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

23 March 2016

Activity-Based Learning

Clark @ 8:12 AM

On a recent conversation with some Up to All of Us colleagues, I was reminded about my ‘reimagining learning‘ model. The conversation was about fractals and learning, and how most tools (e.g. the LMS) don’t reflect the conversational nature of learning.  And I was thinking again about how we need to shift our thinking, and how we can reframe it.

I’d pointed one colleague to Diana Laurillard’s model of conversational learning, as it does reflect a more iterative model of learning with ongoing cycle of action and reflection. And it occurred to me that I hadn’t conveyed what the learner’s experience with the activity curriculum would look like. It’s implicit, but not explicit.

New Learning CycleOf course, it’s a series of activities (as opposed to a series of content), but it’s about the product of those activities.  The learner (alone or together) creates a response to a challenge, perhaps accessing relevant content as part of the process, and additionally annotates the thinking behind it.

This is then viewed by peers and/or a mentor, who provide feedback to the learner. As a nuance, there should be guidance for that feedback, so that it explicitly represent the concept(s) that should guide the performance. The subsequent activity could be to revise the product, or move along to something else.

The point being that the learner is engaged in a meaningful assignment (the activity should be contextualized), and actively reflecting. The subsequent activity, as the Laurillard model suggests, should reflect what the learner’s actions have demonstrated.

It’s very much the social cognition benefits I’ve talked about before, in creating and then getting feedback on that representation.  The learner’s creating and reflecting, and that provides a rich basis for understanding where they are at.

Again, my purpose here is to help make it clear that a curriculum properly should be about doing, not knowing.  And this is why I believe that there must  be people in the loop. And while much of that burden might be placed on the other learners (if you have a synchronous cohort model), or even the learner with guidance on generating their own feedback, with rubrics for evaluation, but you still benefit from oversight in case the understanding gets off track.

We can do a lot to improve asynchronous learning, but we should not neglect social when we can take advantage of it. So, are you wanting to improve your learning?


  1. I think the leap from “a curriculum properly should be about doing, not knowing” to “there must be people in the loop” needs to be examined more deeply.

    I do lots of things — and learn while doing them — with no one around. Computers can make doing experiences even richer.

    Replacing “doing” with “conversation” doesn’t help much. Computers can carry on conversations too, and poorly as they do that, there’s a lot to criticize in what people say in learning contexts as well.

    I think people become essential when you replace “doing (a skill)” with “being (a role).” That’s when mentors, especially ones with credentials in a community of practice, and peers, with like-minded career goals, become critical.

    Comment by Chris Riesbeck — 24 March 2016 @ 8:43 AM

  2. Chris, interesting perspective. I guess I was thinking that when you’re ‘doing’, your output is richer than what can be auto marked (except perhaps in a simulation/scenario), so people need to be in the loop. I want assignments to produce artifacts and reflections, as I think that’s a more natural reflection of tasks *after* learning. I don’t mind peer review, tho’ that needs facilitation as well, I think. I agree that bad mentoring/coaching and conversations don’t help, so the quality matters. But I think even in formal skill-based (not necessarily role-based, though implicitly if you’re doing contextualized tasks you are doing a role), people in the loop is likely a necessity (at least as yet). Thanks as always for the thoughtful feedback.

    Comment by Clark — 24 March 2016 @ 3:20 PM

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