The Tale of Two Visions of Learning and Forgetting
While we have been focusing on theoretical foundations to assist us in how we think about assessment it might be useful to take it all up one level and think about two contrasting views that exist about learning and forgetting is about. One vision is based on a classic view that assumes that people learn from people around us with whom we identify. It is an archetypal view that makes learning natural, effortless, and fluid (as well as more enduring) and is what really happens in informal environments. The opposing view is what Smith calls the “official theory of learning and forgetting” that learning is hard work, is the result of one applying sufficient effort, and is enforced through proper controls:
- it compels people to try to learn (and is cause for the most forgetting)
- it persuades people to think that they will not learn unless they make a determined effort, else failure
- it coerces learners
- it is based on repetition
- it is test-centric (this is why we made the distinctions about assessing and evaluation at the start of this module)
- it makes learning seem like work (when it should be based on the learner seeking pleasure)
This view of learning is called “official” because it has evolved over a century of thinking about how schools should operate. The following chart demonstrates the ways in which both views differ:
In the classic view, learning is:
In the ‘official’ view, learning is:
|continual and effortless||occasional (based on effort and hard work)|
|inconspicuous||obvious (via testing)|
|internally motivated||externally motivated|
|less apt to be forgotten||more easily forgotten|
|actually inhibited by testing||assured only through testing|
|a social activity||an intellectual activity|
This is not the complete list and assuredly, you could continue with it on your own. Proponents of the official view will often dismiss the classic view as “unscientific”, “folksie”, and even “faddish”. We are NOT proposing that you subscribe to either view, but it is a consideration that you, as an instructional designer, need to determine before you begin. (We understand that, as a K-12 teacher your actual ‘client’ might be you!). We offer this for what it is worth…. Perhaps we should have started this lesson by presenting both views as the resulting design is most likely based on the client adopting one of these two views.
So What If you HAVE to Evaluate?
Recall that we started with the premise that assessment (not evaluation) is required. But as you know if you have been in PK-12 for very long, very little that is done in the classroom can escape some form of testing. In these cases, what can you do so that the precision that is sought after does not interfere with the learning experience? While the answer is difficult to ascertain it is not impossible. And perhaps we can use certain forms of testing to attack the assessment problem as well. Here are a few ideas to ponder:
- What if we were to utilize concepts in our testing designs that mimic the adaptive testing currently used for the SATs and GREs? Asked another way, what if instead of designing the questions the question to seek the correct answer we look at what might be the expected answer (the one that may or may not be 100% correct but is a t ‘crowd sourced answer? … the one that is most often provided by the students at the same age or skill level)? These are best used in less than precise instances when we are looking at measurements… we allow ranges of answers in these cases… using the concept of expected value, what is the answer more likely to occur? (as in temperature ranges or percentage of chemical mixtures)
- How about providing partial credit in multiple choice tests in which we generally have two distractors and two that are very close (one being the correct answer ‘C’ is correct but ‘D’ is close but because of one or two confounds reasons not completely correct) That way we can collect data that the students are generally getting the concepts but are missing out on some finer details
- We often don’t like providing answers to things like word problems in Algebra (i.e., x=3) but perhaps we can delve into the way a student thinks by providing the answer and then asking the student to describe HOW that answer was derived? In fact, on the Android Play Store and the Apple APP Store there already exist apps that can scan an algebraic problem and provide instantaneous results. Remember the days when calculators were not allowed in testing? (or even previous to that when slide rules were forbidden?) Instead why not embrace technology and put it to good use?
- Last, we cannot forget about Seymour Pappert’s ideas on qualitative evaluation where we look at artifacts that are constructed. Borrowing from the popularity of the Night at the Museum trilogy, many have figured out how to, in fact, really bring museum learning in-house (the truth is that the brilliance of that series is that its humor and interest are derived by the fact that the back story behind each character’s portrayal had one foot steeped in reality/truth). A few examples: