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Posted by on Apr 12, 2011

Zones of Proximal Development, Mobile Learning, and Art

Pushing forward with my #MobiMOOC post for the day as I was intrigued by comments on the Google Group discussion board from Ignatia regarding Vygotsky and “Zones of Proximal Development.” She explained it better so will quote her directly. 

Vygotsky had a theory that the in order for learning to happen, the distance between the understanding of the learner and the learning that could be done, should be close to one another. He called the boundaries in which optimal learning can happen the ‘Zone of Proximal development’. Basically, if someone would enter the MOOC and not know what social media is, or what a mobile device would be… chances that that person would be able to follow this MOOC would be slim. 

So as this applies to mobile, I see this zone as the distance between the mobile learner’s understanding of the capabilities afforded by mobile and any learning task. In a more informal scenario, informal learning, I see this mobile zone as well within the sphere of daily tasks and activities. There is an accepted understanding that I can use my mobile device to transfer money (M-Pesa in Kenya) or watch a YouTube video, hence learning activities, informally or otherwise, can latch onto this zone of potential proximal development. For higher-order cognitive skills, this isn’t inherently the case. There is a period of skilling required (even if this takes place with the learner on their own just figuring out what their mobile device can do) before these higher-order tasks seem possible, probable, or even warranted.

This is why experimentation is so important and perhaps why instilling or augmenting the general process of discovery with mobile can broaden that zone of proximal development. Learning about the device leads to learning with the device and this is true with SMS phones as it is with smart ones, with OLPC netbooks and iPads. And this is also why I don’t think we can truly sever the technology from the pedagogy. We should avoid technological determinism without avoiding technology. Learning as device agnostic, but not luddite. Why?

Technology is augmentative to human capacity. It allows us to do more, or do differently, or do better, than we would be able to on our own. For mobile learning, technology allows this learning to bleed into the informal corners of our world (ie, the other 70% of our lives when we aren’t in formal education), to aggressively appropriate learning in mobile situations. Augmentative. It allows us to offload automated, heavy extraneous congitive load tasks (think the time spent learning new software/applications rather than the cognitive functioning needed to actually use the things) and maximize germane cognitive load (time spent understanding the learning task at hand, processing it, and applying a schema to it so it can effectively be incorporated into the learner’s processing). Mobile helps with this a bit by being ubiquitous, present, and generally (and I stress only generally) usable. Lower extraneous load; higher germane schematic processing.  I am fairly certain we cannot divorce the technology from this equation. 

Further, Ignatia introduced Gagne’s work on classifying classes of intellectual skills in which human beings learn, as seen below:


1. Signal Learning. The individual learns to make a general, diffuse 
response to a signal. Such was the classical conditioned response of 
Pavlov. 
2. Stimulus-Response Learning. The learner acquires a precise response 
to a discriminated stimulus. 
3. Chaining. A chain of two or more stimulus-response connections is 
acquired. 
4. Verbal Association. The learning of chains that are verbal. 
5. Discrimination Learning. The individual learns to make different 
identifying responses to many different stimuli that may resemble each 
other in physical appearance. 
6. Concept Learning. The learner acquires a capability of making a 
common response to a class of stimuli. 
7. Rule Learning.  A rule is a chain of two or more concepts. 
8. Problem Solving. A kind of learning that requires the internal 
events usually called thinking (Gagné., Briggs., 1992). 

Granted, these are the simpler varieties of intellectual skills, but where does art or representative expression fit into these classes? This is something I think mobile is particularly adept at, this creative reorgoanization, layering, rendering of one’s “reality”. I am thinking of mobile projects of recorded video, audio, media, all linked to locations, presented as evidence of learning (formally) or art (informally). It fits some of these more than others, but ultimately we are left with a creative reinterpretation of reality (perhaps a very high instance of discrimination and concept learning?).

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2 Comments

  1. Love your post! And I fully agree on your remark concerning Art and how mobile devices allow creativity to be integrated more easily. Thanks for the great read!

  2. No trouble at all, Inge! I think mobile is well suited to artistic endeavors, especially. I am thinking it would be quite easy to integrate a lot of mobile artistic collaborations as well towards a specific location. Maybe art will make a comeback with mobile!

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