by the French philosopher, Descartes.
Weakness of Dualism • However, Cartesian dualism has long been under fire, especially from the philosophies of science and technology, since it regarded mind as a different substance to body (brain). Indeed, this is the position that Ryle (1949) so famously attacked when he described mind ‘as a ghost in the machine’, and while this captures something of the closeness between the two, it attacks the existence separate existence of mind. Indeed, it is impossible to prove without doubt that there is a separate non-material phenomenon - and this has been true for over two millennia now.
Criticism of Monism • The computer can be programmed but cannot display any individual intentions, etc • Intentionality is not materialistic
Towards a Philosophy of Learning? • But this is a problem for distance educators, indeed for educators in general, because of our practical approach we have wondered into the world of philosophy. • We have not considered the philosophical implications of our changed approach – but in this practical world we have no pressing need to do this but once we adopted this different approach to teaching and learning we had moved beyond a scientific approach. – we used mind as well as brain – different concepts which are not interchangeable! Brain is materialistic – mind is not • Now we have not only different terms but we talk of different phenomena – they are in some way different substances, then we move beyond the materialistic world of the dominant philosophies of science and technology
A Third Way • However, it is difficult to reconcile monism and dualism - they are quite distinct from each other as we see. The one regards the human being rather like a glorified computer responding to every external stimulus and processing each - this is learning - for the monist. But the other assumes that the learner is not just a responsive being but an active agent, having intentionality and consciousness and these are not reducible to material phenomena. • Herein lies a fundamental problem – materialism cannot account for intentionality/purpose/meaning • But • Dualism cannot prove the existence of the non-material mindl • This is a philosophical problems that underlies all learning t heory – including that which we incorporate in all the advances we have seen in distance learning • .
Non-Reductive Monism • But, Feser (2005, pp.20-21) reminds us that Descartes recognised that the closeness between mind and brain and the way that they operate together constitute a third unique substance with its own unique properties. This is a form of monism, in that it has the one substance - material - but that has two functions incorporating the functions of mind - non-material, and this has become known as non-reductive monism. • It is a middle way and it is this composite substance with which the human being is to be identified, so that we are beginning to isolate three philosophies of the person - a monist one, a dualist one and a non-reductive monist one
All three of these philosophical positions can be refuted - and that is where the problems with understanding learning begin because as we look at the range of learning theories, none are based on an irrefutable philosophy of the person. • But monism - materialism - has dominated our thinking because it is the philosophy upon which science and technology is based. Yet, as we have seen, it is it cannot deal with any theory of learning that involves intentionality, meaning or consciousness. But a dualistic theory still needs monism and, in fact, still needs in some manner a materialistic foundation. Hence, we need a third way
Need of a Philosophy of Learning • Learning is actually an indication of life itself - living creatures always respond to external stimuli. It is quite possible to go ahead an devise new theories and practices of learning - as we are doing –all the time • but at some stage we have to recognise that underlying what we are doing lies a profound philosophical problem about the nature of the person. • Consequently, we actually need a philosophical approach to learning - one which does not assume that the monist one underlying science and technology is automatically correct, nor the dualist way - but once we acknowledge that we enter the hazardous world of philosophy - something we, in education, need to do more often.
The Uncertainty • Yes, there are uncertainties with technology – but there are also certainties – we know (we think) that the computer cannot think – it is logically hard to be a monist despite this being the dominant philosophy of science • It is also difficult to be a dualist – we cannot prove the mind • So we are left with an uncertain position – just what is the nature of the persons we teach?