Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Lifelong Learning Organisers: Requirements for Tools for Supporting Episodic and Semantic Learning

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Lifelong Learning Organisers: Requirements for Tools for Supporting Episodic and Semantic Learning

Article excerpt

Introduction

Traditional conceptions of learning as a classroom-based activity are expanding to recognize the value of informal, self-directed learning. Learning surveys carried out since the 1970s (Livingstone 2000; 2001; Tough 1971) consistently show that a large proportion of learning takes place outside educational institutions and pertains to the learner's personal interests and everyday life demands. Recently in the UK the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) launched a consultation into the development of a government strategy for adult informal learning in the 21 st Century, endorsing the value of informal learning for the well-being and prosperity of society and its citizens. One of the themes addressed in the consultation process is concerned with how we can improve the connectivity between different kinds of learning episodes (DIUS 2008). This paper is concerned with the design of tools to support adults in consolidating personal learning experiences across contexts through capturing, inter-relating, organising and retrieving learning events, associated learning resources, and the knowledge and skills learned en route. These we call Lifelong Learning Organisers (LLOs), defined as systems that assist learners in organising learning activities, episodes and projects, the knowledge they learn, and the resources they use, over a range of learning topics, at different times and places, in ways that integrate their learning experiences to create personal, meaningful records of their learning over a lifetime. LLOs are thus valuable cognitive as well as practical tools for the self-organised learner.

LLOs as cognitive tools are underpinned by constructivist conceptions of learning (Bruner 1960), which maintain that meaning is constructed by the learner through the association and integration of the new information with what they already know. Learning is dependent on the learner's interpretation of experience, which results in the assimilation and accommodation of new information within previous learnt knowledge structures. By providing the means to capture experience, the knowledge gained from it, and the associations between aspects of the experience and knowledge gains as well as between different experiences, LLOs can assist reflection and consolidation of experience and knowledge.

LLOs as practical tools build upon the everyday learning practices of archiving and reviewing learning materials. Archiving of personal notes, paper-based and electronic documents, emails and other types of material is common practice amongst learners of all levels and ages. Personal methods for archiving learning can vary from maintaining an elaborate archiving system with an underlying categorisation hierarchy accompanied by systematic, neat note-taking, to 'messy' piles of documents on a desktop complemented by sticky notes. Studies of memory and learning suggest that recording and archiving activities (e.g. note taking) may assist a number of cognitive processes involved in learning, such as the encoding and storage of information (see for example Kobayashi 2006). For example, the value of revisiting experiences to evaluate and improve performance is an essential part of modern sports training: a coach will often review a video record of an athlete's performance to reflect with the athlete on how to improve techniques and overcome weaknesses. LLOs support and extend the archival and retrieval of personal experiences to all areas of personal learning.

LLOs provide a means to capture the structure of learning and how it relates to the learnt knowledge. These make up the episodic and semantic parts of a learning event respectively. The terms episodic and semantic are used here in the same sense as in Tulving's (1983) memory model: episodic memory is involved in the recording and subsequent retrieval of memories of personal happenings and doings, while semantic memory is the store of general facts and knowledge of the world that is independent of a person's identity and past. …

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