A number of years ago, I wrote about activity-based learning. And I firmly stand behind the model there. It’s not a major campaign, but quietly permeates the things that I do. However, I realize that there’re two misnomers in the label, and it’s time to rectify that. It’s about instruction, and it’s about application. I need to make those distinctions clear.
The original point was to find a way to make it hard for content (read: info dump and knowledge test) to be the basis of curricula. So, instead of a series of content, or knowledge, to be a curriculum, a curriculum is a series of activities.
There are, of course, specific constraints around the activities, and I realize it’s about knowledge application. There are lots of activities that aren’t going to lead to meaningful learning. The key is retrieval, but I think what’s important is retrieval to do something. Hence application, applying knowledge to make decisions. It can be behavioral decisions or the decisions inherent in creating meaningful work product, but it’s about cognitive skills in context.
The focus on decisions is because I believe what will make the difference to organizations is making right, or better, decisions. Not, for instance, just knowing things. And part of the application core is about doing things.
I argue that learning is acton and reflection. And, consequently, instruction is designed action and guided reflection. Similarly, application is designed actions to require decisions. And this is about instruction. It’s not learning, though that’s the goal. But instruction is a probabilistic game; as I’ve paraphrased Dorothy Parker, you can lead learners to learning, but you can’t make them think.
‘Application-based instruction’ it is. It’s like problem-based learning, or case-based, but it’s instruction not learning, and it’s an umbrella for those and other such initiatives. The real question is whether this labeling makes important distinctions. I think it does, but I’m biased. What do you say?
Chris Riesbeck says
When I talk about what I do, I usually say I’m designing activities, but I agree that’s too open-ended. I’m not sure “application” narrows it down enough, though. What I’m really trying to design are behavior changing activities, because doing those activities lead to new skills and/or attitudes.
Chris, agree that application may also not be specific enough, but it’s about balancing the indications of a new direction, and being manageable ;). Thanks for weighing in!