Tuesday, February 7, 2012

#LAK12 Is LA strictly behaviorist?

I thank Bianka Hadju for calling my attention to this statement about behaviorism in Siemens' and Long's Penetrating the Fog piece:

Since we risk a return to behaviorism as a learning theory if we confine analytics to behavioral data, how can we account for more than behavioral data?

Behaviorism is a psychological and educational theory which, as alluded to in the statement, is no longer in favor in most educational circles. The primary criticism of behaviorism in plain terms is that this educational theory would simply explain differences between learners by observing and measuring their outward behaviors. Behaviorism does not account at all for inner mental states, thoughts, feelings, cognition, meanings ascribed to events by learners, etc. If there is no difference in behavior, then there is no difference between the learners. A fascinating explanation of the theory and it's criticisms is available at the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

This ties back to Ryan S.J.d. Baker's presentation last week about model building in educational data mining. He described an online reading tutor system which was tested with U.S. students and students in the Phillipines. Baker used the system to build and test his analytic model of "gaming the system." He could tell who was gaming the system by observing behaviors such as the click patterns, order of clicks, wait time, etc. What was even more interesting to me, though, was his finding that although both groups of students gamed the system, the meanings behind this observable action --their feelings about the activity, their attitudes toward the use of the system -- were vastly different in each cultural group. The students' feelings and attitudes, which are hugely important to the educational process, cannot be measured by clicks at all. The two groups displayed the same behavior, but their reasons for doing so were very different.

Will we focus on measurable behaviors without considering the other important changes we wish to inculcate as educators, such as attitudinal and affective changes?

Looking forward to hearing about Purdue's "Signals" project today!


  1. "... The students' feelings and attitudes, which are hugely important to the educational process, cannot be measured by clicks at all."

    Clicks, ok, but fortunately 'social learners' do more than clicking: they write, comment, repost, blog, etc. There are many different methods and approaches that can interpret data in a more meaningful way (still in dev), and they could in principle detect emotions. Taking into account future developments in sensor networks and smart computing, I think these possibilities will only increase in the future.

    An example of some good research into semantic analysis of the social web on my university: http://wis.ewi.tudelft.nl/imreal/u-sem/

    1. Thieme, if such a system develops, that would address the affective aspects of learning and would be a great improvement. Thanks for the link.

  2. Hi Nancy,
    There's another good summary of behaviourism here
    with links on to social learning, constructivism and social constructivism.