Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

12 April 2012

X-based learning: sorting out pedagogies and design

Clark @ 6:03 AM

It’s come up in a couple of ways how my (in progress) activity-based framework for learning is related to other models, e.g. performance-based learning.  And, looking around, I am reminded that there’s a plethora of models that have overlap.  I’ll try to sort them out.  This will undoubtedly be an ever-growing list, as there seems to be X-based learning where X = anything, and I’m sure folks supportive of their approach will let me know ;).  Recognize that these are very sketchy descriptions, intended to communicate similarities, not tease apart deep nuances.

At core is the reasoning that meaningful activities have myriad benefits.  Learners are engaged in working on real things, and the contextualization facilitates transfer to the extent that you’ve designed the activity to require the types of performance they’ll need in the world.  There’s the opportunity to layer on multiple learning goals from different domain, and 21st century skills like media communications, and if it’s social (which is a recurring theme in these models) you get things like leadership and teamwork as well.  Better engagement and learning outcomes are the big win.

First, there’s already an activity-based learning out of India!  It seems to focus on having learners do meaningful things, which very much is at core here. There’s also an activity-based curriculum, by the way, which is also the way I’m thinking of it: a sequence of activities is a curriculum.  This fits within active learning, arguably, in that there’s a desire for the learner to be actually doing something as the basis of learning, though the types of classroom activities of debates and discussions seem not as powerful as others cited below.

So, performance-based learning seems to be focused on assessment, having the students actively demonstrate their ability.   This is, to me, an important aspect, as cognitive science recognizes that passing a knowledge test about something is not likely to transfer to the ability to do (we call it ‘inert knowledge’).  That’s the point of having products of activities, at least reflection , so it sounds very much is in synergy. This also appears to be the focus of outcomes-based learningwhich also emphasizes actual production, but while touting constructivism seems to end up being more a tool of the status quo.  This can also be similar (and ideally should be) to competency-based learning, where there are explicit performance outcomes expected, rather than grading on the curve.

And there is problem-based learning and project-based learning.  Both focus on having learners engage in meaningful activity, with the distinction between the two having to do with whether the problem is set by the instructor, or whether the project is decided is decided by the students. There are arguments for both, of course; for me, problems are easier to specify, it takes a special teacher to help shape a project and wrap the learning goals around it.  I reckon serious games are problem-based learning, by the way.

Service learning is another related idea, that has learners doing meaningful projects out in the community. This is activity-based and expands upon the meaningfulness by connecting it to the community.  I’ve been a fan of the Center for Civic Education’s Project Citizen as an example of this, having students try to pass legislation to improve things in their area, and consequently learning about law-making.

Inquiry-based learning shares the focus on activities of information gathering, but has primarily been based in science.   It seems to not have a goal other than exploration and understanding, with an even  more extreme view of learner control.  This seems good with a self-motivated learner, and as long as the learner is either a self-capable learner, or there’s a facilitator, it could work. This seems very similar to the MOOC approach of Siemens & Downes.  It also seems to be almost identical to the community of inquiry approach.

I frankly want an activity-based pedagogy and curriculum to support all of these models.  The benefits, and the resistance to knowledge dump and fact test forms of learning, drive this perspective.  Getting there requires a different type of learning design that one focused on standards. You need to shift, focusing on what do the students need to be able to do afterwards, and working backward from there. Understanding by design is a design approach that works backwards from goals, and if you set your outcomes on performance, and then align activities to require that performance, you have a good chance of impacting pedagogy, and learning, in meaningful ways.  I admit it surprises me that this needs to be pointed out, but I see the consequences of content-driven (forward) design too often to argue.

The point is to find an umbrella that holds a suite of appropriate pedagogies and makes it difficult to do inappropriate ones.  As Les Foltos tweeted: “We need to fan the fires for these instructional strategies. They don’t align well with standardized tests”.  Exactly.


  1. Clark, thank you for the post as it really got my mind-a-churnin’. I played around with some of the concepts and built a mindmap – Mapping Pedagogies For Performance.

    Comment by Donald Clark — 18 April 2012 @ 7:16 AM

  2. […] “X-based Learning: Sorting Out Pedagogies and Design” – Clark Quinn, Ph.D […]

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