What Happens While We Learn? The Idiosyncratic Nature of Learning from Experience
Flynn, Jerome P.
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In this dissertation I examine the actions of learners while they navigate a new learning context to gain insight into how learning occurs during learning events. Building on Kolb's (2014) experiential learning model and incorporating research from cognitive psychology, I explore discrete patterns of learning activity and tactical emergence to gain insight into how learning evolves and outcomes are achieved. Kolb's conceptual work points to the complexity of most learning experiences. This dissertation offers a framework and language supporting a more detailed analysis of the cognitive processes and knowledge development which occur during learning events, a new perspective to help interpret the dynamics and complexities of in-situ learning. I adopt a refined view of learning which anticipates the interplay between discrete processes and knowledge elements. In the proposed conceptual model, process and content dynamics are managed by executive function through three specific mechanisms; dialectics, goal pursuit, and the scaffolding of knowledge. Using a new game environment developed for this research, I trace the actions of learners as they interact with a "new-to-them" task. In Study 1 (n=50), I examine the behavior of subjects as they progressively learn and adopt new tactics while playing the game and seek evidence of the three proposed mechanisms that guide decisions during learning, dialectics, goal pursuit, and scaffolding. Study 2 (n=194) builds upon the patterns of learned behavior observed in Study 1, and examines how breaks, or their absence, influence learning under enhanced cognitive load. In this study, I explore how incremental break time contributes to learning outcomes. Cognitive ability and incremental break time were hypothesized to interact; subjects with high cognitive ability were expected to find little benefit from break time, while those with lower ability were expected to positively benefit from time in breaks. Surprisingly, and in contrast to previous research, incremental break time was negatively related to learning and outcomes. No interaction between cognitive ability and break time was observed. I discuss the importance of this finding. This dissertation contributes to a refined understanding of learning process, knowledge content, and the dynamic nature of their interactions. Learners demonstrate idiosyncratic differences in how they interpret and respond to the environment. This includes how quickly and effectively they recognize problems or opportunities while learning, establish goals to guide their pursuit, and construct and leverage new knowledge to shape more effective behaviors. Contributions to learning theory, explored and developed here, may be transferable to individualized instruction environments, including new insights about the micro-dynamics of learning and knowledge states which are developed in this dissertation.
- Doctoral Dissertations