Gilmore (1990) draws several conclusions about adult learners from her study with a sample size of only three subjects. This paper reports on the same object categorisation exercise undertaken this time with adult learners only. One hundred and three students from the first year Bachelor of Teaching course at the University of Central Queensland were involved in this study.
Bowden and Hancock (1983) applied the model of human development expounded by Egan and Cowan (1979) to young adult learners (between the ages of 23 and 30) and presented case studies of two mature age students. They reiterated their conviction that learning is best approached by regarding the learner as a whole person, rather than isolating the learning situation, and they concluded that tertiary teachers need to adjust to the personalities of life cycle stages of their students. Their study provides a possible explanation of the considerable variety of responses to the exercise reported here: students may be at different stages of their life cycles, which could account for the differences in their categorisation of objects.
Harvey, Hunt and Schroder (1961) define learning in terms of how concepts are acquired, or the relational processing of information. The middle two stages of their cognitive stage model - most relevant to this discussion - describe the learner as increasingly examining herself or himself with less dependence on external causality or concrete rules. The greater capacity to separate self and externality is tied to a growing level of abstractness in conceptual thinking. This presumed connection between self awareness and conceptual abstractness suggests that students with greater self knowledge in the study presented in this paper are more likely to display a higher level of abstractness in their categorisation of the objects, an hypothesis which cannot be tested with the present methodology.
Kolb (1980) cites several items in the literature to report that university faculties devoted to the 'social professions', such as education, social work and law, tend to favour active/applied rather than reflective/pure, and concrete rather than abstract learners, and that the most successful students in those disciplines are generally those with the equivalent learning style Although this study did not seek to relate the Bachelor of Teaching students' preferences in object categorisation to their presumed learning styles, the same exercise carried out by beginning applied science, arts, engineering and health science students might yield interesting comparisons. Two qualifications are that diversity among and across groups is as likely as conformity to a small number of patterns, and that the possibility of students enrolling in courses for which their learning styles are unsuited needs consideration.
The British educational psychologist Salmon (1989) argues that the notion of personal stance (defined broadly as 'the positions which each of us takes up in life' [p.231]) in learning has implications for teachers as well as learners. She suggests that, while learning may involve the provisional 'trying out' of a new stance, '... teaching entails the public living out, wittingly or unwittingly, of what such stances may mean personally' (p.240). This is a useful reminder that the diversity of concept development, as illustrated by the variety in object categorisation reported here, should be celebrated rather than lamented, because it indicates that personally empowering experiential learning may be taking place.
|1.||tea in a packet||16.||shell|
|3.||key||18.||blue plastic bag|
|7.||cork||22.||plastic drink stirrer|
|8.||blue comb||23.||blue bottle top|
|10.||small book||25.||metal hair clip|
|12.||toy man||27.||toy car|
|13.||toy block||28.||small bottle|
|14.||packet tablets||29.||photo in frame|
|15.||white string||30.||glass ornament|
|Category||% of age group|
Figure 1: Average number of categories used for the three age levels showing standard error bars
Concept development is a crucial process in learning: it is associated with knowledge acquisition, skill formation and attitude reinforcement, and it presents a means of gauging progress in learning. Object categorisation may provide an indication about the stage of concept development of a particular learner, although the nature of the link is not clearly established. Certainly asking prospective teachers to engage in this exercise gives them information about their approach to object categorisation and hence their current level of concept development. It also acquaints them with a procedure which they can follow with their own students and alerts them to object categorisation as a useful means of investigating concept development. However, generalisations about particular age groups reaching certain levels of concept development are unlikely to be very helpful, in view of the variety of approaches and their non-correlation with age revealed in this study. Recognition of this finding puts in perspective Gilmore's citation (1990, p.53) of Stones' comments on the teaching of concepts (1979).
Nevertheless, there is potential value in using the results of this type of research to suggest possible changes to teaching strategies and learning experiences in pre-service te acher education courses. As Gilmore (1990) suggests, teachers of adults might encourage concept development and the use of a wider range of concepts in problem solving. At the very least, this study has illustrated on a larger scale many of the issues which Gilmore identified as warranting further examination.
Egan, G. & Cowan, M.A. (1979). People in systems - A model for the development in the human-service professions and education. Brooks/Cole, New York.
Gilmore, L. (1990). Categorisation and concept development. Queensland Researcher, 6(3), 48-54. http://www.iier.org.au/qjer/qr6/gilmore.html
Harvey, D.J., Hunt, D.E. & Schroder, H. (1961). Conceptual systems and personality organisation. John Wiley and Sons, New York.
Kolb, D.A. (1980). Student learning styles and disciplinary learning environments: Diverse pathways for growth. In A.W. Chickering (ed). The Modern American College. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
Ramsden, P., Beswick, D.G. & Bowden, J.A. (1986). Effects of learning skills interventions on first year university students' learning. Human Learning, 5, 151-164.
Salmon, P. (1989). Personal stances in learning. In S.W. Weil and I. McGill (eds). Making sense of experiential learning: Diversity in theory and practice. Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press, Milton Keynes, 230-241.
Stones, E. (1979). Psychology of education: A pedagogical approach. Methuen, USA.
Wallach, M.A. & Kogan, N. (1965). Modes of thinking in young children. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York.
|Please cite as: Danaher, P. A. and Purnell, K. N. (1992). Object categorisation and concept development of adult learners. Queensland Researcher, 8(1), 13-20. http://www.iier.org.au/qjer/qr8/danaher.html|