Home » Posts tagged 'activity theory'
Tag Archives: activity theory
The connectedness of ideas by learning online – towards a new theory of learning
|From E-Learning V|
Fig.1. This IMHO is what learning has become in the 21st century – and how it got there
There’s more going on here than you may realise!
|From E-Learning V|
Fig.2. Traditional top down learning
Two triangles, one above the other and linked with a down arrow suggests traditional top down learning … or simply knowledge transfer from someone who knows something to someone who does not.
|From E-Learning V|
Fig. 3 By someone’s side
Two triangles, one facing the other, may represent a shift towards collaborative or horizontal learning in a formal setting, though for me it represents the learning you do away from the institution – with friends, with family ‘on the same level’ as it were.
|From E-Learning V|
Fig. 4. Participatory and situated, networked learning on the periphery
|From E-Learning V|
Fig.5 The thinking starts with Vygotsky and his research into behaviorist learning
It then progressed to the study and analysis of learning in communities
|From E-Learning V|
Fig. 6. Activity Theory as conceived of and developed by Yrjo Engeström.
|From E-Learning V|
Fig.7 The interplay between two entities or communities coming together to solve a problem and thus producing something unique to them both (object 3) – a fresh idea.
|From E-Learning V|
Fig.8. Activity Theory re-connected – breaking out
Though developed over some thirty years the structure of ‘Activity Theory’ as a model is breaking down because of the quality, speed and way in which we now connect overrides barriers and invades silos making communication more direct and immediate.
|From E-Learning V|
Fig. 9 Activity Theory in a connected world
Everyone and everything is just a click away.
|From E-Learning V|
Fig.10 Visualizing the maelström of original ideas generated by people sharing their thoughts and ideas as they form
The maelström of new ideas where people and groups collide and interact. Historically this had been in grounded ‘communities of practice’, whether a London coffee shop or the senior common room of a prestigious university, the lab, the studio, the rehearsal room … today some gatherings online are frequent, enabled by the Internet and no less vibrant as like-minds and joiners contribute to the generation of new ideas.
This, drawing on Engestrom via Vygotsky, might be a more academic expression of Open Learning. Here a host of systems, expressed in model form, interpose their drive to achieve certain objectives into the common whole. That mess in the middle is the creation of the collective powers and inputs of individuals, groups, departments or institutions. The Open bit are the connections between any node in one system, and any other node from any other one of the systems … which blows apart the actions within a single system, making them more open, though not random.
|From E-Learning V|
Fig. 11 It’s going on inside your head.
fMRI scans reveal the complex way in which ideas form and memories are recalled and mixed-up, challenged and re-imagined. We are our very own ‘community of practice’ of conflicting and shared viewpoints.
|From E-Learning V|
Fig.11. Perceiving brain activity as the interplay between distinct, interacting zones
|From E-Learning V|
Fig. 12 Ideas enter your system, your brain and are given a fresh spin
|From E-Learning V|
Fig.13 Ideas coalesce until you reach a point of understanding. The penny doesn’t so much as ‘drop’ as to form.
Where would we be without one of these. 98 billion neurons. A uniquely connected mass of opportunity and potential. This is where, of course, memories are formed and thoughts had. Increasingly we are able to share ideas and thoughts as we have them, typically through the tips of our fingers by sharing our thinking online, especially where it comes to the attention of like-minds, and troubled-minds – anyone in fact or strongly agrees or strongly disagrees enough to contribute by adding their thinking and revealing their presence.
What are the benefits or drawbacks of each of self-assessed, one-to-one and group modes of learning?
Self-assessed engagement with content: books, online multimedia, etc?
Feeds off innate motivation and curiosity to learn at your own pace chasing your own lines of enquiry.
Undirected or ‘governed’ it can do two things: grind to a halt, or spin obsessively out of control, and in either case not lead to meeting any learning objectives – if there were any in the first place.
One-to-one feedback with a tutor: face to face or in correspondence/online
The traditional ‘Oxbridge’ tutorial where a ‘great mind’ and educator supervises and supports and hopefully motivates and directed the student ‘intimately’. Online a similar experience can be recreated, even bettered, complementing face-to-face and/or offering something different.
The two don’t get on so knowledge transfer is challenged, the student is demotivated and both give up on the relationship or resort to formal guidelines and behaviours that might be described bluntly as the ‘carrot and stick’. Online, as dependent as ever on human foibles, there is the added potential difficulty in relation to digital literacy, acceptance, familiarity or stonewalling.
Group-work and peer mentoring: face to face or online?
Likeminds and mutual empathy better able to respond to life’s rollercoaster. Exposure to diverse ideas and behaviours. Exploitation of the ‘connectedness’, search power and serendipty of Web 2.0
Overwhelming, learning to handle ‘exposure’ and privacy issues – some people feel as uncomfortable ‘being’ online as an agrophobic in a shopping mall. Distractions. False trails and digital ‘rabbit holes’. False belief that there is a short cut to learning if the answers are given to you.
Fig.2. Learning and the role of context.
Engeström (2001) article, Expansive learning at work: toward an activity theoretical reconceptualisation
Sharples, M., Meek, S. & Priestnall, G. (2012) Zapp: Learning about the Distant Landscape. In M. Specht, J. Multisilta & M. Sharples (eds.), Proceedings of 11th World Conference on Mobile and Contextual Learning (mLearn 2012), Helsinki, October 2012, pp. 126-133. Preprint available as 320Kb pdf
Activity Theory meets network theory?
Fig.1. The connectedness of activity theory pyramids in a new paradigm.
Three years ago I took an interest in Activity Theory, which is a set of six nodes representing a formal ‘community of practice’ – Yrjo Engestrom meets Etienne Wenger. The principles of Activity Theory, linked and driven with an objective are breaking down because of the connectedness of people circumventing these superimposed channels – what I did was to start to draw six activity theory pyramids each interacting on a common object but with additional links connecting all the nodes. I was simplifying the complex intuitively – now I see there is some science to be done here with both quantitative and qualitative research.
Fig.2. Does connectedness across an activity theory pyramid circumvent the silo-like nodes?
Is this going to work?
This is music to my ears – it’s magic to feel your thinking has taken a turn and you find that there is a community of people there already. I took an interest in Activity Theory (Yrjo Engestrom) a few years ago and have used his six node pyramid as part of a small network, I’ve used it to explain creativity between two people believing that part of the network had to be embedded in each person’s brain but not knowing how to show or justify this … and wanting not to lose the simple model as connectedness in the Web circumvents the formal nodes and links that traditional activity theory requires. I then started to interlink sets of six activity theory pyramids recognising that with greater complexity the clarity is lost. I can now move on from conjecture and look at models of networks created from the data while seeking to explain what is happening through good old human interaction – exploratory interviews i.e. qualitative research. Fascinating.
Engestrom (2008). From Teams to Knots (Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive and Computational Perspectives) (p. 238). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.
Unscrambling the presumptions of research in e-learning educational practice
Activity Theory (AT) according to various authors …. , supposes a quest to solve a problem, an ‘activity theorist’ looking at certain kinds of research, understanding activity system as being driven by outcomes, would therefore annotated the six nodes of the AT pyramid with this in mind.
Fig. 1. Activity Theory (Engeström, 2008)
In contrast, considering the same subject of research, a sociologist would be inclined to look for power structures.
In turn how might a management consultant, or psychologist approach this? And in relation to H809 and the MAODE, how differently would someone educated in each of the following theories approach the same subject matter: behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism and connectedness?
The suggestion that the theory behind a piece of research or OER from H809 TMA02 predisposes a specific research response is like having an undefined medical problem. In turn each specialist offers a view based on the narrow perspective of their specialism.
By way of example, with sinus/earache like symptoms from which I have always ‘suffered’ I in turn visit a neurologist, immunologist and dentist. I discover from each in turn that I must be depressed/stressed, have an allergic response to something, need a tooth filled/crowned. In turns out that I have a pronounced response to house dust mite and due to physical damage to a channel in one part of the maxillary sinus it doesn’t drain so the slightest infection, a mild cold, will cause inflammation and pain. The response that works is primarily preventative with self-medication of prescription pain relief at a dosage that works – co-codomol and occasional antibiotics. (The above over a 33 year period of investigations that included several other excitable consultants who each in turn gleefully hoped that I might have a very rare condition X or Y that they would investigate).
Just as medical specialists are inclined to come at a situation with too narrow a perspective, so too can we when wishing to study, in a learning situation, what is going on … in there (the brains of each student) and externally, the context and situation of the ‘learning’ that they are doing (or having done to them).
Conole, G., and Oliver, M. (eds.) (2008) Contemporary perspective in e-learning research. Themes, Methods and Impacts on Practice.
Engestrom, Y (2008) From Teams to Knots
I LOVE the way the brain will throw you a googlie. It’s why we’re human.
And then there’s this – 12 grabs of an Activity System looking like Toblerone.
One per month, one per hour.
This is the point. The thing is
a) a grab in time
c) a construct or model (as well as a theory).
A theory because it can be re-applied (for now).
Fig.1. Its image explains itself.
Engestrom and others go to great lengths to remind us that the model/theory of an Activity System is a snap shot in time – that even as we look at it things are moving on, that the relationships don’t simply change as a result of the interactions with each other – but because the whole thing shifts.
OK. Take a chocolate triangle of activity Theory and visualise it in sequence. Better still, drop what you are doing and go and buy some.
Now take a piece and eat it.
The logic remains equally sound when I suggest that by consuming a moment of the Activity System in its last iteration you are enacting what the Internet has done and is doing.
This is what the connectivity of the Web does – the degree and scale of connections is overpowering and consuming.
One step more.
That triangle of chocolate, nougat, almonds and honey that I see as a multi-sensory expression of an Activity System may be digested in the stomach, but its ingredients hit you in the head.
It’s a brain thing.
Which explains my interest in neuroscience.
It happens. It should be visible. It can be measured.
Just reading this a million Lego Characters are kicking a few more million molecular bricks along a dendrite in part because they must, then again just to see what happens (yes, I have just read ‘Neuroscience for Dummies’). So some stick in odd places. Some will hit the mark (whatever that is) while another will remind you of the very moment you first nibbled on Toblerone.
I LOVE the way the brain will throw you a googlie. (as a fraction of the planet know cricket other metaphors are required. I never even played the game as I was deemed rubbish – actually, though no one spotted it in five years of prep school, I needed glasses).
On the one hand, my interest is to take a knife to all of this, chop it off and put it in the compost bin so that I am left with something that is ‘tickable’, on the other hand I want to indulge the adventure of the composting process.
Scrambling your head in the nodes and interludes of Activity Theory
When something important to me is about to come to an end I tend to lash out to make the parting of ways less uncomfortable.
I sense with OU graduation looming while this bridging module trundles on to who knows what that I will pretend I’m fed up and I don’t care. But I do. So I’ll try to bite my lip over the next three months as the inevitable parting of ways occurs.
Onwards to who knows what, though H809, with a bit of a spring it, ought to send me in the right direction.
Whether or not there is an institution out there ready to catch me is another matter – though I am looking, and I am talking to them.
In my dreams I’ll be taking Activity Theory into the outer realms of the Internet – San Diego preferred, though Helsinki is the alternative.
I like sand, and I like snow … but I prefer sand and snow … and sun.
But that’s not why I’m here is it? And does it matter a fig where any of us are situated anymore? … so long as it stimulates rather than stultifies.
(Yawn, yawn to bring it up but when will the weather forecasters stop talking about snow, frost and high pressure lingering over Scandinavia and just say ‘this is so boring’ – so here’s a weather related picture we asked David Hockney to do instead and because he created it on an iPad using Brushes we can animate it – just like a weather front coming up form Nova Scoatia).
H809: Activity 9.1 (and a quarter)
Fig.1 Third Generation Activity Theory … after Engestrom (2008) It’s not just a theory, not just model … it’s a game. Photo by the author in his back yard (in England this means it really is a concrete space with junk in it. We have a garden for the plants and grass for the dog to wee on).
What functions do these ‘theoretical perspectives’ appear to be serving here?
Placing activity theory in context, both historically through previous learning theories and ‘geographically’ in relation to other disciplines. Is it a theory or a model (it can function as either or both); where is it of use? Anywhere people, groups of people or institutions interact with related, or closely related objectives.
Do you think Activity Theory is a ‘theory’?
It builds on past theories and is a model dint of the its visualisation. It can be considered and used as a theory or as a model, or both. Or, picking up some current reading as neither – the suggestion being that the connectedness of the Internet renders the parameters of each of the prescribed nodes of an Activity System redundant – as everyone and everything can connect directly rather than through an intermediary tool, community or division of labour etc:
What do you understand to be the gap in Activity Theory that AODM is filling?
I don’t. Could someone offer a suggestion??
Try to summarise the authors’ view of ‘collaborative knowledge building’.
That knowledge creation, insight as such, is outside the head … situated like
Engestrom’s ‘Object’ or ‘Outcome’ as at arm’s length, between people and distinct activity systems. This is where 1+1 = 3.
I prefer to see two or more activity systems NOT as systems or groups or departments … but as the equally complex interaction of two people. Perhaps an image of a schizophrenic is Engestrom’s third generation activity theory where two apparently distinct system are in conflict … but in the case of the schizophrenic, this happens in their head.
To get my head around Activity Theory I had to get it out of my head and onto paper. The idea of putting in chess pieces was intuitive – like improvisation at Youth Theatre.
At any one of these nodes, not absolutes, just suggestions for the model, there are people. People are complex and never act as distinct interlopers. We have the baggage of our lives behind us – parents, siblings and friends. So an Activity System is always a great leap into simplification. Add too much complexity and why bother?
This third generation concept of two interacting activity systems has also had ‘historicity’ added … they are in constant flux, Think therefore of a series of overlapping frames. Whatever you look at now is soon gone … there is too much happening in such a snapshot for it to be set.
This fluidity now has another force to pull it apart – the Internet.
I’ll go and dig out the author of a paper, approved by the editor of the book it is in by its editor Yrjio Engestrom (Mr AT himself) where the argument is that the Web means that all nodes are equally connected with all others.
I visualise this as drops of ink in water. They are unstable.
This instability, more brain like in its connectivity, is where we need to move on from Activity Theory.
Of course, carrying an examiner along with you in an OU assignment is quite another matter. I am currently challenging the OU where I feel a paper I wrote was slashed at a) because I dismissed Wenger and didn’t have another 1000 words to make my case and b) put all my money on Activity Theory only to conclude that ‘we’ had already moved on …
Picking up tick points for an assignment is one thing – getting to the ‘truth’ seems to elude the OU. Too often I have felt that far from being on a postgraduate Masters programme I am in my first year as an undergraduate.
I guess having been brought up by the OU these lass three years I am like any teenager ready to exhurt my independence.
Where is the discourse? Where is the innovation? What is the point in any of this if every word has to be written as if pasted into cells of an Excell file so that someone can tick you off?
Is there anyone observing the MAODE for even the slightest sniff of orginality ????
Visual expressions of Open Learning
Sequence showing my conceptions of the shift in learning.
From traditional top down, to horizontal and collaborative and what’s goes in in the human brain – the interaction between different parts of the brain.
However, whilst this might be an expression of traditional classroom based teaching, through to collaborative Web 1.0 and the semantic Web 2.o as I have illustrated before, the reality is that all of these approaches are going on simultaneously: we still have, and benefit from top down learning – being told or shown stuff, there is collaborative learning, more so in certain subjects.
The second line suggests how things are changing: traditional learning being tipped on its head and on its side or at various angles as an institution, or policy changes, due to the influence of the teacher or because of the subject.
Horizontal learning from siblings, friends, family and extended family – always there in the past goes into hyper-mode as we can connect with ease with many of these people making every day like a family event if you so choose, following and joining in with the antics of others or sharing thoughts on school and life. I should add unconscious learning too – asleep, that sorting process we go through when we dream.
I doubt, from what I am coming to understand about neuroscience, that activity in the brains is greatly different or increased courtesy of the Internet or that stimulation has increased – this is for various reasons: our brain gets bored with the familiar, we turn off, we filter, we select. There is a limit to how much can be process. We give up other things to engage online – though I wouldn’t think giving up ogling at the TV all evening is any loss – the average viewing in the UK is 4 hours a day? Really!!
Open Learning is the last image in the bottom right hand corner – a lot going on, a good deal of connectivity.
But not less perhaps than living in a close, frenetic, village community – more akin to how we lived thousands of years ago with the world at our doorstep rather than our being squirreled away as we now are.
Informal learning (circles look good, or a hub)
Neuroscience for Dummies (a great intro to the subject, I recommend it!)
Put it all together – as your brain does in sleep, and as occurs anyway as you daydream in class or have a parent help you with homework …
Open Learn is kindle in the fire … it stokes it up, motivating, demotivating and distracting. Key is the continued connectivity to friends and family wherever they may be. That ‘hub’ of activity you may get after a family holiday or gathering can be with you in your pocket to support and advise.
Is this what Open Learning looking like? More of what we’ve always had, but now, if you want him, your grandfather can sit on your shoulder all day – in our family my brother would have been asking advice on car maintenance, I would have been quizzing him on first hand detail of the war. Cousins often get briefings from my father-in-law a retired Oxford Philosophy Tutor.
And now, courtesy of all learning online, open and formal, the action really gets going. Or does it? Is it not simply replacing something else? The very active person in clubs, societies, in a large extended family and so on would be getting this anyway?
This second A2 sheet works with Vygotsky and Engestrom and the idea of how we construct knowledge in a context.
The second image shows the familiar Activity System, an expanded version of how Vygotsy expressed how we learn. The activity system has six interacting components: subject and object, mediated by tools or artefacts, rules, community and division of labour. Enegstrom’s next generation expression of the Activity System is to show two systems interacting, the key here being the interaction of two objects or outcomes to produce a third.
This model is manageable, with set links between the components.
‘In the field’ it is possible to allocate roles to people or departments, to kits and guidelines but then on the second line you start to consider how many activity systems are connected. However, it is no longer simply the case that there is one point of contact – this drive to an outcome or objective.
Already authors wonder if Activity Theory (I have the reference I’ll dig it out for you) can no longer apply, that it has melted.
The middle image in the middle of the bottom row circumvents the set connections to indicated that everything can interact with everything else. Feed this into a multitude of Activity Systems (the final diagram in the bottom right) and you see what complexity is created – the suggestion being that the there is more direct connecting between people with no mediation factors or systems. This assumes that there are no gatekeepers or other barriers, but increasingly, in tertiary education you may find yourself in a discussion alongside the biggest names in your field, whether you are an undergraduate, postgraduate or doctoral student, no matter what institution you are signed up to.
In fact, it is far more open than that of course – by chance or because of an enthusiasm or wish to connect anyone in theory can connect with anyone else – or at least with those who are taking part.
Some 4% of the population in Great Britain who by all accounts should be digital residents don’t event visit – there lifestyle choice is not to use the Internet, just as in the past people may have chosen not to have a TV. Another13% don’t have access at all – no connection, no kit, no space or place to use kit that is shared. And this is the UK. So Open Learning, though not exclusive, cannot be called universal.
Of course, being a purist, if you’re interested in Vygotsky you need to study him in Russian. Now where is there an Open Learn course on Russian?
Models work, as do metaphors, but with the digital world are all such models melting like sheet ice in a warming climate? Merged and blurred like so much ink dripped into a digital ocean?
Though Engestrom sees this as things and institutions, I like to see two people here, say an Art Director and Copywriter working together to solve problems. Two heads better than one and all of that. Any psychologists out there might offer me person to person models as alternatives.
And how many institutions can and do interact? Think of a $100m movie. Think of planning the Olympics. Think of six people with different skills and experiences working together.
Is this what Open Learning looking like?
At what point does the model break down?
Become redundant? Even ideas of ‘learning from the periphery’ (JS Brown and Duguid) falls apart if there is no centre, and no periphery, if everyone is equally ‘linked in’ with no degrees of separation at all, where you are anyone else’s father, brother or son. (mother, sister or daughter).
Engestrom ends up using the metaphor of a Mycorrhizae fungi growth such as this. I also found this rather beautiful image. But can art therefore fool? Something beautiful that is attractive and persuasive may not acutally be representative of the ‘truth of the matter’ – but what is?
Mycorrhizae = the real thing (apologies to the originator, when I can find the reference I will add it)
Which has me thinking of something more fluid, like the water cycle (think digital ocean into the could, then back again)
And in a system, as something more dynamic, with patterns behind the chaos.
In which case, to my mind, Open Learn and e-learning is like global warming to the climate – it is simply putting more energy into the system. Just re-annotate the above (which I will eventually get round to doing).
And if this doesn’t make your brain hurt or your jaw drop take a look at this:
and click on ‘Powers of Ten’ which is, I feel, evocative of Open Learning too – scalable from the micro to the infinite.
Engestrom, Y Various. I recommend ‘From Teams to Knots’
Vygotsky, L (1926 if you want it in Russia, 1974 for the first translations into English)
Rebecca Eynon from the OII for ‘Mapping the Internet’ stats on GB Internet use.
(I’ll flesh this out in due course. There are a dozen references related to the above. But this is Open Learning. You get my thoughts on this in all its various drafts).
- Openness in Education WK1 MOOC (mymindbursts.com)
- Inter-life, Young People and Activity systems (mymindbursts.com)
- OLD MOOC 2013 – Why Activity Theory needs to be seen, not itemised, to have any chance of being understood (mymindbursts.com)
- “More Complex Than the Milky Way?” –Project ‘Blue Brain’ and New Insights into the Biochemical Makeup of the Human Brain (dailygalaxy.com)
- Martin Weller and the MOOCers (mymindbursts.com)
- Has education come full circle? (jmajor.org)
- Who would you invite to an e-learning dinner party? (mymindbursts.com)
Someone who correctly sensed what was coming in 2004 might be a person to ask what is due in 2013/1014
In this paper from Grainne Conole she says (writing in 2003, published 2004) that wireless, smart and wifi will have a huge impact … prescient. Can you remember how little of what we now take for granted was around in 2004? I was probably using a Psion and a bog-standard phone.
‘Technologies do have great potential to offer education, however this is a complex multifaceted area; we need rigorous research if we are going to unpick the hype and gain a genuine understanding of how technologies can be used effectively’. (Conole. p.2 2004)
‘Academics working in this area need to demonstrate that the research is methodologically rigorous, building appropriately on existing knowledge and theories from feeder disciplines and feeding into policy and practice’. (Conole, 2004)
- effective models for implementation
- mechanism for embedding the understanding gained from learning theory into design
- guidelines and good practice
- literacy needs of tutors and students
- the nature and development of online communities
- different forms of communications and collaboration
- the impact of gaming
- cultural differences in the use of online courses
‘much of the current research is criticised for being too anecdotal, lacking theoretical underpinning’ (Mitchell, 2000)
This is what you find in the press, newspapers and magazine always go for the anecdotal and sensationalist view of what technology may do. Has technology yet brought the world to an end? I guess the atomic bomb has always, legitimately, been more scary than other technologies although I dare so there are those who say Google will bring about the end of the world.
‘A more detailed critique of the methodological issues of e-learning research and its epistemological underpinnings are discussed elsewhere’. (Olive and Conle, 2004)
- A better understanding of the benefits and limitations of different methods.
- More triangulation of results.
What people are looking for:
- potential efficiency gains and cost effectiveness
- evidence-based practice with comparison of the benefits of new technologies over existing teaching and learning methods
- How technologies can be used to improve the student learning experience.
No surprises that in business use of e-learning is benchmarked with cost and outcomes closely followed – are we improving and saving at the same time? Typically travel and accommodation costs are saved where people don’t have to be away from work and learning times can be cut without loss of information retention on the compliance like stuff – health and safety, data protection, equity in the workplace and basic induction (or as American companies call it ‘on boarding’ which sounds to me like something you do with guests on a cruise liner – or is them embarking)
How do we capture experience in a way that we build it back into design and implementation. (Point 8 of 12 p.8 Conole 2004)
What are the inherent affordances of different technologies? (Conole. p. 8 2004)
‘Only time will tell’. (Conole. p. 17, 2004)
Or as I would say, ‘on verra’.
I am doing the classic ‘expand and contract’ of problem solving – the problem is finding an area of research I can believe in and sustain for four years. Though for H809 all I need is a title of a research paper. I still would prefer to be narrowing down the areas that interest me:
- virtual worlds
- spaced education (see memory)
- lifelogging / sensecam (see memory)
- Artificial Intelligence (learning companion … see memory?)
Whilst the research question ought to come first, I hope that Activity Theory will have a role to play too.
Conole, G (2004) E-learning the hype and the reality
Oliver, M. and Conole, G. (2004) Methodology and e-learning. ELRC research paper. No. 4
- The Gutenberg Galaxy – first thoughts, from the first pages (mymindbursts.com)
- Supporting educators to rethink their learning design practice with the 7 Cs of Learning Design (mymindbursts.com)