Posch, P. (2015), "Discussion", International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, Vol. 4 No. 4. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJLLS-05-2015-0017Download as .RIS
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Discussion From: International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, Volume 4, Issue 4.
Lesson Studies and the motivation to learn: a response to Padraig Hogan's review “Lesson Study east and west: identifying some key issues” in Vol. 4 No. 2, pp. 178-181, 2015
In his review of the two books (Lesson Study: Professional Learning for Our Time, edited by Peter Dudley and Realising Learning: Teachers' Professional Development Through Lesson and Learning Study, edited by Keith Wood and Saratha Sithamparam), Hogan's main concern is the concept of learning underlying both Lesson and Learning Study as presented in the articles. In his view, the concept of learning has a one-sided cognitive orientation although he argues very cautiously, “There would seem to be no reason in principle why essentially qualitative things such as enduring enhancements in students' attitudes toward learning and in their practices of learning couldn't be included in lesson study and learning study, as well as the enhancements in cognitive achievements that are already included. This would place lesson study or learning study more strongly in a context of educational research, properly so-called, as distinct from a narrower context of effectiveness of learning, or, school effectiveness”. The articles “are largely silent on the question of how the attitudes towards learning change among pupils […]”. Variation theory would not pay due regard to the “desire to go on learning”. He quotes Dewey, “Collateral learning in the way of formation of enduring attitudes, of likes and dislikes, may be and often is much more important than the spelling lesson in geography or history that is learned”.
Is Hogan's reservation justified? Learning motivation is a “critical aspect” of any learning process. Is it, in spite of its importance, disregarded in variation theory, or is it somehow “included”? Students' attitudes are no issue in any of the two books' articles. One could extend this claim even to nearly all issues of IJLLS published so far. Motivation to learn is not dealt with in any article. The only exception is Stoten's (2014) paper. He deals with motivation in the context of a literature survey on self-regulated learning, but without reference to learning (or lesson) studies.
It is as if the desire to learn was considered as self-evident, “given”, and not in need of discussion. Is this only a feature of the two books or has it to do with the theoretical background of Learning Studies?
The strong cognitive orientation appears to be rooted in the phenomenographic background of variation theory. This is illustrated by the following quotations:
“Perception is seen as discernment (and not construction), and our concern is primarily the differences between different “ways of seeing”. Our answer to the question, ‘what changes in conceptual change?' is (in contrast to other theorists) the world experienced, the world seen, the world lived that changes. The change is outside the individual (as seen from their own perspective); it is in the world that surrounds them. But to the extent that the world remains the same to an observer, the learner must have changed in order to see the same world differently” […] “Our approach focuses on the anatomy of the experience itself, rather than on the anatomy of the mind underlying the experience” (Marton and Pang, 2008, p. 542).
[…] we try to describe relations between the individual and various aspects of the world around them regardless of whether those relationships are manifested in the forms of immediate experiences, conceptual thought or physical behaviour (Marton, 1986, p. 41).
In phenomenography “we attempt to characterize the fundamental differences in the outcomes of learning […]. Our research focuses on the things people have learned, and by doing so we aim to clarify not what it means in general to be a ‘good learner', but rather, what it means to learn specific content” (Marton, 1986, p. 40).
[…] we try to describe relations between the individual and various aspects of the world around them, regardless of whether those relationships are manifested in the forms of immediate experiences, conceptual thought or physical behaviour (Marton, 1986, p. 41).
“[…] By changing that which has to be learned or understood, we change the relationship between the object of learning and the individual (Marton, 1986, p. 43).
Regarding the significance of student attitudes in Learning Studies, much depends on the interpretation of two concepts: relation(ship) between students' learning and the object of learning (or the pattern of variation) and meaning or meaningful. Cognitive as well as affective aspects could be subsumed under both concepts. Relation(ship) could be interpreted as cognitive link between preconcepts of the learner and aspects of the learning object. It can also imply that a value is attached to the learning object. In a similar vein, also meaning(ful) can be interpreted in two ways: meaningful in the sense of conceptually clear and providing cognitive access to a learning object, and in the sense of being valuable, desirable, important or emotionally significant for the learner.
It seems to be quite clear that the focus of variation theory lies on the object of learning and not on the learner. Learning appears to be seen as discernment in an existing “given” world in a somewhat positivistic sense. The focus rests on changes in objects of learning (variation of objects and their critical aspects) and not or only indirectly on the learner's change. One could say that the focus on the object of learning may lead to a certain disregard for the learner's personality and his or her personal characteristics, such as motivation.
According to Marton and Booth (1997, p. 143), “each situation, whether we consider it a learning situation or a situation in which one is applying something learned, has a certain relevance structure: the person's experience of what the situation calls for, what it demands”. Lo Mun Ling in her book Variation Theory and the Improvement of Teaching and Learning refers to this descriptive statement and gives it a normative turn. For Lo this indicates a different view of motivation that focuses on the relationship between students and the object of learning, and the importance of creating a relevance structure for the learning to be seen as meaningful to the learner. “Thus, whether students see the link between the object of learning and their daily life experience will affect their understanding of and response to the object of learning” (Lo, 2012, p. 115). “This explains why we should pay attention to the object of learning and its relationship to students' everyday experience […] so that what is learnt is embedded in meaningful tasks that are related to students' everyday experiences […] which is in line with the teaching strategies promoted in many subject disciplines” (Lo, 2012, p. 200).
This points to a specific kind of intrinsic learning motivation focusing on the relationship between students and the object of learning: the “relevance structure” (Lo, 2012, p. 115). It is assumed that the meaning of an object of learning for the students and for their life experience will affect their motivation to deal with it, but even Lo offers only little information on how teachers could provide opportunities for students to develop a favourable relevance structure. There are, however, a few indirect indications (Lo, 2012, p. 215). One is the claim that the students' intuitive approaches to objects of learning have to be taken seriously, not only because of their importance to identify the critical features of an object of learning but also because of the respect a student receives if his preconceptions are valued. Another indication is the request that teachers should provide many opportunities for students to voice their understanding of the learning object. Although their primary purpose is cognitive, to be invited to speak up also indicates that the students should gain influence on the learning process, which is likely to have a positive influence on the relationship between student and learning object.
These aspects bring the self-determination theory (e.g. Krapp, 2005; Ryan and Deci, 2004) into mind that emanates from the necessary fulfilment of the three psychological basic needs, the need for autonomy, the need for competence, and the need of social relatedness as condition for the development of intrinsic motivation and subject-related interest. The structural procedures and strategies suggested by Lo indicate that these basic needs are fulfilled. Nonetheless, Learning Studies as well as Lesson Studies as demonstrated in the two books' articles pay only little attention to motivation. The issue of motivation could thus be an area of concern in the future.
Krapp, A. (2005), “Basic needs and the development of interest and intrinsic motivational orientations”, Learning and Instruction, Vol. 15 No. 5, pp. 381-395
Lo, M.L. (2012), “Variation theory and the improvement of teaching and learning”, No. 323, Gothenburg Studies in Educational Sciences, Göteborgs Universitet, Göteborg
Marton, F. and Booth, S. (1997), Learning and Awareness, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ
Marton, F. (1986), “Phenomenography – a research approach to investigating different understandings of reality”, Journal of Thought, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 28-49
Marton, F. and Pang, M.F. (2008), “The idea of phenomenography and the pedagogy of conceptual change”, in Vosniadou, S. (Ed.), International Handbook of Research on Conceptual Change, New York, NY, pp. 533-559
Ryan, R.M. and Deci, E.L. (2004), “Overview of self-determination theory: an organismic dialectical perspective”, in Deci, E.L. and Ryan, R.M. (Eds), Handbook of Self-Determination Research, University of Rochester Press, Rochester, NY, pp. 3-33
Stoten, D.W. (2014), “The extended project qualification: an example of self-regulated learning in sixth form colleges”, International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, Vol. 3 No. 1, pp. 66-77
Bowden, J. (2005), “Reflections on the phenomenographic research process”, in Bowden, J. and Green, P. (Eds), Doing Developmental Phenomenography, Qualitative Research Methods Series, RMIT University Press, Melbourne, pp. 11-31
Hogan, P. (2015), “Lesson Study in east and west: identifying some key issues”, International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, Vol. 4 No. 2, pp. 178-181
Marton, F. and Runesson, U. (2015), “The idea and practice of Learning Study”, in Wood, K. and Sithamparam, S. (Eds), Realising Learning. Teachers' Professional Development Through Lesson and Learning Study, Routledge, London, pp. 103-121
Learning Study and educational research: reflections on Peter Posch’s remarks
Let me begin with a word of thanks to Peter Posch for responding to the points I raised about Lesson Study and Learning Study in my comments on the two books: Lesson Study: Professional Learning for Our Time, edited by Peter Dudley, and Realising Learning : Teachers’ Professional Development Through Lesson and Learning Study, edited by Keith Wood and Saratha Sithamparam. I should explain at the outset that my comments – then and now – focus more on Learning Study than on Lesson Study. This is because Learning Study is more directly concerned with the question of advancing the theoretical standing of the researches it pursues. In my comments on the two books I had welcomed the contributions that ongoing developments in Learning Study make to educational research, particularly to renewal of the “teacher-as-researcher” approach articulated by Lawrence Stenhouse and others. But I had also voiced some reservations about possible restrictions in the research perspective of Learning Study itself: namely, a perspective which remains “largely silent on the question of how attitudes towards learning change and develop among the pupils who were the beneficiaries of the LS initiatives”; a perspective that seems “methodologically predisposed to attend to learning behaviours rather than to learning experiences”. In short, while impressed by advances in cognitive achievements that Learning Study promotes among learners, I am left wondering about the apparent lack of attention in Learning Study to the educational value of such advances.
Professor Posch raises the question: “Are Hogan’s reservations justified?” the question is a pertinent one. The tentative phrasing of my own reservations was intended to invite further critical exploration of the points at issue, not to do epistemological battle. Professor Posch himself is well-placed to shed light on this question. He is more acquainted than I am with the research of recent years on variation theory and its import for Learning Study. Responding to my remarks, he identifies pertinent aspects of this new research and he cites many passages from the work of Lo Mun Ling, Ference Marton and others; work that has enabled Learning and Lesson Studies to make major strides internationally within the last decade.
In his selection of these quotations and his commentary on them, Professor Posch makes explicit some important educational value orientations that are implicit in Learning Study. For instance, pointing to Lo Mun Ling’s emphasis on linking “the object of learning” to the daily life experiences of students, Posch highlights an important shift: namely, the normative turn she gives to the descriptive kind of analysis (phenomenography) from which Learning Study draws key concepts and inspirations. For its part, that descriptive analysis shows that every kind of learning experience demands some kind of “relevance structure”. In exploring “the relationship between Learning Study and the object of learning”, Posch points out that Lo Mun Ling’s work stresses “the importance of creating a relevance structure for the learning to be seen as meaningful to the learner” (emphasis mine). Here and elsewhere in his observations on the variation theory underlying Learning Studies, Posch rightly brings to the fore the issues that are mentioned more in passing than in detail in variation theory: issues of motivation, of relevance to the learner’s experience, of the desire to learn. Such issues are invariably linked to questions of purpose and value in educational thought and action. But they seem to be tersely dealt within variation theory, and in the key texts on Learning Studies that Posch cites. The same seems to be true of other inescapable normative questions involved in the relationships of educational practice.
Being passed over tersely is not the same thing as being excluded however. Posch has some telling remarks to make about this: “It is as if the desire to learn was considered as self-evident, ‘given’, and not in need of discussion” (in variation theory). He points out that this tendency is evident moreover in most of the articles published to date in this journal. The most likely reason for this, he continues, is the strong cognitive orientation of Learning Studies; an orientation which “appears to be rooted in the phenomenographic background of variation theory”. In this connection he selects the following quotation from Marton and Pang (2008) which explains one of the central features of a phenomenographic approach: “Our approach focuses on the anatomy of the experience itself, rather than on the anatomy of the mind underlying the experience” (p. 542). Where the educational practitioner is concerned this is all to the good, as the focus is kept on what can be illuminated empirically of the experience of the learner, as distinct from proceeding into more specialised fields such as cognitive science.
But it is just here that a problem arises with the approach itself. By using a theory in a foundational way (in this case variation theory), by using technical categories such as “objects of learning” and their “critical aspects”, by using the problematic term “learning outcome” in an essentially cognitive sense, Learning Study discloses its intellectual leanings towards conventional forms of empirical science. Such leanings may not be conducive, however, to Learning Study’s own best aspirations as a form of educational research.
My main reason for arguing thus is that an approach that seeks to be as empirical as possible in investigating educational practice would have to recognise that human experience is always already normatively influenced by the predisposing influences of previous experiences. Contra the claims of all forms of rationalism, such predisposing influences are inescapable. But they are not always evident. Or to use the vocabulary of psychology, where human experience is concerned the affective continually pervades the cognitive, and not always in ways that are evident to scientific observation, or even to the person himself/herself. What is most distinctive in human experience does not disclose itself readily to the methodologies of the observable, valuable as these methodologies are for a range of purposes.
From these considerations it may be possible to reach beyond, or beneath, the “empirically” observable and identify a number of provisional theses, or working hypotheses, that can help to highlight mutually resonant features between Learning Study and action research. Second, a key purpose in putting forward these theses is to explore how making Learning Study and action research more confluent might further the explanatory capacity, the practical promise and the scholarly advance of educational research itself.
1. Because of its commitment to illuminating and improving practices of teaching and learning, Learning Studies can make justifiable claims to be a central form of educational research, as distinct from “research on education” (Elliott, 2006, p. 169ff).
2. To realise more completely its strengths as a form of educational research, Learning Study needs to make educational experience in its fullness its explicit research theme – as distinct from focusing almost exclusively on the cognitive aspects of that experience.
3. There is a difference between educational experience and what might be called experiences of learning – even where these latter take place in the learning environments of formal education. At a minimum, educational experiences need to contribute progressively to the disclosing and cultivation of students’ ownmost potentials for flourishing as human beings, and to their capacity to contribute fruitfully to community and society.
4. Variation theory helpfully focuses attention on previously neglected aspects in practices of teaching and learning. But in raising anew the claims of theory in educational research it may be putting research itself on a somewhat mistaken path. This is because theory may not be the most appropriate form of insightful understanding for the broad family of purposeful, promising and defensible actions that constitute educational practice.
5. The contributions of anything called theory (theoria) are rightly at home in practices like medicine or engineering: where the phenomenon under investigation – biological, physical, chemical, etc. – is not subject to contingency or caprice; and where the relationship between theory and the practitioner’s informed actions is reasonably direct. For instance a new theory on the causes of stomach ulcers revolutionises treatment and displaces practices that were internationally dominant for decades.
6. Theory can also play an important illuminating role in some social practices, for instance in economics, politics, law; but the strength of its role here depends on the extent to which the goals of the practice in question can properly be understood in a non-partisan way. For instance a non-partisan conception of law would regard it as the family of practices concerned with securing equity and justice for all. Allowing all of this, it still remains the case that in such social domains theory lacks the predictive precision that it yields in fields that have their basis in the natural sciences. There is a decisive detracting factor, however, when theory becomes implicated in partisan politics: e.g. neo-Liberal economic “theory” which does battle with neo-Marxist economic “theory”.
7. Where the practice concerned is education, the situation is particularly intricate. In this case the purposes of the practice are themselves correctly concerned with insightful human action in promoting forms of learning that seek to be promising and defensible amid the plurality of the human condition. The circumstances of educational practice are regularly marked by volatility, contingency, undeclared and unobserved biases, and so on. Variation theory of the kind that underlies Learning Study can yield fertile insights here. But it is important that these insights find their place within the larger field of educational research itself. That is to say they need to find their home within the critically reflective wisdom (sophia) and deliberative reasoning (phronesis) that are appropriate to the professional cultures of educational practice.
8. If divorced from such wisdom and deliberative reasoning the insights of variation theory can come at the cost of diminishing the scope, and limiting the depth of the field of educational research itself. It is important then to acknowledge overtly that theory cannot play the kind of explanatory, predictive and guiding role in educational research that it does in practices that are based largely on the natural sciences.
9. To reach for theory in pursuing any field of research is understandable. But it is a desire that needs to be kept under critical scrutiny where educational research is concerned in order to avoid distorting or restricting our understanding of education itself as a distinct practice – a practice in its own right.
10. The insights provided by educational research should answer to the criterion of justified warrant; the warrant itself arising from inherent purposes in education as a practice, as distinct from education as an instrument of the currently stronger party. This is a provisional criterion, inviting towards criticism. But it also a potentially universal criterion as distinct from a sectional or parochial one. Finally, it is different in character and wider in scope than the criteria that are native to the natural sciences.
Elliott, J. (2006), “Educational research as a form of democratic rationality”, Journal of Philosophy of Education, Vol. 40 No. 2, pp. 169-185
Marton, F. and Pang, M.F. (2008), “The idea of phenomenography and the pedagogy of conceptual change”, in Vosniadou, S. (Ed.), International Handbook of Research on Conceptual Change, New York, NY, pp. 533-559