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What is the relationship between pedagogical models and frameworks?

There are many pedagogical models and frameworks used in e-learning, but what is the distinction...

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Gráinne Conole
28 February 2010

  • There are many pedagogical models and frameworks used in e-learning, but what is the distinction between a 'framework' and a 'model'?

As part of a literature review for the LADIE project (have added a link). We attempted to draw some disctinctions between the different terms being used. The follow is an abstract of this. We articulated four levels of abstraction:

  • Perspective – this identifies the fundamental assumptions about the processes and outcomes that constitute learning.  Mayes and de Freitas identify three perspectives:  associative (learning as activity), cognitive (learning through understanding) and situative (learning as social practice).
  • Theoretical position – describes the position adopted with respect to theories of learning.  Theories are generally underpinned by a particular perspective.
  • Theoretical Approach  Theoretical approach generally aligns with a particular theoretical position. Sometimes, as with ‘activity based’ models, approaches  may partake of aspects of more than one position (Mayes and de Freitas 2004).
  • Mediating forms of representation - range from those which are more abstract (such as models, use cases and patterns) through to those which are more contextually located (such as guidelines, case studies and narratives).   Simplistically, a model is an abstract representation which helps us understand something we cannot see or experience directly.  Beetham considers a model to be ‘a representation with a purpose with an intended user, and distinguishes 5 usages of the word. ‘practice models or approach’, ‘theoretical models’, ‘technical models’, ‘models for organisational change’, and students’ models. 



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Diane Brewster
1:09pm 28 February 2010

I would argue the need to preserve the notion of "Model" as a top level description of some attempt to represent the real world.  A framework would then be a type of model which attempted to show structural relationships between the relevant elements in the system of interest (and I find Systems thinking hugely useful in helping to identify the boundaries around what we are trying to model).

Gráinne Conole
1:16pm 28 February 2010 (Edited 10:13am 1 March 2010)

But I wonder how well existing frameworks and models fit if we go for this distinction? For example do Laurillard's conversational framework, Salmon's e-moderating model, Kolb's learning cycle fit?

Diane Brewster
1:54pm 28 February 2010

yes, because what I am suggesting is simply a taxonomy of terms, Model is a very generic term - applying to lots of different things from lego and plasticine to Laurillard and String Theory :-) A model might be physical or conceptual, it might be expressed via diagram, words, maths or bits of plastic.   I had the interesting experience of asking a product design tutor if she would evaluate the usefulness of my augmentation of Laurillard's CF - I asked her to evaluate my model, which caused her endless confusing as she couldn't work out why I would be building models - and when she came along to the session she expected me to pull a physical model out of a bag :-). 

Laurillard, Salmon and Kolb are all Models, Laurillard's is also a 'Framework" (which is a type of model) the Netlogo models my students are having to create in T214 are not frameworks but they are models - they are dynamic stochastic models - and so on.

One of the problems I see is that in the TEL community we are not usually comparing like with like.  Laurrilard's CF is a framework, is Salmon's e-moderating model?  I think we need to be clearer about the status of the models we are taking about, what is their reach and where are their limitations? - that way we are more likely to find how they can be useful in pedagogical planning.

Gráinne Conole
7:23am 4 March 2010

Having done more on this review I am writing I am not convinced the way the terms 'models' and 'frameworks' are being used are actually distinct at all!

Here are some dictionary definitions I found:


  • a hypothetical description of a complex entity or proces
  • representation of something (sometimes on a smaller scale)


  • the underlying structure
  • A framework is a basic conceptual structure used to solve or address complex issues
  • A logical structure for classifying and organizing complex information

Diane Brewster
8:05am 4 March 2010

 I think the key issue is that of 'structure' -  a framework is a structural representation of reality, showing the inter-relationships between elements - so Laurillard's CF, in particular its diagramatic representation is 'sturctural' as is a physical model such as the DNA double helix (legitimate to call it a framework??).  Not all models are sturctural, some represent process (Salmon? Kolb?) or are even broader - in T214 we talk about metaphors as verbal models they are certainly not frameworks.  In terms of the verbal taxonomy of how these terms relate to each other I would say that 'model' is the more generic term for an attempt to represent reality in some form (verbal, diagramatic, physical) and that a framework is a kind of model that is primarily concerned with the relationships between the different elements in 'the system of interest' - i.e. that bit of the real world we are trying to represent.

Gráinne Conole
8:32am 4 March 2010

Really interesting debate this Diane! I almost see it as the opposite!!! Ie a framework might be a conceptual framework, articulating the space, whereas the very word model to me suggests some sort of relationship between the components, some cause and effect in essence. Also in an educational sense I think it is legitimate to consider both structure and process within this context. AND if we are bringing in metaphors! Well...... ;-)

Diane Brewster
9:13am 4 March 2010 (Edited 10:11am 4 March 2010)

I think this is an interesting area where our backgrounds and what we bring to the TEL field are showing :-)  My original discipline was theology - where I did a lot of work on conceptual models and language, particlarly metaphor.  there was a very influential book in the 80's called "metaphor and religious language" by Janet Martin Soskice - she drew very heavily on the work of the philosopher of Science, Max Black, on models and metaphor ("black holes" and 'superstrings" anyone?). So Black has been a factor in my life for a long time, then along came Hughes when I was doing my thesis, who made some useful observations around models which are unambiguously theoretical.

Hughes, R. I. G. (1997). "Models and Representation." Philosophy of Science 64: S325-S336.

he argued that in order to be useful a model had to pass the "DDI" test - he say we should examine theoretical models with three activities in mind; denotation, demonstration and interpretation. There is a target system that the model denotes or represents, this denotation has to be demonstrated by further investigation of the target system and only at that point can the model be a useful tool in telling someone else something about the target system. Of key importance in his view, is the accurate denotation of the target system, and, where the boundaries of that system are drawn so I am used to working with the term 'model' as a generic term at a high level of abstraction which can be applied to many different kinds of attempts to denote / articulate reality.  I also that think this is generally the way in which the term is used in philosophy, including philosophy of science :-)

I would also say beware - this stuff on models, metaphors and how to create useful'mediating' artefacts is totally compulsive!!!

Gráinne Conole
4:31pm 4 March 2010

Yes.... we may have to agree to differ!! :-)

This difference based on background is something we are exploring in a project we are doing on Interdisciplinarity in a TEL context. Paul Munin is in the middle of analysis 18 interviews with top TEL researchers. We were looking at the data yesterday and some really interesting themes are already evident. The issue about different paradigms, epistemological beliefs and the lack of a shared lanaguage is already very evident!

Andrew Middleton
12:45pm 13 December 2014

I have come very late to this - thank you both, it is fascinating. As a reader of the thread each of you convince me. Maybe the point is therefore to be careful to explain how we think specific models and frameworks can be used when we introduce them

My own thoughts, approaching this conversation, were:

  • models can be enacted
  • frameworks provide a structural (possible also theorectical) underpinning to action

But now I'm going to think more about this!

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