Monday, 22 May 2006

Learning Design - 2

This is the second part. The first part is here.

Section 3. Data, Metadata, Information, Language and Community

Information is manifestation of someone's part IWV (Internal World View). Being an externalisation, information is not necessarily an accurate representation of one's IWV, nor represents the whole of one's IWV. However, being externalised, information can be transferred from one place to another and from one time to another and stored externally.

It involves great skills to externalise one's IWV or imagination. Hence, some are greater writer and story teller than others.

The process of "importing" information, among many other activities which may or may not have the same effect, as being part of one's IWV is called learning.

Since the start of humanity, we have been trying to externalised our understanding, conceptualisation or imagination. We tried and are trying to pass that onwards. With the advent of printing, these externalised information of many great minds have been accumulating faster and faster, to the point that I will never able to read them all and hence will never be able to incorporate them all into my IWV. With today's technology, lots of them are at my finger tips. I will be constantly enchanted and enlightened by more reading and hence extending and growing my IWV. But before I get the chance to read them, these externalised information, remains as "non-knowledge" to me.

Language is our vehicle of communication. Language is accumulated, compromised and negotiated. We agree, implicitly or explicitly, that certain sound when under certain condition convey a certain idea.

Different culture, through different circumstances, developed different language. Usually, people speaking two different languages will have great difficulty in communication, even basic needs. However, there are sufficient common elements in most languages that “translation” is possible. As I have assumed, the world we live in has been producing coherent stimulation to our senses. It is very likely that these stimulation have built similar, albeit different IWV in our brains. Physicists in China would share a similar world view (in Physics at least) with western physicists from both USA, England, Germany or France even they do not have the same communicative language.

Human language is in constant flux and is changing. A core set of language remains fairly stable for a sufficient long time for us to engage in meaningful communication. But the communication is imperfect because we may have different shades of meaning attached to the same term we use.

Language can also express things that are not "real". Language can be used to construct new idea, new artifact, fictional stories and creative artifacts. That's a power of language!

We are able to communicate using language when the language itself is used to indirectly reference multiple level of representations without much effort .

Language is intrinsically “recursive condensation of information”. As a community is negotiating a concept, the details of the concept is examined, discussion, debated and eventually come to an agreement (or an agreement to disagreement). The concept will then be given a term, or jargon. As exchange progresses, the importance of the complex concept behind a term is faded into the background and become transparent to those involved. A large collection of information has condensed into a term.

Information is encrypted in language, be it language as we normally use the term or other symbolism such as painting, dance, music or sign language.

Information is intrinsically inter-connected. Information is connected because information are manifestations of different people's IWV which are all based on a coherent consistent world that we all experience. Information is connected because it is based on language, which is social, shared and negotiated. Information is connected because some of the "concept" will come from or refers to other information, such as in citation or references at the end of an academic paper. This referencing is much as intrinsic than just citation or references. In a paper within Physics community, no one will provide further citation or reference to terms such as “work” which, obviously is strictly defined within the community. Citation and references in academic paper only cover those concepts which are considered in the paper.

There are two types of disagreements: interesting and uninteresting. The uninteresting disagreements are those disagreements due to the imperfection of communication. This is easily resolved by agreeing to a common term. The interesting disagreements are those situations whereby we have common agreed terms and language representation, but there are differences in our IWV when we are trying to compare and negotiate. Eventually, it would come down to our differences in past experience including the information we have met and internalised.

When we are managing information, e.g. the assignments submitted by students, we give that each assignment a code (John's essay). After we marked the assignment, it is given a score. This score is linked to John in our record book. At the end of the year, all these scores are collated to give an overall score for John. This is again an example of recursive condensation of information. The final score represents a much larger collection of information and teacher's opinion on John's performance.

A collection of condensed information is a data set. Implicit in any data is the structure and supporting information. A stock market transaction datum represents the price at which two parties agreed to exchange two types of valuable things (stock and money). The temperature in the today’s weather report represents a whole theory in defining temperatures (in Physics at least), the negotiated and agreed scale of measuring the temperature and the “thing” which is being measured and reported.

Librarian used to handle a large collection of information (books we used call them). Every book is given a unique identifier. Multiple copies of the same book are also given item identifier.

The same applies to information when it is digitised. Information is given URI.

When we are finding or managing information, we are treating such information as data. We are interested in the collection of information represented by this data.

In order for us to find data, we try to collect some of the characteristics of the data. We found that there are some common characteristics which are useful, e.g. the author, the date of publications, the subject domain the information is about. So librarians added "metadata" to the data.

But some may call author writer, others call the same creator. So, we need to create a common agreed term for similar concepts (similar internal world views of different people). So we have metadata standards which
1. standardise the term to represent the characteristics (the name of the characteristics),
2. the exact characteristics (negotiate the common IWV of the term included),
3. the way the value to be expressed (firstname first, or firstname last?, how to handle middle name etc.) (The scale and the reference units etc.)

Soon we found that there are variations of "similar" concepts. The metadata needed "qualifiers" both to extend the grey area of "similarity" and "overload" the term.

"Metadata" are data themselves. So we can apply the same principle on metadata which leads to "metametadata". Metametadata are data themselves. So we can apply the same principle on metametadata which leads to "metametametadata.

The range of condensed meanings (terms and jargon) within our daily language represents the complex relationship we have with different community. The parties, which participated in the negotiation of a term or jargon, belong to a common community. However, there is no clear boundary for most communities (except formal organisations such as countries – citizenship; business organisations – employer, employee, customers.) By participating in the negotiation of a condensed meaning, one is definitely at the core of the community which shared some common IWV represented by the term/jargon. Those, who used such term/jargons in its appropriate way, are part of the community because they are also sharing the same IWV.

Here I define a community as a group of people who share a specific part of their IWV.

A pilot does not have the knowledge of every piece of equipment on the air plane. However, a pilot does have a functional model of how the whole air plane will work under different circumstances in order to fly the air plane safely. A aircraft engineer may not be a pilot. However, the engineer will have great depth of knowledge and skill in different parts of the plane. A fluid dynamic Physicist has great understanding about how the air flow around the wing of the plane will affect the balance and the subsequent motion of the plane. But the physicist may not be an engineer nor a pilot.

A physicist is not a pilot because there are things in the pilot’s IWV which is not in physicist’s IWV and vice versa. A community is quite arbitrarily defined by the scope of the common IWV parts as agreed by the members of the community.

We are simultaneously in more than one community. If all the pilot, physicist and engineer mentioned above are Australian, that means they shared a common geographical area to be called home, among other things.

Section 4. Foundation of Learning Design

This unified theory of learning design has several facets:

From what has discussed as far, the most important factor (or dimension) affecting the success of any learning program is obviously the intention of the learner and the degree of participation as a member of a community (target community). We shall refer to this as context and participatory intention. Depending on the maturity of the target community, it may have developed rich set of jargons, rituals, established practices and large body of published literature, referred to as language and content respectively. The existing IWV of the learner has significant impact on the reception of any presented content. The existing IWV relative to the target community is referred here as pre-existence experience or simply as experience. The individual differences of learners, with respect to his preference of how learning is carried out, is his learning style. Finally, there is also a learning environment which describes the situation at which learning occurs.

Context is not subject matter. Subject matter is a narrower term referring partly to the content and partly to the established practices. Context involves knowing holistically the language, the content, major participants of the community and everything else which would enable the learner to meaningfully participate in the community.

Obviously not every learner will have the intent or capability to become an active meaningful participant in the target community. Many would be satisfied just to be able to make sense of the activities occurring within the community, or be able to communicate in a shallow level with members of the community. Some will not be participant themselves, yet are interested in understanding about a community. Others may be at the early stage of eventual full participation. Some may already be highly involved and are/were active in the community wishing to continue a growth. These different levels of intent are expressed by terms such as: non-participatory observer, early participants, experience participants, experts or ex-participants.

A young child, Amy, may be an early participant of the society (a community) in which the child is being brought up. Of course, the implied, and commonly non-explicit intent would be to become a successful participant in the society. In this case, among many things, she will need to learn the language used by the society in order to effectively communicate, need to established practices and respect to rituals and cultures, including laws and rules, know the key participants such as community leaders, politicians and other respected members of the society, develop a skill in order to become a valuable member of the society.

As young adult, Bob, is trying to enter a profession, e.g. into a medical practice, he would need to understand all the jargons being used by the medical professions, able to communicate complex concept efficiently and perform the established practice in order to cure his patients. This process of becoming a medical profession may start with a medical school where he learns from current members of the profession (i.e. his teachers are currently practicing medical professions) or from non-participatory observer with in-depth understanding of the community. At this stage, he learns as a non-participatory observer. As Bob graduates from the medical school, he will go through further learning process, such as internship before fully qualified to perform his duties without supervision. This would be the early participant stage with mentor supports. Continuous up skilling, learning and development are required in many professions. Members of the community will continue their learning process at different participatory distance.

The publishing of research results is a mean of contribution to the development of a community as well as an opportunity for experience experts (of a community) to learn. As noted earlier, learning is the process of changing one’s inner world view to enable better meaningful participation of a community. By publishing, senior members of the community help to clarify the accepted practices of the community, aligned their own inner world view better (by influencing the community’s view or by modifying their own inner world view).

It should be noted that Amy begins her learning from the day she is born as an early participant. This learning typically occurs in an informal manner, supported by her parents. Babies and young children learn through imitation, role playing, games, rehearsals and a variety of other learning activities. A little later, the young child will enter school, a formal learning environment established specifically for learning.

As Bob leaves the formal learning environment (the medical school) into a semi-formal environment where he is doing his internship. Experienced members are available to assist this budding doctor to put the skill and knowledge acquired in the medical school into real practice.

Learning is a life-long process, almost without start and end. Learning occurs under many different situations with varying individually different motivation, ability and constraints. Learning is an effort, part of the need of survival in the past, today and in the future. Some learning occurs almost like without explicit effort, many required demonstrated effort by the learners.

During this pursuit to become an effective participating member of a community, one role stands out. It is the person who is giving help, guiding and supporting the learner. I will use the traditional term teacher to denote this special role. Teacher used to be the main source of information. With the advent of the information and communication technology, this role needs careful reexamination. However, teacher is still a significant facet of learning and learning design.

[more to come...]

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