Product Based Learning

After more than 15 years in Singapore, I will be returning to Australia. Helping to start an institution that was committed to the philosophy and practice of programmable learning has been tremendously enriching in many ways: trying to understand the unique nature of different disciplinary knowledge when crafting problems; deconstructing facilitation practice in classrooms made up of diverse students; designing faculty development activities that try to foster and model critical and reflective practice; and the creation of learning spaces, both concrete and virtual, all of which assist in the achievement of learning.

My immersion in the practice and empirical research of PL has forced me to wrestle almost daily with philosophical questions that are not easily resolved. I share two such questions that have motivated constant reflection about PL. Question 1: What is the “self’ in self-directed learning? Aristotle, Kant, Descartes, Habeas and Hegel all allude to the importance of the concept of self in any theory of human development and learning. In PL there is a strong emphasis on the “self’ directing learning. The appeal for self-directness is very compelling, yet hard to get a handle on.

Contemporary sociological texts suggest we are constantly constructing our sense of self. So how does a PL facilitator understand the students’ ever- changing sense of self so this can be acted upon, or, perhaps more fundamentally, how does the student derive a notion of self in a manner that would drive his or her learning? Furthermore if the self is embodied by the rational, the emotional, and biological attributes of an individual, how do these combine to inform self-directness? Question 2: How do PL institutions and facilitators affect the behavior of learners?

When PL is implemented at an institutional level, it stems from the life that PL can affect the behaviors of students to achieve certain desired outcomes – what should be valued in the pursuit of change? The various traditions in psychology and sociology address the question of how to affect behavior differently, I. E. , whether the emphasis is on altering the internal state, or the manipulation of external and social environments. Parker Palmer takes this divide further and asks is meaningful change from the human heart (the subjective) or from factors external from us (what is regarded as objective)?

Add to that the belief that knowledge is socially constructed, and a yard of epistemological and ontological questions arise. In addressing these types of complex philosophical questions that underpin PL, have found myself, at times, confounded by the intricacies of the competing philosophical positions. This can lead, if one is not careful, to a paralysis wherein we choose to either dismiss PL as an idea that is too hard to come to terms with, or accept PL as method for teaching that is simply followed.

I addressed the danger of the latter in a paper presented in 2004 at the 5th Asia Pacific Conference in PL: “An explicit philosophy of teaching grounded in the beliefs of what is knowledge and learning, while also taking into the account the context within which a teacher operates, can provide the basis of a conviction for one’s actions, an anchor that can secure the teacher when faced with the opposition that naturally occurs in trying to enact a vision of a better education. This is especially so for those trying to implement or sustain PL in the “hallowed” halls of reproductive pedagogy.

Without a philosophical basis of PL the educator is placed in a perplexed situation of trying to defend the house built on sand with the tide washing in. In deciding to flee from the UN- enable fight he becomes akin to a nomadic wanderer searching the waste lands of instrumentalist drifting from one pedagogical fad to the next but being unable to establish a foundation long enough to ensure when the next wave of “what is good education” hits the beach that they are not swept up by it. I share these philosophical questions, as hand the baton over to the new editor of Reflections on PL Karen Gogh, with the purpose of pointing out how there is a continued need to persist in the reflection of PL both empirically and philosophically. In this edition we feature highlights from the 3rd International Symposium on Problem-eased Learning and include two research papers that were presented at the symposium. I really valued the symposium as we collectively grappled with the philosophical and practical issues of PL.

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