Firstly I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to speak today. This is my second time attending this conference, and the paper I’m presenting today builds on the concepts I put forward to the conference last year, which were well received.
My name is Jonathan Bishop. I am the Chair of the Centre for Research into Online Communities and E-Learning Systems, at Glamorgan Blended Learning, which is part of the GTi Business Network Supported by the University of Glamorgan. Education and in particular E-Learning is very much part of my life, I take the truism that everyone is a full-time learner and part-time teacher very seriously. A supporter of the Welsh Assembly, I have backed the Welsh Assembly Government’s vision of a Learning Country framework since it was published, which has seen 82% of primary schools and 76% of secondary schools rated as having good or very good quality of teaching and 1,700 more teachers and 5,700 more classroom assistants than in 1998.
As a director of GBL I support the vision of a country where every individual is given equal opportunities to fulfil their potential, maximise their earning potential and contribute fully and effectively to society, including its aim of creating a society where knowledge is valued in its own right, as well as for the benefits of its application where there is an economy that competes with the strongest in the world.
I don’t believe this vision is achievable without recognising the importance of information technology in the learning process, and for me as a director of GBL, e-learning can be an effective means of bring about the sort of social change this coference aims to explore. Like many of you the beliefs and values I hold are influenced by my faith, and my faith is informed through practice. Many religions have specific figures that have been influential in that faith and most obviously in Christianity is Jesus of Nazareth, who I will refer to as Christ.
All of us have a teacher we remember, perhaps one who enlightened us by opening our mind to new lines of thinking. Well the teacher that enlightened me in how to develop effective e-learning systems was not one I met at school or at university, but one I encountered in the New Testament.
Christ’s disciples called him ‘Teacher’ and his teachings according to Matthew 4:23 were to promote the good news of God’s kingdom and which according to John 7:16 came from God himself.
While the term, ‘communities of practice’ is relatively new it is quite clear that Christ knew what one was, and how to create a community where learning occurred in order to bring about social change. Regan (2002) argues that it is important to foster genuine Christian learning communities not only as a practical way of effectively addressing rapid change but also because of the defining conviction that the Spirit is alive and active in all members of the community of faith. It is through the learning environment that social change can occur, so understanding what causes people to learn and behave in these communities is essential to creating the right conditions for learning and is why the motto for Glamorgan Blended Learning, the social enterprise I represent is, ‘The best environment is a learning environment’.
The Ecological Cognition Framework, which I presented to the Post-Cognitivist Psychology Conference in 2005, provides a thorough understanding of how people respond to and influence their environment in order to create social change. The framework, which I call the ECF, suggests that there are three levels that affect an person’s behaviour, connected through arrows that represent the process from them perceiving their environment through to making changes to it.
Through apply the ECF, the paper I am presenting to you today has analysed how Christ created faith in those that listened to him, and how he allowed them to bring about social change, and explores how the educational techniques used by Christ could be used in e-learning systems to better educate those that use them.
Through analysing how Christ taught I identified five effects a teacher has to create within a learner, which are; creating the belonging effect, creating the demonstration effect, creating the inspiration effect, creating the mobilisation effect and creating the confirmation effect. Through understanding these stages I have re-evaluated how I design e-learning systems and will present to you today the changes that can be made to them so that learners learn as well as Christ taught.
Two things are known about Christ that are beyond historical doubt, those being that he was crucified in the 1st century, and the other that he taught in parables. The parables, as taught by Christ provided social stimuli to the listeners, resonating with their memories and cognitions. Through telling stories that his listeners can relate to, Christ causes his listeners to experience the belonging effect, which increased the faith people had in him.
Creating the belonging effect is essential to the source being able to provide messages that are more deeply processed by the listener. It can be seen that having this credibility is important for Christ to spread God’s new message to the world, through evoking and provoke cognitions. In an e-learning system, the belonging effect can be created through activities such as ice-breakers, which are short games or activities that create a bond between the educator and learner utilising the bonding process.
After the belonging effect is created, the next stage is to impart values and beliefs to the learner, through utilising the Subconscious Encoding Process identified by Peter Thomson in order to create the demonstration effect. Matthew 5 highlights several examples of Christ doing this, where he starts his sentence with “you have heard that it was said” or something similar, which will lead to the words following it resonating with the listener and evoking beliefs and values that they hold. Through this process, Christ was able to provoke new cognitions, which created the demonstration effect, which is where someone will develop beliefs and values inline with someone in a similar situation to themselves.
The demonstration effect can be created in an e-learning system through the system knowing what the learner knows and customising the materials based on that. An e-learning system can create the demonstration effect in a learner through providing learning materials customised to them so that they can be encouraged to build on what they already know and through the sub-conscious encoding process develop beliefs and values that are in their interests.
Whilst Christ created a sense of belonging with his parables, he also inspired others with his eight beatitudes, which through utilising the goal-setting process, Christ was able to provide the listener with Social Stimuli that creates related goals in them, which is referred to as the inspiration effect. The inspiration effect can be created in e-learning systems through utilising Animated Pedagogical Agents through the encouragement process.
With the necessary goals, beliefs and values in place, an actor can put these into action by experiencing the mobilisation effect, which Christ created in his disciples to allow them to create social change, and which can be created in e-learning systems through the interaction process, such as utilising discussion platforms.
Following an action that occurred as a result of the mobilisation effect, actors will reflect on the actions they have taken through what is referred to as the reflection process, which will lead them to interpret what they have done and in doing so will attempt to avoid any dissonance and confirm their active cognitions, such as goals, plans, values, beliefs and interests, something which creates the confirmation effect. This effect leads an actor to believe that the actions they have carried out and the beliefs and values that they hold are valid. They may then develop a belief that the plan is effective, which may result in them utilising it to form other plans. If however the plan they carried out turns out not to be consonant with their existing cognitions, they may develop a belief about it that will influence future plans not to be like it. The reflection process can be undertaken in e-learning systems through the use of weblogs, whereby the learner will write about an experience they have had as a result of the mobilisation effect, which should create the confirmation effect, which is the final stage of learning and social change.
The new understanding gained from analysing how Christ taught leads to the model presented in my paper proposing an Ecological Cognitive Learning Theory. This model proposes there are five stages to learning and there are techniques that can be used by e-learning systems designers to take account of them. While I have identified some techniques, such as utilising Animated Pedagogical Agents and weblogs, more research is necessary to explore the methods that can be used to enhance the learning experience in e-learning systems or blended learning environments. I have presented to you a learning theory based on the Ecological Cognition Framework, which contains representations of the various levels and links between the levels of the ECF and applies the five stages needed to create the five effects that were apparent in Christ’s teachings.
This model can explain why some educators get it right and others get it wrong. It can show why educator that use ice-breakers develop a better relationship with their learners in the same way Christ bonded with people through his parables. It can show how educators that build on a learner’s existing knowledge are more successful. And it can show how educators can encourage, facilitate, and assess learning through interactive and reflective activities.