Who has not heard the assumption that technology is creating a revolution in education? In order to develop a view on this matter it is helpful to consider how technology has affected our society in resent years. In barely 20 years, electronic technology has dramatically penetrated into every area of society, and every aspect of our social and cultural lives. Television was the initiator. Broadcast images inaugurated a new, immediate, and powerful way of experiencing ideas and events. Television rediscovered and recast the world as a direct experience and made it possible for events a world away to appear in the sitting room of the receivers. Computers made vast amounts of information, from airline reservations to the contents of encyclopaedias, instantly available and modifiable with a keystroke. Writing has become a matter of screens and printers and text is permanently flexible, always ready to be immediately changed.
These technological changes have affected very much the way children today comprehend their environment compared with children 20 years ago. Today children grow up with remote controls and spend more time watching television and videos than reading. Toys are now filled with buttons and blinking lights, interacting with them, talking and listening to them the way the stuffed animals and hobbyhorses of the past did not. Computer-based information kiosks have become a common feature of shopping centres, museums and other public places. Children today are brought up with instant access to knowledge, a world where vivid images embody and supplement information formerly presented solely through text. They are used to an environment where they control information flow and access, whether through a video game controller, remote control, mouse, or touch-tone phone.
Although the schools are embedded in our culture and reflect its values, the technological changes that have swept through society at large have left the educational system largely unchanged. In the past two or three decades the gap between the process of teaching and learning and how children obtain information in society has widened substantially. Curriculum and teaching methods are often very much the same as 100 years ago. In the classroom, knowledge is presented in a linear, didactic manner that differs in many ways from children’s experience outside the school. In contrast with the vivid images and self-directed flow of the interactive home and society, schools tend to be rigid and conservative.
This breach between schools and society may well be a product of the structure and practices of our educational system. Many methods of didactic education assume a separation between knowing and doing, treating knowledge as an integral, self-sufficient substance, theoretically independent of the situations in which it is learned and used. Recent investigations of learning, however, challenge this separating of what is learned from how it is learned and used (Brown et al., 1989).
Activity, in which knowledge is developed and deployed, is not separable from or supplementary to learning and cognition. Nor is it neutral. Rather it is an integral part of what is learned. Situations are said to co-produce knowledge through activity. Learning and cognition are fundamentally situated. Given the environment that children in Western society are brought up in today it is interesting to look at the factors in our society that are the most influential in shaping us/our children’ ideas and nature. What kind of theories do the schools use? How is learning and teaching conducted? How influential are the mass media? Will the revolution in technology and telecommunication change the way in which learning and teaching will be directed?
As an attempt to answer these questions I will start with an overview of the principles of the behavioural theories and then take a more thorough look into cognitive theories, the work of J. Piaget and the socio-cultural theories of Vygotsky. The cognitive theories provide the rationale for the approach taken in this dissertation and the analysis of media driven culture today.
The consideration of the media will be the next task followed by a chapter of social facts of learning concluding with future perspectives in learning and education.
1. An overview of Educational Theories
a) General Principles of Educational Technology
The philosophical or theoretical view that is most often shared by the scientists of a given period is referred to as its “Zeitgeist” a German word meaning “the spirit of the times.” In the early days of a science, the zeitgeist can change dramatically from one time to the next. Major change in thinking concerning one of the most basic issues of human development had already appeared several times in the centuries before the science of developmental psychology emerged in the mid 1800s.
In the mid 19th century Charles Darwin, the British biologist, presented his theory of evolution. With his theory he offered the likelihood that many human behaviours had their source in the past and as the 20th century dawned, the theories of biological definitions of development swung back to the environmental site or objectivism (Vasta, et al., 1995). The philosophy of objectivism is that the world is completely and correctly structured in terms of entities, properties and relations. Experience plays no role in structuring the world and meaning is something that exists independently from experience. Therefore, the goal of understanding is to know the entities, attributes and relations that exist. The objectivist view acknowledges that people have different understandings based on differing experiences. Because of prior experience it is unlikely that two people have identical understanding. Nevertheless, the impact of prior experience and human interpretation is seen as leading to partial understandings and biased understandings. An objectivist view of instructions will call for an active learner, but the purpose of that activity is to cause the student to pay closer attention to the stimulus events, to practise and demonstrate mastery of knowledge (Duffy and Jonassen, 1991). In the light of this environmental understanding a new approach objectivism or behaviourism was recognised. From the behavioural point of view, learning is viewed as the ability to perform new behaviour, which is defined in terms of goals by the researcher or in applied situations, the teacher. There is an effort made to create conditions that will enable the learner to demonstrate these behaviours and continue to perform them over a period of time. One creates these changes in behaviour by manipulating the environmental conditions. Attention is given to these environmental changes both before and after a response from the learner.
The principles of programmed learning based on the behavioural approach, require active responses of the learner but these responses apply only to the specific model of the program, and do not take into account the construction of knowledge and the situation of learning therefore the learner is seen as an passive receiver of instruction (Duffy and Jonassen, 1991).
During the 1960s, discontent with the inadequacies of behaviourism another school of thought was developing involving cognitive aspects leading to the constructivist approach. Constructivism provides a different approach to the objectivist tradition. They agree that there is a real world that is experienced, but the learner imposes meaning on the world. There are many ways to structure the world and there are many meanings or perspectives for any event or concept. Consequently, there is no correct meaning of the world (Duffy and Jonassen, 1991). Meaning is seen as rooted in and manifested by experience. Each experience with an idea and in the environment of which that idea is a part of will be the meaning of that idea. That experience must be examined to understand if learning has taken place. The cognitive approach sees the learner as an active learner constructing knowledge in different situations as well as receiving information on a given subject (Clark and Sugrue, 1995). The socio-cultural theories, based on the constructive thought, explain how learning is situated and how individuals are actively constructing knowledge.
b) Behavioural Theories. Passive models of learning.
From the behavioural point of view, learning is viewed as the ability to perform new behaviours that are defined as goals by the researcher or in applied situations, the teacher. An effort is made to create conditions that will enable the learner to demonstrate these behaviours and continue to perform them over a period of time. One creates these changes in behaviour by manipulating the environmental variables. Attention is given to these environmental changes both before and after a response from the learner. The learner is seen as a passive receiver of information where the variable is the key factor in changing the condition of the learner.
Ideas in behavioural psychology stem from research done in the 19th century. Most of the early research was done on animals though the theories were applied to a wide range of human behaviours including both classroom and therapy situations.
Amongst those who laid the basis for the development of behavioural theories at the beginning of the century were Thorndike, Pavlov and Watson. The theories of example Skinner, Gagné and Bloom are amongst those, which developed further the principles of the behaviourist theories.
The reliance upon specific goal statements is a device, which also allows the learners to know specifically when they have achieved their goal. By using such a statement students can monitor their own progress. Therefore the statements of goals and objectives can also serve as reinforcement.