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March 10, 2018

Update Early March 2018 Part B: Differences between Form and Type of Phenomena

Learning phenomena comes in all different forms and types. The key categorical forms relevant to my research are social and cognitive. There are, for example, various types of cognitive forms of learning, including thinking, reasoning, arguing, critiquing, recollecting, perceiving, and believing, among others. Social types of learning phenomena mostly relate to the social form of ‘interaction’ and these include collaboration and negotiation; essentially, social types and forms of learning refer to some sort of construction or engagement with a social learning culture or social world.

A specific example from the cognitive dimension, thinking is a type of cognitive engagement that possesses a rationalistic approach to learning. Cognitive engagement, therefore, is characterised by a continuous, careful consideration of the issue at hand, leading to a well thought out proposition grounded in sense based data (empirical) or appropriately applied reason, beliefs, understanding and meaning (rationalism). Here we have in this definition an obvious relationship between thinking and reasoning; between thinking and belief formation; and between thinking and the construction of our understanding and meaning about the world. What I have just outlined here are simplistic relationships between different forms of cognitive based learning: the characteristics, philosophical and theoretical basis, practicalities and forms of relationships are extremely nuanced. The nuanced existence of both social and cognitive learning therefore suggests the existence of many factors that can make one’s thinking or thought production fallible, but that’s for another time.

The problem I was experiencing was attempting to conflate form and type of a particular phenomenon, and hence I was feeling a little overwhelmed by the middle of the week. It was initially, therefore, a challenge to deepen understanding of the nuances and different forms and types of a the phenomenon of interest, which is a continuous and ongoing process. Once I managed to understand the difference between forms and types of learning phenomenon I did begin to feel much clearer about what forms and types I should be addressing in the literature review chapter. A further assistance has been the collected data, as I have been able to identify different forms and types of the phenomenon of research interest; therefore, it was deemed impossible to reduce discussions of a learning phenomenon to just a single type or, perhaps, a single form. I have to, and willing to, discuss all types and forms relevant to observations in the data, and relevant to the research context.

In summary, there are different forms and types of learning phenomena and it’s difficult to reduce discussions down to particular forms and types unless you have some sort of prior knowledge of what forms and types are going to be most appropriate, such as information from your research questions and research context. Always go back to your questions and your context, as these will provide you with the information you need to guide or frame most of your literature review directions and discussions. Where there is an exception is with qualitative research projects based on grounded theory: sometimes, it’s the theory as it emerges from the data that best helps with the guiding and structuring of your literature reviews. Remember though, as has been mentioned previously and shall be mentioned again in future posts, literature reviews carry a different function in grounded theory projects than other types of research projects.

This, conveniently, now brings us to the third blog post of this series: my thoughts about the theoretical perspective of grounded theory.

January 19, 2018

Update on the First Literature Review Chapter: The Function of Education in Society

Society and Culture

Returned to the writing of the thesis, concentrating at the moment on the first literature review chapter with the tentative title of “Function of Education within Society.” The chapter is providing an example of the importance of conceptual definitions, detailed clarity of concepts, and the importance of building a contextual basis early so that people will be able to grasp early on what it is you are specifically talking about.

Currently, I have discussed and gave initial critiques and evaluations of some of the broader definitions and characteristics of society and culture stemming from the disciplines of anthropology and sociology. I have also discussed briefly the relationship between society and culture. All discussions shall be expanded upon in the future with further definitions, arguments, explanations and critiques as necessary therefore all current discussions and critiques are tentative and changeable. All discussions shall assist with contextualising my discussions and critiques of Education later in the same chapter and in subsequent literature review chapters.

I am finding, however, that I am being drawn to a certain category of definitions, and I believe this attraction could be explained by my own philosophies of the social. My own developing philosophical framework from which I view and understand the world is therefore shaping the way I value different definitions and classifications of definitions of society and culture. This is an interesting observation, because it shows again the importance and value of our philosophical beliefs and the role they play in our research beyond the methodologies and methods used. Your own philosophical beliefs could provide the valuable platform upon which your entire construction of the thesis sits upon. Therefore, I might have to explain in the thesis not just the way that my Philosophical beliefs influence the research design, but also the way that they draw me to certain classifications of society and culture. The research context and phenomena of interest in themselves also might necessitate the drawing towards of certain classifications of definition, but even then the context and the way that we view the phenomena of interest might be influenced also by our philosophical beliefs.

Society, Culture and Education

My current task in the literature review is to discuss Education and its relationship with society and culture although, as I have just been finding out, this is where I am finding various forks in the road leading me into possible directions that I had not previously thought fully about

Generally, sociological literature define society from a broad perspective. However, as I explore educational literature that investigates the relationship between society and Education I find that both society and Education are defined in very specific ways, which differ across the literature. Such conceptualisations of society include: “Post-Industrialised Society”, “Post-Modernist Society,” “Open Society,” “Democratic Society,” “Digital Society,” “Information Society,” “Learning Society” and so on and so on. Specific types of Education include: “Distance Education, “Primary Education,” “Secondary Education,” “Higher Education,” “LifeLong Learning,” and so on.

Obviously, I have encountered these Educational conceptions before, but conceptualisations of society are relatively newer encounters. I know the Education sector I am working on, but the challenge now and the forks in the road refer to questions about whether I should subscribe to a specific type of pre-defined society, or critically evaluate, analyse, and synthesis current definitions of society to develop a new social conception or reconceptualise an existing social conception.

I am asking these questions because I doubt the legitimacy and validity of using an existing, pre-defined type of society to hold my conceptions and discussions of Education. Using a pre-defined concept of society could negate the value, importance, worth and usefulness of the learning phenomenon of research interest. I do not actually know this to be true as I have not tested the ideas yet, but it is possible due to my experiences of trying to fit my philosophical beliefs within an existing philosophical classification: it just doesn’t work. Plus, there are characteristics from, say, a democratic society and a digital society that aligns with my thinking about what society is or should be in order to accommodate the phenomenon of interest.

My key question here is, what are the characteristics of society that give rise (in part) to the existence of the phenomenon of interest that is being explored?


I have been thinking about the concept of society more since writing the previous discussion yesterday. Have I really been thinking about all of this correctly? I have been thinking more about the concept of society during the day and all I have been reading about it, and it does involve every aspect of human interaction and collaboration: law, business, Government, industry, commerce, health care, Educational institutions, and more besides. But I’m only exploring Education institutions, and even then, a specific type institution; a specific level of Education. However, the development and application of Education systems are influenced by the social and cultural constructs and values of the time, which can be plainly observed when learning about the Industrialised Education system. Here, the relationship between student and teacher mimicked that of employer and employee: students were not necessarily allowed to challenge anyone or asked questions, and collaborative learning was an unheard of concept that would have strongly contested the authoritarian philosophies that existed at the time, and would have been strongly opposed. Strong Conservative social order and authoritative hierarchies were preferred in Victorian society over conceptualising learning as a natural, progressive concept that should not be controlled and regimented. I cannot remove the fact that characteristics of a society along with its culture enables the existence of certain Educational systems, and certain learning patterns and activities within that Educational system. In some respects, therefore, society as a concept simply has to be considered and defined, but to what extent?

I have just been reading a paper by Paul Armstrong that evaluates and critiques the term “Learning Society.” In this paper a part of the critique is that the term “Learning Society” has been politicised by Governments in order to push their own political agendas. Whilst this blog remains apolitical, what the author suggested with the way in which “Learning Society” has been used as a means to promote marketisation, choice, and competition restates the fact that society is a social construction that can be reused in different contexts to mean different things. It could be argued here therefore that perhaps it’s not a case that looking at society itself is incorrect, but I’m perhaps trying to understand society from an incorrect perspective. E.g., instead of looking at society from the political lens, I need to look at society purely from the basis of Education and forget about perceiving society from the lens of politics, economics, etc. unless I find any reason to view society further from those lenses.

What can society do for Education, and what can Education do for society? And, what are the conditions and characteristics of society that give rise to Education systems that accommodate the learning phenomenon of interest?

This is an ongoing issue, and I will update on my progress with another blog post during the next week or so.

The journey continues…………


Armstrong, P. (n.d): Rhetoric and Reification: Disconnecting Research, Teaching and Learning in the 'learning society.' Available At:

August 14, 2015

Technology enhanced student centred learning: devaluing the role of teachers?

Student centred learning has long been an interest of mine ever since I started exploring Educational theories less than a decade ago. It is a perspective of learning that puts the learner at the centre of the learning process; that the learner becomes the seeker of knowledge or truth rather than being the passive recipient of knowledge handed to him / her from a perceived authority figure. Without a doubt, student centred learning is a vast research area that spans both children and adult learners within any discipline and within any learning context. A sub area of this is Technology Enhanced Student Centred Learning, which places technology at the core of the aims and objectives of such learning; that technology is designed and utalised within such learning contexts to support the aims and objectives, and to support the needs and requirements of the learners. During the past decade much has been written about the subject including Personalised Learning Environments, much of which has been written extensively by Graham Atwell, along with theoretical perspectives such as Paragogy, Heutagogy, and Rhizome learning, which can also apply to other areas of learning.

An article written by Ross Brenneman highlights some references that express fears about Technology Enhanced Student Centred Learning contexts that revolve around teachers being replaced with technologies and that the general teaching profession is being devalued as technology becomes more sophisticated at assisting learners with their learning and knowledge management.

Personally, I don’t agree with the notion that technologies shall eventually replace all teachers and other educators in a classroom due to the emotional needs of the learners: you cannot expect, for example, young learners with particular learning difficulties to learn only through technology as they need to be appropriately and suitably guided. There could be a hypothesis developed that suggests that Artificial Intelligence could gain such a technological status that they can begin to “know” learners in a sense that they “know” the best way to support particular learners and be able to differentiate between their needs and requirements. However this brings about certain Philosophical problems: how can a machine “know” a learner, and how can a machine “know” the way to differentiate between the needs of different learners? You could say through the use of logical programming, or some advanced form of logical programming, but can this really occur? Can machines also really develop that emotional bond with a learner that can exist between a young learner and their teacher?

I also do not agree with the assertion that teaching through student centred learning is being or will be devalued, because what might happen is not a deconstruction of the teaching profession, but of a reformulation. This is not the times of the industrial revolution anymore, and because of this formal school Education needs to be reformulated and reinvented using different Philosophical principles and a reformulation of roles. This is an era that involves a vast amount of information readily available by a vast quantity of technologies from anywhere across the world, not to mention the opportunities that are in place for learners to create their own representations of existing information or work together on these representations or to construct knowledge. Learners need to be taught to navigate this vast array of new opportunities and support networks and be supported in their personal learning journeys, and to be able to evaluate the sheer amount of information and its sources in order to determine its validity, authenticity, reliability and relevance.

Student centred learning empowers the learner to become effective producers of knowledge representations and of knowledge management; technology enhanced student centred learning simply offers the opportunities for learners to use a vast array of technologies that are deemed appropriate for their needs and requirements so that they can meet their personal learning goals and be productive along their learning journey. New educational theories and methods make it possible for this to happen and it’s nothing to do with devaluing the role of a teacher but empowering the learner with the abilities, skills, attitudes, and characteristics needed to become that effective learner and the mindset to continuously improve and develop, which can really only come about fully through guidance from the teacher, and this will then lead to meeting the needs of modern learners in this new era.

As the author of the article said, it isn’t easy to predict the future of Education. There are many many strands of research and debates across all aspects of Education, and new areas of discussions and research are continuously being identified. It is most certainly an exciting field of research and practice, and the role of the teacher in the future will be something worth watching and exploring further.

Refernce to the article:

June 18, 2015

Children as self–determined learners? Thoughts on an Ethiopian project

A few weeks ago at a research conference I was invited to discuss various educational topics of very recent interest, including what shall be a highly controversial and highly debated idea of children being self-determined learners essentially as described by a learning theory named “Heutagogy.” The main premise of this potential direction of classroom learning is utalising a pure child centred learning approach with the child taking full control of their learning without any assistance or without a teacher being present.

A speaker who was making a case for this approach made the suggestion that learners do not need to have emotional and social connectivity within learning contexts, just the cognitive capability to learn and a micro environment that is suitable for their abilities. Opposition arrived from other people, suggesting that technology should not replace teachers; that children need to feel that they belong and that they need that social and emotional connectivity within a classroom in order to learn effectively and this can only happen if a perceived authority, a teacher, is present. Research within post compulsory education shows that, with some adult learners, it is the case that they need to feel a part of an online learning community before any learning within that community can take place.

Are social and emotional connections to a teacher or even other learners really necessary for learning to take place? We tend to view children as social and emotional beings (especially teenagers, I might add), so could findings at adult education level be applied to children? Would it be even more of a case for children to feel a sense of belonging and a sense of taking part so that they can learn? If so, what is it that makes a person, either a child or adult, feel that need for such connections before they perceive effective learning? Do you really need to feel socially and emotionally connected to other learners before effective learning can take place? Do you really need a teacher or a facilitator and feel connected to that facilitator in order for yourself to feel that you can progress with learning?

It was an interesting discussion and I haven’t really given it much thought until I came across this article published a couple of years ago. Titled “Given Tablets but no Teachers, Ethiopian Children Teach Themselves”, it describes a couple of schools in Ethiopia trying out an experiment where children, perceived to be illiterate, were given tablets with an assortment of pre-loaded software with the aim of finding out of they could teach themselves valuable reading skills.

Nicholas Negroponte, a founder of the project, suggested at an EmTech conference that early indications show positive results from the experiment. All the children involved in the project had never read a book or had anything to do with words, and yet a few months into the project the children were able to sing the alphabet song and were able to spell words using a paint program. Negroponte, quite rightly, goes on to suggest that this is not substantial proof or evidence that children are able to learn effectively on their own using technology, but the preliminary findings were substantial enough to warrant further research.

Whilst I found the article and the experiences of the children very interesting, I am not going to make any suggestion either way as to whether or not self-determined learning with technology would actually work with children in terms of not having that emotional and social connectivity. However, this project and others similar in other countries do suggest that children are capable of far more than perhaps British society and the British Education system allows them. I have come across people who actually believe that if you teach yourself, then you’re not really learning. This is a view that I do disagree with, and research in other countries show that it is possible that children can become self-determined learners given the right environment. Could it really be possible?

Do note that I am not making any suggestion that technologies should replace teachers; however, remembering that technology is simply an application of learning and not the means of all learning, it does encourage thinking further about the role of the teacher in the classroom. Technology, remember, should not be considered as the be all of everything but as one of many modern methods of designing learning environments so that more effective learning can take place among and between learners. Other methods include micro learning environments, self-determination, personalised learning environments, informal learning, among others.

It makes you think about the possibilities with technology and the transformations that technologies can bring to any classroom. It makes you think about and question the relationship between teacher, child, and technology and it makes you also question the role of emotive and social learning processes and their influence upon learning.

The biggest question in all of this, however, is whether or not children can really be self-determined learners. If you believe that they are not able to be self-determined learners (with or without technology), then are your assumptions about this restricted to what you have experienced? Are they bounded by the social and political contexts of our education system that does not encourage our children to be self-determined learners?

Whatever your answers are, the main thing when considering the issues raised in this blog post is that any amount of thinking and questioning about the relationship between teacher, child, and technology and the role and importance of social and emotional learning within self-determined learning contexts are always valuable and useful. This is simply because there can be no progress without questioning, and no understanding without exploring those questions as objectively as is possible.

If you have made it through the blog post this far, check out the article

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