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Curricular Complexity: Recognizing the sociocultural contexts of learning


Title: Perspectives on Learning Author: Lisa R. Lattuca Last modified by: Molen Created Date: 2/22/2004 9:44:02 PM Document presentation format: On-screen Show – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Curricular Complexity: Recognizing the sociocultural contexts of learning

Curricular Complexity Recognizing the
sociocultural contexts of learning
Lisa R. Lattuca Center for the Study of Higher
Education Penn State University July 8, 2004
The CHEPS theme of innovation and governance
  • Higher education institutions play a crucial role
    in the knowledge society and economy.
  • What changes are needed to strengthen this role?
  • Themes from Day 1
  • Productive destruction
  • What shall we keep? What shall we replace?
  • Innovation is cultural and social, as well as
  • Teaching as technical core and cultural
  • From innovators to conditions for innovation
  • Need for conversation between macro and micro

  • Themes from Day 2
  • Sedimented structures and patterns in
    institutional practices
  • Challenge is to cognitively and institutionally
  • Themes from Day 3
  • Shifts in discourses on higher education
  • Recent transformations represent change in
    social contract
  • between society and higher education
  • Curriculum is a story about who we are and is
  • even more necessary in a shifting global

Situating myself
The Academic Plan, Stark Lattuca, 1997
In the spirit of productive destruction
What should be salvaged and what should not?
The Academic Plan, Stark Lattuca, 1997
  1. Promotes clarity identifies potential
    influences, constraints, affordances
  2. Applicable at course, program, institution-level
  3. Provides a heuristic for curricular planning and
    research elements of a plan and variables for
  4. Encourages attention to student learning
  5. Suggests a dynamic curriculum development process
    evaluation and adjustment process

Some tensions to resolve
  • Real versus ideal conceptualizations
  • A plan for any endeavor incorporates a total
    blueprint for action, including purposes,
    activities, and ways of measuring success. A
    plan implies both intentions and rational choices
    among alternatives to achieve the intentions.
  • (Stark Lattuca, 1997, p. 9)
  • Critique a rationalist perspective

A possible revision
  • any academic plan consists of choices made
    about seven elements purposes, content,
    sequence, learners, instructional processes,
    resources, and assessment/evaluation.
  • In developing or revising a course or program, we
    make choices about these seven elements
    sometimes intentionally, sometimes rationally,
    and sometimes unintentionally and irrationally.
  • (for the revision of Lattuca Stark, 2006?)

Advantage 4 revisited
  • Encourages explicit attention to student
  • Inclusion of students as element in academic plan
    promotes thinking about how new curricular
    approaches and attention to student goals build
    on recent psychological understandings of how
    learners reconstruct their knowledge by meshing
    new information with old.
  • (Stark Lattuca, 1997, p. 14)

  • Psychological perspectives on learning are useful
    but incomplete
  • Interdisciplinary perspectives (including those
    of anthropology, cultural psychology,
    neuroscience, etc.) needed to further refine
    models of learning

WHY? Because social contexts shape learners and
learning. What are the implications of this
statement for the academic plan concept and for
curricular practices in higher education?
Advantage 5 revisited
  • Encourages a dynamic view of curriculum
    development. The assumption of a built-in
    adjustment mechanism encourages iterative change
    by making it an expected part of regular
    practiceUnlike the static definition of a
    curriculum as a set of courses, a plan implied
    vigorous strategic adjustment as conditions
    change because the process of creating a plan can
    also be examined and influenced.
  • (Stark Lattuca, 1997, p. 14)

  • we have considered curriculumonly in its noun
    form (a racecourse to be traversed), and not in
    its infinitive verb form (currereto run,
    especially the course). In the latter, the
    emphasis is on the activity of running or,
    metaphorically, on the activity of our making
    meaning from the course This currere view makes
    mind a verb (to use Deweys phrase an active,
    meaning-seeking and meaning-making verb).
  • (Doll, 1993, p. 278)

  • How would a revised model of curriculum portray
  • Fully contextualized understanding of learning
  • The idea that adjustments can be made as the
    course is being run as well as after it is
  • The curricular goal of meaning-making
  • Mind as verb

So whats wrong with this picture?
Sociocultural contexts
  • Organizational Influences
  • Program relationships
  • Resources
  • Leadership
  • Governance
  • Internal
  • Influences
  • Faculty
  • Discipline
  • Students
  • Peers
  • Program mission
  • Leadership

Further reconceptualization
Learner in context?
Educational Context
Academic Plan
If students uniquely experience a curriculum,
where do outcomes go?
Instructional Processes
A new question arises
Educational Context
Academic Plan
If learner and learning are inseparable what
are the implications for quality assurance and
Instructional Processes
Where were going now
  • An overview of learning theories
  • Contribution of social learning theories
  • Should learning theory inform curriculum theory?
  • What does it mean for policy and practice?

Whats learning?
  • Until 1950s, psychologists commonly defined
    learning as a change in behavior
  • Mind is subjective, not observable
  • But behavior can be measured
  • Notion of change (or potential for change) still
    underlies many definitions of learning
  • Piaget assimilation and accommodation
  • Dewey solving problems
  • Vygotsky zone of proximal development

Behaviorist perspectives
  • Learning is a process of forming connections
    between stimuli and responses
  • Environment shapes/controls behavior
  • contingencies of reinforcement
  • operant conditioning (rewards)
  • Drives -- hunger, rewards, fear -- motivate
  • Behavior that is not reinforced becomes less
    frequent and may disappear

But what about understanding?
  • Woods (1987) found that in a four-year
    engineering program, students observed professors
    working more than 1,000 problems. The students
    themselves solved more than 3,000 homework
    problems and worked problems on the board. Yet
    despite all this activity, they showed negligible
    improvements in problem-solving skillswhat they
    did acquire was a set of memorized procedures for
    about 3,000 problem situations that they could,
    with varying degrees of success, recall.
  • (Bransford, 2000, p. 59)

Instruction in the behaviorist model
  • Increase frequency of correct answers and
    minimize errors
  • Drills and rewards prominent
  • Self-paced instruction
  • clear, specifiable outcomes (objectives)
  • easy to achieve steps
  • that in sequence complete a behavior
  • Criterion referencing a clear standard for
    performance rather than norm referencing
  • Immediate feedback as to the correctness of a

Cognitive perspectives
  • Reaction to behaviorist perspectives on learning
  • The human mind is not passive exchange system
    where stimuli arrive and appropriate responses
    leave (Grippin Peters, 1984)
  • Humans actively interpret sensations, manipulate
    things and ideas, make intellectual connections
    and thereby give meaning to phenomena

Contributions Piaget
  • Locus of control is individual learner
  • Internal cognitive structures change as
    individuals mature and interact with environments
  • Stages of development shape learning and what can
    be learned
  • Child actively explores the environment,
    assembles, organizes material that is,
    constructs understanding, in solitary play

Contributions Information processing theories
  • Focus on mental associations inferred from
  • Environment important, but learner also
  • Prior knowledge, schemata
  • Early theories focus on restructuring of memory
  • Good instruction presents and organizes
    information in way that maximizes memory
  • Response from learner - is info correctly stored?
  • Use of key points, meaningful associations to
    connect new and old information
  • Encouraged active learning check individual
    understanding, correct errors before they are

Contributions Metacognition
  • Learning process becomes the responsibility of
    the learner
  • Instructors no longer direct learning process
  • Instructor supports metacognition (and uses some
    direct teaching strategies)
  • Learner-centered models of instruction
  • Constructivist theories, self-regulation,
    motivation important

  • Cognitive theories portray the learner as the
    lone investigator
  • Theories dont reflect on learners as members of
    social groups
  • Nor on how learners interact using the medium of
  • Take prior knowledge and individual differences
    into account, but learner may still be passive
  • Metacognitive theories are an improvement, but
    focus largely on individual processing

In contrastin context
  • Lev Vygotsky
  • Less interested in what children can do alone
    than what they can do with aid from others
  • Proper challenges or stimulation might enable
    further learningability to profit from
  • Learning process is similar in child adult
  • John Dewey
  • Individuals grow up in social environments that
    have accepted meanings and values they learn
    these values and these values, in turn affect
    learning what and how they learn

Prospective assessment of development
Zone of Proximal Development
Actual Development Individual problem-solving
Potential Development (problem-solving with
Constructivist perspectives
Social constructivists
  • Capacity to think and learn is an adaptive
  • Enabling the individual to deal fruitfully with
    the environment
  • Learners actively explore and construct
    understandings of the world through their
  • Learning is a practical activity that occurs when
    people interact with their environments

Individual constructivists
Social learning perspectives (situative
  • Focus on social settings in which learning occurs
  • Learning occurs through observation of others in
    immediate environment and
  • Learning is a function of interaction of
    person-and or person-in environment
  • Not individual cognition (alone)

Varieties of constructivism
  • Individual Perspective
  • Learning is an individual (internal) activity
  • Individuals make meaning based on previous and
    current knowledge structures
  • Emphasizes individuals acquisition of knowledge
    and cognitive skills
  • Social Perspective
  • Learning is social (cultural) activity
  • Meaning-making is a dialogic process of social
  • Learning is collective, participatory process
  • Emphasizes context, interaction, and situatedness

Foregrounding aspects of learning
  • Behaviorist perspective emphasizes activity
  • Growth skill development
  • Cognitive perspective stresses information
  • Symbols, meaning, problem solving and reasoning
  • Growth greater conceptual understanding
  • Situative perspectives emphasize
  • Participation in practices of inquiry, discourse,
    and sense-making of a community
  • Development of identities as thinkers and
  • Growth more effective participation in
  • (Greeno et al, 1997, 1998)

A rapprochement?
  • Each perspectives contributes something to our
    understanding of educational practices
  • The situative perspective can subsume cognitive
    and behaviorist perspective by including skill
    acquisition and conceptual understanding as
    aspects of students participation and their
    identities as learners and as knowers.
  • (Greeno et al., 1998)

Situative perspectives
  • What looks like individual learning is rarely
    truly individual
  • Much of what we learn we learn from others
  • through observation and imitation afforded by
    participation in social settings
  • through dialogue about shared problems or tasks
  • through use of cultural tools invented by human
  • Language, signs, numbers, logic, etc.
  • (Salomon and Perkins)

Social aspects of learning
  • If learning cannot be understood solely in terms
    of cognitive processes occurring in individual
    heads, then
  • We must attend to
  • interactions among individuals
  • interactions among individuals situations
  • and their impact of learning

Social mediation of learning
  • Zone of proximal development (Vygotsky)
  • Social processes, such as instruction, may raise
    cognitive performance to levels that could not be
    reached by the individual alone
  • Scaffolding (Scardamalia, Brown, Palincsar)
  • Active guidance, modeling, encouragement,
    mirroring, and feedback aid learning
  • Theories of intellectual development (Perry,
    Magolda, etc.)
  • Instructional activities can move students from
    lower to higher levels of intellectual/epistemolog
    ical development

Participatory knowledge construction
  • Knowledge is jointly constructed in communities
    of practice
  • Interaction is vehicle for thought learning
    products distributed over social (learning)
  • Goal of instruction social knowledge
    construction and distribution of knowledge,
    skills and understanding around a particular
    activity (apprenticeship)

Cultural artifacts
  • Social mediation by cultural artifacts
  • Books, languages, statistics, computers, etc. are
    culturally and historically situated tools
  • These shape learning in powerful ways
  • Cant separate the individual from the context in
    which he learns sociohistorical time and place
    shape learners and learning

  • Learning is culturally and socially situated.
  • What we learn is influenced by time (history) and
    place (context)
  • Instructional practices influence what and how we
    learn (or dont)
  • but we can learn to learn better
  • Cultural tools influence how and what we learn
  • but we can adapt tools for our own purposes

Some questions
  • Do current educational practices acknowledge the
    social contexts of learning?
  • Individual cultural social background
  • Prior knowledge (misconceptions) what students
    bring to the table
  • Social nature of learning
  • Impact of context on what is learned by whom

Do our curricula look like this?
External influences
Internal influences
Organizational influences
  • What are the implications of a situated (or
    sociocultural) understanding of learning on
  • Revisit Barnetts question what is the right
    analytical level for a model of curriculum and
    curriculum change?

National or system level
  • What higher education policies encourage
    achievement of desired educational outcomes?
  • What social needs do we wish to serve since
    those will determine the outcomes that must drive
    curricular choices?
  • How will we know if weve achieved our goals?
    What can we assess and how shall we assess it?

Institution and program level
  • How do we create learning environments that
    produce the desired outcomes?
  • Access policies
  • Faculty rewards
  • Instructional development
  • Flexible programs (entry points and standards)
  • Formative assessment of students and programs

Course level
  • Can we ensure that all students learn?
  • What would facilitate learning? R
  • remediation, academic skills training, advising?
  • What kinds of feedback should students receive as
    they are learning? What do we do to improve
    learning in progress?
  • What pedagogical strategies do we use to promote
    learning? Do our pedagogies promote learning?

Final thoughts
  • Curricula are complex animals
  • more than a set of courses or a program
  • a living and somewhat unpredictable thing
    enlivened students and faculty
  • embedded in social, cultural, political, and
    economic contexts that can shape what is learned

Finally, the normative view
  • Every curriculum reflects a set of values
  • sometimes curricula dont communicate what we
    truly value
  • rather they reflect choices and decisions made
    out of habit, lack of attention, convenience, or

What we truly value learning, ideas, ways of
inquiry should drive, and should be reflected
in, our curricula.