Transforming Learners through Open and Distance Learning
To be presented at Shanghai TV University
© Peter Jarvis
University of Surrey
School of Arts
Surrey GU2 7XH
Transforming Learners through Open and Distance Learning
Learning, at its most fundamental, is the transformation of the learners’ experience through cognitive, emotive and practical means. In this presentation we will show how this understanding of learning might be used to devise programmes and courses in the social sciences and humanities.
Human living is about being in harmony with our psychological, social and physical environment and whenever disjuncture occurs we seek to re-establish those relationships or to create new ones as a result of the changed conditions. Teaching is a process whereby we help create experiences for learners in which we can/should disturb their status quo through the presentation of new information, ideas, values, and so on. Through the presentation of new material we can generate a questioning process through which they will seek a new harmony, so that the teachers can then guide the learners through cognitive (knowledge, beliefs and values), emotive and practical responses to the disjuncture that the teaching input has generated. The outcome of the learning is always a changed person.
While this presentation is essentially theoretical, there is a practical dimension that can become a basis for course construction – globalisation is taken as an illustrative topic.
In designing learning opportunities for students, either through face-to-face teaching or through open and distance learning, we are frequently presented with a great paradox – the teachers understand the topic that they are going to teach and they are often quite proficient in designing ways of presenting it, but sometimes they do not understand the processes by which students learn (see, for instance Jarvis, 2006). The fact that a great deal of e-learning and distance learning demands self-direction from the learners places additional responsibilities on those who design teaching and learning materials. Many teaching designs may look proficient at first sight but on deeper examination they appear incomplete and may miss some important learning opportunities. In this presentation I will outline a fairly comprehensive theory of learning and then take from it seven elements, which I call teaching points, and discuss each separately showing how they constitute aspects upon which we can design our teaching. Finally, I will discuss the topic of ‘globalisation’ in order to provide a few examples from different academic disciplines to illustrate these teaching points. Globalisation has the advantage of spanning our cultural difference but even then different cultures experience it differently and, no doubt, also interpret it differently and so the examples will still not be ones necessarily relevant to any of the learners.
Part 1 How Students Learn
Over the past twenty years I have been studying human learning and have published a number of books and papers on the subject. The theory that I am using here is fully discussed in Towards a Comprehensive Theory of Learning (Jarvis, 2006) which is outlined here. I want to start by defining learning and then I want to show how we learn and the main thing that we can see from this definition is that it is the whole person who learns.
Human learning is the combination of processes whereby the whole person – body (genetic, physical and biological) and mind (knowledge, skills, attitudes, values, emotions, beliefs and senses) – experiences a social situation, the perceived content of which is then transformed cognitively, emotively or practically (or through any combination) and integrated into the person’s individual biography resulting in a changed (or more experienced) person.
Now this is a much more complex definition than many that have been discussed over the past century or so, but this is a comprehensive definition that I think incorporates all the other definitions. Learning is possible wherever conscious living occurs, but there is also a real possibility that learning also occurs beyond the bounds of consciousness – I have focused on pre-conscious learning from the time that I first wrote about learning (Jarvis, 1987). However, we are born in relationship and that we live the whole of our lives within a social context; the only time when most of us sever relationship is at the point of death. Consequently, no theory of learning can omit the life-world or the wider social world within which we live. Learning is a process of transforming the experiences that we have which always occur at the intersection of the individual and the wider society. However, experience itself begins with body sensations, e.g. sound, sight, smell, and so on. We transform these sensations and learn to make them meaningful to ourselves and this is the first stage in human learning. This occurs more frequently in childhood because many of the sensations are new their meaning has not been learned, but in adulthood we have learned sounds, tastes, etc and so we utilise the meaning as the basis for either our future learning, or for our taken-for-grantedness, in our daily living. For example, I know the meaning of a word (a sound) and so I am less aware of the sound and more aware of the meaning, and so on. This process is shown in the following diagram:
Significantly, we live a great deal of our lives in situations which we have learned to take for granted (box 1), that is that we assume that the world as we know it does not change a great deal from one experience to another similar one (Schutz and Luckmann 1974). But we recognise that very young children may not always be in a position to make such assumptions as they are in a continuous state of learning new things. Nevertheless, in novel situations throughout life, we all have new sensations during which we cannot take the world for granted; we enter a state of disjuncture and immediately we are forced to ask questions – What do I do now? What does that mean? What is that smell? What is that sound? and so on. Many of these questions may not be articulated in the form of question but there is a sense of unknowing (box 2). Through a variety of ways we give meaning to the sensation and our disjuncture is resolved. Answers (not necessarily a correct one) to our questions may be given by a significant other in childhood, in the course of everyday living, through self-directed learning, or through formal teaching (box 3). Significantly, all the answers are social constructs (Gergen, 1999) and so immediately we are affected by the social context and our learning is influenced by it. Once we have acquired an answer to our implied question, however, we have to practise it in order to commit it to memory (box 4). The more opportunities we have to practise the answers to our initial questions the better we will commit it to memory. Since we do this in our social world we get feedback, which confirms that we have got a socially acceptable resolution or else we have to start the process again, or be different. As we become more familiar with our socially acceptable resolution and memorise it we are in a position to take our world for granted again (box 5), provided that the social world has not changed in some way or other. Most importantly, however, as we change and others change as they learn, the social world is always changing and so our taken-for grantedness in box 5 is of a slightly different situation and we are always negotiating our social reality. The same water does not flow under the same bridge twice and so even our taken-for-grantedness is relative.
The significance of this process is that once we have given meaning to the sensation and committed the meaning to our memories then the significance of the sensation itself recedes in future experiences as the meaning dominates the process, and when disjuncture then occurs it is because we cannot understand, we do not know the meaning of the situation, and so on. It is in learning it that we incorporate culture into ourselves; this we do in most, if not all, of our learning experiences. In this sense, we carry social meaning within ourselves – whatever social reality is, it is incorporated in us through our learning from the time of our birth. Indeed, this reflects the thinking of Bourdieu (1992, p.127) when he describes habitus as a ‘social made body’ and he goes on in the same page to suggest that:
Social reality exists, so to speak, twice, in things and in minds, in fields and in habitus, outside and inside of agents.
However, culture is a contestable concept and not a monolithic phenomenon, and so we are exposed to a number of different interpretations of ‘reality’ in the great majority of circumstances, although there have been societies, especially primitive ones, in which only one interpretation is understood or accepted: these are totalitarian societies – or organisations – and they always seek to reproduce themselves.
Human learning, then, is more than just transforming the bodily sensations into meaning, it is the process of transforming the whole of our experience though thought, action and emotion and, thereby transforming ourselves as we continue to build perceptions of external reality into our biography. This process is depicted in the following diagram:
Figure 2 The Transformation of the Person through Learning
In this diagram I have tried to capture the continuous nature of learning by pointing to the second cycle. However, this diagram must always be understood in relation to Figure 1, since it is only by combining them that we can begin to understand anything of the complexity of human learning. We live in our social world and it is within that world that we have experiences. In a real sense, in both distance and e-learning many of these experiences are self-directed and it is this that places a burden on us who design that teaching – how can we keep motivating the students to want to learn? How can we may sure that they are enjoying their learning? Having had an experience (box 2), which occurs as a result of disjuncture, we can think about it, respond to it emotionally or do something about it – or any combination of the three (boxes 3-5). As a result we become changed persons (box 6) but, as we see, learning is itself a complex process. Once the person is changed, it is self-evident that the next social situation into which the individual enters is changed. Consequently, we can conclude that learning involves three transformations: the sensation, the person and then the social situation.
However, as life progresses the developing individuals become more stable and less likely to change radically in many circumstances. In other words, the person gains a sense of self and self-identity. Consequently, a tension might then develop between the social interpretations given to a certain situation and that given by individuals themselves; people are not necessarily so malleable as to mirror the social situation perfectly although, as a result of our early socialisation, we do reflect a great deal of our primary culture and are, in certain ways, emotionally committed to it. We can see, therefore, that there is a potential tension between ourselves, as individuals, and the social situation within which we live; when we can take the social reality for granted, it shows that we ‘fit in’ – that is, we conform. Conformity has its own problems – for there may be moral issues that demands that we should, or should not conform and so on. Additionally, we may not wish to conform to the expectations placed upon us. These situations are potential learning situations. Feeling unease, or awkwardness, may be embarrassing but it may also be a matter of conscience – we feel that we have to stand out for what we believe. Paradoxically, we can also experience conscience problems when we conform, when for instance we know that we should not have done so.
We can see from this brief discussion that human learning is a very complex process, one which we shall never fully understand. Nevertheless, the more that we do understand about it, the better we should be at designing teaching material that is relevant to the learning process and in the following section I want to draw out seven teaching points.
Part 2 Learning and Designing Teaching
The seven points upon which I want to focus are: taken-for-grantedness; disjuncture; experience; reflection/thought; emotion; action; integration into the biography. In each of these there are elements that we have to think about in designing teaching and learning opportunities. Even more, these are points which we need to encourage our learners to focus upon in their learning through the way that we design their learning.
Taken-for-grantedness: In everyday living, we tend to take the world for granted and act accordingly. Basically, we can say that the social world is premised on the fact that we do not go through life learning, but conforming to established norms and procedures. Non-learning is the norm. Indeed, Schutz and Luckmann (1974, p.7) write:
I trust that the world as it has been known by me up until now will continue further and that consequently the stock of knowledge obtained from my fellow-men and formed from my own experiences will continue to preserve its fundamental validity… From this assumption follows the further one: that I can repeat my past successful acts. So long as the structure of the world can be taken as constant, as long as my previous experience is valid, my ability to act upon the world in this and that manner remains in principle preserved.
Recognising this is an important stage in developing our own teaching. Learners are accustomed to taking their social reality for granted and we may not know what they take for granted and by being separated by time and space we may not know our learners. We have to find a way of making what we want to teach relevant to them without needless repetition of what they already know. If we repeat what they know, they might well lose interest because they are too familiar with it and stop learning. But if we are too far removed from what they know they may not be capable of bridging the gap between their knowledge and what they require if they are to make sense of their experiences. Finding a relevant introduction to any session is crucial to our teaching – we need to get our students involved from the outset.
There is another sense in which they take their reality for granted and that is when they get into the habit of learning, they actually also take their learning for granted.
Disjuncture: One of the paradoxes of learning is that it begins at the point where we acknowledge our ignorance – when we ask: Why? What does it mean? What do I do? and so on. (This is box 2 of Figure 1). We have to encourage the questioning process rather than think that it is our job always to provide answers. In this technological age, this is becoming a little more difficult because we are getting used to living in ignorance (apathy) and so we do not always ask questions when we do not understand something. It is important to get students in a questioning mood before we present any new information, or if the information is new then students should be encouraged to ask questions about it. Students should be discouraged from just trying to memorise it.
In a sense these first two go together – it is a process of getting students to move from a situation which they can take their world for granted to one in which they want to question their construction of social reality.
Experience: Having an experience is at the heart of learning – students do not learn from what we tell them, they learn from their experience of what we tell them, or what they read, and so on. (This is box 2 of Figure 2). There is a well known workshop exercise with many variations which illustrates how difficult it is to ensure that the listen follows the precise instructions of the speaker. It is no good saying that the students have not understood what we have written, that may be our poor design or planning – it is our job to help them have an experience from which they can learn. Experiences can be primary or secondary – the primary ones are ones which we have first hand experiences – where we can touch, smell, taste, feel and so on. Now, however, the possibility is arising whereby we can give students virtual experiences and this is through various forms of simulation – they are ‘artificial, primary experiences’. But secondary experiences are mediated – we mediate knowledge through what we tell students, what we write and through visual images of television and film. All theory is secondary experience. Most of our understanding of the world is mediated knowledge – secondary experience. It is our job to ensure that the students have the type of experience that we want them to have and plan our teaching material accordingly. Naturally, we cannot control our learners to such an extent that what they experience is precisely what we would like them to, but we have to be accurate in what we do so that their experience does not distort our teaching too much. The provision of secondary experiences includes the presentation of new material to be learned – it can be from the teaching material that we have prepared or it can be by directing students to other material, including web-based material that they need to access and experience. We then have to build into our design directions for studying or reacting to that material through thought, emotion or action.
Reflection: This is the cognitive dimension of learning (box 3 of Figure 2) – thinking and then thinking again. Reflection has become a buzz word but I think that it is probably better to recognise that there are many different ways in which we think. Following Gilhooly (1996), I have suggested elsewhere (Jarvis, 2005, 2006) that there are at least ten different thought forms which I present as five pairs:
- Memorising and Interpreting;
- Creative and Critical Thought;
- Problem-solving and decision making;
- Directed and Undirected;
- Deductive and Inductive Reasoning.
These are probably more accurate than merely using the words ‘reflection’ and ‘reflective learning’. In our design of teaching and learning we should build all ten thought forms into the exercises that follow the learning experience.
At the same time, there is another aspect to this reflective dimension; we learn our attitudes, beliefs and values in this same process but often we are unaware that this is occurring. Everybody is also affected by what we do, or how we feel or what we felt at the time of the experience, and our learning is, therefore, a combination, of at least two – and may be all three – dimensions of response to our experience.
Emotions: (box 4, in Figure 2). Emotional responses to our experiences are natural and normal but they are only just beginning to be recognised as part of learning, but this is a very important development in thinking about learning. (See Hall in Jarvis and Parker, 2005; Goleman 1996, 1998). Cell (1984) differentiates emotions from sensations noting that there are many more emotions than possible bodily sensations. Emotions are part of our learning process and have three components: a judgment, a feeling and an action tendency. He argues that judgment is basic to this process.
Since it is the person whose emotions transform the experience, it is necessary to explore the types of experience that generate an emotional response. Basically, there are three, all of which are existential in nature; what, following Cell, we call the functional, the dysfunctional and the profound. The functional ones relate to our human needs for bonding, self-worth, beauty, harmony with the world, and so on; dysfunctional emotions also revolve around our sense of self, and in this case self-esteem – others’ abilities, skills that we envy and because we do not have them our self-confidence is threatened; profound emotions emerge from situations that often lead to contemplative thought. They occur when the situation or event that we experience is beyond our immediate understanding or beyond words to explain – it may just be mysterious or beautiful, and so on. Emotion responses to experience are important for many reasons, not least because they also motivate action.
Actions: (Box 5 in Figure 2) Learning by doing is well known – but I think that we have to explore this is greater depth. We learn through researching our situation, as practitioner researchers (Jarvis, 1999). Actions are never mindless; they always include a cognitive and often an emotive dimension. Hence one reaction to an experience is to do something about it and so we can become researchers of our own situation. We can design action learning, small projects, as responses to the experiences that we provide for the students.
Integration into our Biography: (Box 6 in Figure 2). This is the process of consciously and unconsciously committing to memory all aspects of our learning experience; it is the process of recreating the external culture within and making it our own reality. We have to design ways whereby learners can do this – both by creating situations whereby students are asked to memorise and recall, such as little tests. But more significantly, keep reverting to the learning in later sessions so that we help stimulate recall. Getting students to share or write something about the whole of their learning also helps this process.
Basically what I have tried to do here is to point to crucial elements in the process of learning and suggest that these are teaching points, ones about which we not only need to be aware but ones which we need to utilise in our design of our teaching and learning materials. In this final section I want to illustrate ways by which we might do this – these should not be taken as anything other than illustrative material and the ones which I give may have no relevance to the students you teach – so that every teacher in distance teaching must be alert to discovering ways of connecting what is being taught to the life-world of the learners.
Part 3 Teaching Points
Since I reflect my own culture and its interpretations of reality, my ways of interpreting globalisation must reflect my background and teachers in different cultures should design their teaching to reflect their own background as far as possible. Consequently, I will provide Western-type illustrations which may only be relevant to people from Western countries. In addition, I will not develop our earlier discussion on the taken-for-granted although it is an important part of the process of teaching, which is ‘to make the familiar strange’. This is creation of a disjunctural experience.
Disjuncture: How can we get our students involved, even aware of their need to learn? How can we start them questioning about the topic that we wish to teach? The start of every session is crucial – we set the scene and the mood at this point. There are a wide variety of techniques to involve the learners. A simple one, if we were teaching sociology or politics would be to ask students to define a common concept, such as globalisation, and then get the students to compare their definitions. When they post all their answers up and we get involvement in the discussion and add something from the teacher’s perspective or show them how their various definitions fall within the definitional framework of a number of different approaches to globalisation. (Albrow and King, 1990; Bauman, 1998; Held et al, 1999; Robertson, 1992 inter alia). I have done the same in Philosophy of Education by getting the students to define the concept of education and have then shown them that the various definitions at which they arrive all fall within different theorists’ discussions and that if they combined all the definitions they had reaches, they had actually covered whole chapters of books on the philosophy of education.
Another approach is through the use of a scenario (written/visual depending on the medium that we are using) and then the students are asked to comment on some elements of it – this approach can be used in a wide variety of disciplines – from Ethics to sociological discussions, management, and so on. For instance, if we are teaching a sociological subject like globalisation, we can outline the way that economic wealth has become even more unevenly spread throughout the world, making reference to rapid industrialisation, pollution, and so on. We can then explain begin to explain the different theories and get students to record not only their knowledge but their feelings about growing inequality and, also, begin to explore some of the ethical concerns.
In this approach we are using the Socratic approach (Jarvis, 2006a) to teaching – posing questions and getting students to respond. The point is that we start by disturbing the students’ taken-for-granted and set them questions which they might not necessarily know answers – but we might not only do this in the knowledge domain – we might also want to help students become aware of their own emotions and so we could use a scenario and then ask them to record their feelings in a learning diary – this helps them learn more about emotions, especially if they do actually discuss their emotional responses to disjunctural situations.
Experience: We actually learn from the experience they have rather than from what we say/write/ broadcast, etc. We may think that they have understood but subsequently, we find that they have not done so. It is easy in these situations to blame the students for not being sufficiently intelligent to understand what we say – but the real blame should lie with us for not being the good communicators that we think we are. But there is another issue here – we all construct our own experience rather than just record like a photograph or an audio-tape what we see/hear and so on. Most of their experiences are secondary ones and it is necessary to help students to recognise that what they experience is always a social construct (Gergen, 1999). One way in which we could help overcome this is to get the students to write down what they have experienced – we could even pose a series of prompt questions that help them think about the situation and record their own experience of it. In a great deal of learning from experience, we can actually use students’ experiences getting them to record certain experiences from everyday life – this approach can be done from social or humanities types subjects.
Within the globalisation theme, it would be possible to point students to the rapid industrialisation of parts of China, the way that this has affected life in China, how international sales become more important, and so on. This is all within the bounds of many of the learners’ experience.
Reflection: If we have already provided students with a number of the theories of globalisation, eg the world systems theory, the neo-Marxist one, glocalisation, and so on. Having a number of theories, learners can be invited to consider the strengths and weaknesses of each – they should be asked to record their thoughts in a learning diary, and so on. It is here that we might build in different exercises, using different thought forms, in order to help students utilise a wider perspective. Having done this, they could be directed to a discussion on the different theories in order to compare their own thinking with that of other scholars.
But we might also want to get the students to think about other concepts that impinge upon this process, like power, the changing position of the State, local politics, international trade, etc. But we might want to take this further and get students to think about the values underlying this process, like dehumanisation, wealth creation, elitism, Westernisation, cheap labour, etc. With this, we might want to explore attitudes and beliefs.
Emotions: What we feel about things is an important element in our learning and so we might get students to think about their feelings about the growing inequality of people as a result of new wealth throughout the world – but feelings about the battle to retain local cultures and local languages. We might also want to get students to think about the relationship between their feeling and their knowledge, and so on. We might want them to know how different people feel – from Freire’s Pedagogy of Indignation (2004) to liberal economists, such as Hayek.
Action: Depending on the stance taken, it would be possible for students to explore their local area and discover the effects of globalisation locally; they could see where there has been resistance and where it has been welcomed – like the advent of McDonalds, like new jobs, more wealth, higher standard of living – but compare with the West. Students could be asked to talk to local people about their feelings about McDonaldization – Ritzer (1998), Smart (1999). At the same time there have been demonstrations against globalisation – people have protested about it and while we should not encourage students to protest, it is important that we teach them why people do protest.
Integration into their Biography: At the end of a study like this, it is important that we ask students if they have changed as a result of their studies. Perhaps a self-reflective questionnaire asking students to comment on the way that their views have changed, how their values have been affected, and so on would be appropriate. We need to stress, however, this is not a course evaluation but a reflection upon their own learning. We could then re-direct them to the specified aims and objectives of the course to see if they had learned more than we intended.
Almost certainly a topic like globalisation would bring a lot of different viewpoints to the surface – many of which would perhaps be critical of and very different to some of the arguments in the West and so it becomes possible to build a critical and comparative position. However, the point of this exercise is to illustrate how we can use learning theory to construct programmes and teaching opportunities. In this paper, I have presented a theory of learning and then shown how it can be used in course design – using an inter-disciplinary approach.
Albrow M and King (eds) (1990) Globalization, Knowledge and Society
Bauman Z (1999) Globalization Cambridge: Polity
Bourdieu P and Wacquant L (1992) An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology
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Goleman D (1996) Emotional Intelligence London: Bloomsbury
Goleman D (1998) Working with Emotional Intelligence London: Bloomsbury
Hall C (2005) Emotional Intelligence in Jarvis and Parker (eds) op cit
Held D, McGrew A, Goldblatt D and Perraton J (1999) Global Transformations
Jarvis P (1987) Adult Learning in the Social Context London: Croom Helm
Jarvis P (1999) The Practitioner Researcher San Francisco: Jossey Bass
Jarvis P (2005) Transforming Asian Education through Open and Distance
Learning presented at Chinese Distance Education and HK OU Research
in Distance Education Conference, Hong Kong Open University (June)
Jarvis P (2006) Towards a Comprehensive Theory of Learning London: Routledge
Jarvis P (ed) (2006a) The Theory and Practice of Teaching London: Routledge
(Second Edition) (in press)
Jarvis P and Parker S (eds) (2005) Human Learning: a holistic perspective London: Routledge
Lukes S (2005) Power: a Radical View Basingstoke, Palgrave (Second Edition)
Ritzer G (1998) The McDonaldization Thesis London: Sage
Robertson R (1992) Globalization London. Sage
Schutz A and Luckmann T (1974) The Structures of the Lifeworld London:
Smart B (ed) (1999) Resisting McDonaldization London: Sage
 In UK there is an increasing amount of preparation of teachers for higher education, as well as further education.
 I define disjuncture as the situation when our biography and the meaning that we give to our experience of a social situation are not in harmony, so that I cannot take the situation for granted.
 In a book currently in preparation on the sociology of lifelong learning, I explore the notion of power at this point with especial reference to the work of Foucault and Lukes.
 I have used a number of simple variations – the one is to provide the listener with pencil and paper and the speaker with a relatively complicated diagram. The speaker, who cannot see the listener, has to give directions to the listener on how to draw the diagram and when the exercise is over, the actual and the redrawn diagram are compared to see how good the speaker has been in giving directions and how good the listener is in listening.
 This expression I learned from Rev Dr Peter Graves – who told me that he had acquired it from Professor Verma Kelly of Virginia Theological Seminary.
 I have only specified four books here, although there are a great number that I could have named – but these have a number of different approaches to globalisation.