Visual exploring context, learning literacies, subject knowledge & skills and learning design

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Joe Nicholls
19 January 2013

This is a slide I put together to explore the role of context in the development and utilisation of learning literacies.

The vertical axis represents context from generic to specific in terms of engagement with a knowledge domain (I accept that this is a very superficial take on the nature of context).

Some literacies will have broad applicability and will have utility across many different contexts, whilst the usefulness of others will be more limited because they're only applicable in certain situations and circumstances. We all develop a mix of knowledge and skills, some of which we use a lot and in many different situations, whilst some we use rarely and in special circumstances.

The box represents two areas of knowledge and skill: subject/discipline and learning literacies - which I don't believe are easily distinguished, hence the blurred diagonal. They are developed in conjunction and applied in conjunction.

Learning activities can be designed to foster the development subject knowledge/skills and learning literacies. And the assertion is that this is - in most circumstances? - something educators should strive to achieve. Agree?

Arguably, when someone is new to a domain and a novice learner, e.g., a new undergraduate student, greater emphasis should be placed on designing learning activities to develop learning literacies, as this is the versatile cognitive toolset needed for future learning. It' would be difficult, if not impossible, to tackle highly complex domain specific challenges without having first acquired the basics.

As someone becomes more immersed and familiar with a subject area the balance in learning design should shift towards greater focus on the development of subject specific knowledge and skills. But a significant amount of time and effort should still be dedicated to developing learning literacies, e.g., for a final year undergraduate.

As someone becomes more experienced in their subject area and more focused and specialised in their area of expertise and practice, such as a postgraduate research student, the balance of learning will shift towards developing much more discipline/subject specific knowledge and skills - which will be far more limited in value beyond the particular problem/task being tackled. Even domain experts will still have need to develop learning literacies, but it will more often be to refine, enhance and build upon a well established foundation.  

The bottom up arrow - many educational institutions specify graduate attributes that represent the qualities and abilities a student is intended to possess upon graduation. These should be referred to and used to inform curriculum and learning activity design.

The top down arrow represents the influence of external professional frameworks that also are taken into account and influence curriculum and learning activity design - especially vocational courses.

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Would really appreciate feedback on whether this makes sense?

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Joshua Underwood
12:21am 22 January 2013


I like the way you envisage context as dynamic, changing alongside development. I think this dynamic aspect is missing from many representations including the Ecology of Resources one that I like to use.

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