The Tony Bates Session

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Constructivism and Contemporary Learning Theory

While I learned the basis of learning theory for a long while know throughout the MALAT program I have been itching for more contemporary sources so I turned to Knud Illeris. Illeris is, according to Wikipedia, a Danish Scientist and Professor of Life-Long Learning. His learning theory is applied as a combination of Jean Piagets cognitivist, and also constructionist, approach and a convoluted mixture of Freudian psychology and Marxist sociology (from the German-American Frankfurt School). 

A few highlights I came across while reading his work: 

“The endeavour of the learner is to construct meaning and ability to deal with the challenges of practical life and thereby an overall personal functionality is developed.” (Illeris, 2009)

“The interaction dimension provides the impulses that initiate the learning process. this may take place as perception, transmission, experience, imitation, activity, participations, etc.” (Illeris, 2009)

When learners come to construct their own meaning about any topic which they learn the structures that exist are usually described as a psychological metaphor known as “mental schemes”.  

What I found most intriguing was the link between how the brain functions and learning theory. It took a while for the areas of neuro science and learning theory to meld. I’ve been reading about neuroplasticity, the brain’s malleability to create different neural pathways and synapses necessitated by changes in behaviour  environment and neural processes, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury. Studies have show that the brain does not store information all in one place. Going back to the mental schemes this organization of learned material must have some organizational structure evidences by our ability to recall the information including: relevant knowledge, understanding, attitudes, reactions”. However, the elements of knowledges gained are not possible to discover; according to Illeris (2009) they have the nature of what brain researchers call “engrams” which are “traces of circuits between some of the bilions of neurons that have been active at earlier occasions and therefore are likely to be revived, perhaps with slightly different courses because of the impact of new experiences or understandings”. So while we may organize content into mental patterns we need to remember that new impulses can be included in mental organization. Illeris breaks this down into four categories cumulative, assimilative, accommodative, and a far-reaching type of learning called “signifigant”, “expansive”, or as I have heard it called transformative learning.