Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Contributions of neuroscience and neuro-psychology to understanding vocational education learning

Now the ‘learning a trade’ report has been completed, I will be moving through a list of readings in the fields of neuroscience and neuro-psychology. Basically, my ‘summer reading’ project from now into mid-2014. This is an exciting time for scientists working in the fields of neurobiology due to the enhanced opportunities afforded through recent advances in medical imagery.  Learning on brain function is no longer limited to post-activity or illness study through autopsy.  MRI and CT scans are able to provide synchronous recording of brain activity as it takes place.

As a first update, I worked through Steven Picker’s ‘Theblank slate: The modern denial of human nature’ a couple of weeks ago (while at the NTLT conference) to update myself on readings in socio-biology undertaken before I started work on my PhD. Books read at that time include RichardDawkin’s ‘The selfish gene’ and ‘The blind watchmaker’, Jared Diamond’s books ‘ Guns, germs and steel’ and ‘The third chimpanzee’, E.O Wilson’s work to bring the sciences together in ‘Consilience’.  All ‘parked’ for a few years while I put energies into literature on vocational identity formation, workplace learning and vocational learning required for the dissertation.

Socio-biology basically argues that as humans, we are high wired with some ‘pre-programmed’ traits, affinities and learning processes. The pre-programming is seen to be the result of natural selection, providing individuals with a collection of genes that pre-dispose them to affinities for certain types of activities (both physical, mental and emotionally).  The learning of languages, as per the work of Norm Chomsky, is used often to support the argument that young children’s brains are ‘designed and predisposed’ to learn language. Language learning has a ‘fixed window of opportunity’ within the first four years of life.  Our brains are also supposed to learn motor skills through processes of mimesis (imitation), trial and error and practice. Many feedback mechanisms for motor skills like proprioception (body stance and balance) occur subconsciously. Experts cannot isolate the knowledge of process (KP) or result (KR) due to inability to articulate the nuances of complex motor activity.

So, what do the fields of neurosciences and neuro-psychology have to offer to vocational education learning?
I now have a list of about a dozen books to work through to gain a better perspective on how knowing about how the brain works, may inform how we learn skills, apply concepts to problem solving and attain dispositions and attitudes congruent with our occupational identities.  So, as usual, will put up summaries of pertinent books as I work through them, with commentary on the contributions from the books that are relevant to understanding vocational education learning.

My goal is to find a direction for how to go down the road for exploring vocational learning ‘signature pedagogies’.  There will be a need to work collaboratively with sports and education psychologists and perhaps medical imaging specialists further down the track. I need to bone up on the jargon and quantitative research methods used in these disciplines so as to begin conversations. The socio-materiality approach to learning holds much promise but research approaches recommended like activity theory, complexity theory and actor network theory will be a bit of a hard sell to my ‘quantitative’ colleagues in sports and psychology. How to ‘blend’ something like actor-network theory to ‘learning how to weld’ using video, would in itself be an interesting exercise!

No comments: