Thursday, December 22, 2016

Reading Room Material: Luke Cage & Expertise

Editorial Note: One of the goals for my blog is to connect educators with Cognitive Science. To make that connection, I try bring in real-world examples. I've been mildly successful in doing so, but I feel like there's something missing. I feel like there's more I can do. 

With today's post, I am going to start publishing a new type of blog called Reading Room Material. The goal is to share examples of Cognitive Science from the outside world. The focus isn't necessarily to define a technical term from the field, like my traditional posts. Instead, the goal is to connect Cognitive Science to our daily lives. 

Luke Cage: Season 1, Episode 2 "Code of the Streets"

Luke Cage is a Netflix television show that's based on a Marvel comic. The titular character works at a barbershop, and it is owned by a man everyone lovingly refers to as, "Pop." Like barbershops of old, Pop offers a straight-razor shave. Cornell Stokes (a.k.a. "Cottonmouth") is one of Pop's oldest associates; however, he has somewhat lost his way. 

In this particular episode, Cornell comes in for a shave so he can chat with Pop about a missing person. Here's a snippet of their dialog [1]: 

Stokes: The clippers are idiot-proof. That's what's missin' nowadays, Pop. Attention to detail. Everyone wants things fast, quick. Me? I like to take my time.
Pop: Time is a luxury most working class men cannot afford.
Stokes: True. Time is precious. Shouldn't be wasted. Mmm A good razor shave is like a vacation to me. It's incredible how few people take advantage.
Pop: It's a lost art.
Stokes: Exactly. That's the problem with these youngsters. They want it all. But they don't want to put in the work. They'll rob lie, cheat, steal, just to get what they want. Damn shame if you ask me.
Pop: Yeah.
Stokes: Shame.
Pop: Mmm-hmm.

There's definitely some subtext here. So what are they really talking about? Some may disagree, but what I think they're really talking about is deliberate practice [2]. Students just aren't willing to put in the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become experts! Moreover, the vanguard seem to lament that fact. 

Whether a person is a gangester or a violinist, they have to put in the time. There is no free lunch when it comes to expertise!

Share and Enjoy!

Dr. Bob

More Material

[1] Here is the full transcript of the episode.

[2] Ericsson, A., & Pool, R. (2016). Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Pop a Cap: The iCAP Framework

Learning By Doing

Before we begin, let's learn about how a jet engine works [1]. While you watch this 5-minute video, do your best to learn the contents of the video, while paying attention to your learning process. That is, make a mental note of what you're doing to learn the material. I know that's probably going to split your attention across two different sources of information (I therefore apologize!). Finally, while you are watching, remember not to fall prey to the illusion of explanatory depth! I know that's a lot to ask, but try your best. Here you go:

Friggin' jet do they work?

Pop Quiz! Do your best to answer the following questions:
  • Why is cold air super-heated in the combustion chamber?
  • What shape are the stator blades on the turbine?
  • Why is the outlet narrower than the intake?
  • We all know jet engines are extremely loud. What makes them so noisy?

Now it's time to introspect on your learning experience. While you were watching the video, what did you do to learn the material? Did you:
  1. Passively listen to the voiceover and watch the animations?
  2. Pause the video and take notes?
  3. Ask yourself questions or attempt to connect the material to what you already know?
  4. Talk to a friend about the video? 

Depending on the activities in which you engaged, we can make an educated guess about the likelihood of your learning the material. The iCAP Framework [2] makes the following predictions:
  1. Shallow learning occurs when a student passively processes the material;
  2. Better learning results when the student actively does something to learn the material;
  3. We would observe even better learning if the student is making connections and constructively working with the material;
  4. The best learning outcome would be observed in an interactive discussion.
Each of these four learning processes are defined in the sections that follow.


This is the easiest learning process to describe. Passive learning occurs when the student engages in no overt behavior. A great example is a student listening to a lecture. Presumably, the learner is listening to the words in the lecture and looking at the images (assuming there is a slide presentation). In other words, during passive learning, the information is being attended to and it passes through working memory. From there, it is anybody's guess as to the ultimate fate of that information. In the best case, the presented material is stored in long-term memory in such a way that it is available for later recall. However, from the outside observer's point of view, the student is not overtly doing anything to remember the material.


Here's where things get a little more interesting. An active learning process requires that the student engage in an overtly observable behavior. Going back to our lecture example, a student would be said to be engaged in active learning if she is taking notes. Another example would be highlighting a passage in a textbook. The external behavior that occurs during active learning results in some external representation (e.g., notes or highlighting). Active learning is the hallmark of many other learning theories, which suggest that the student should be doing something while learning. In fact, active learning forms the basis of John Dewey's pragmatic educational philosophy [3]. 


The problem with active learning is that it mainly focuses on the overt learning behavior instead of considering the content or quality of those behaviors. Thus, a constructive learning process is one in which the learner goes beyond the information that is immediately presented. For example, suppose I gave a student the following function: f(x) = ax2 + b+ c, and I tell the student, "This is a quadratic function." Recognizing that the prefix "quad-" is the same as a class of shapes (i.e., quadrilaterals), the student points out that a square is a quadrilateral, and that the formula for calculating the area of a square is A = x2This student is wildly constructive because she has made connections to her previous knowledge and elaborated the original message. Thus, constructive learning takes active learning one step further by adding new information to the target material [4].


Being constructive is a great learning strategy because a student is much more likely to remember something when he or she generates it for him- or herself (see the generation effect). However, construction typically happens while learning alone. Interactive learning says that the lesson or material will be better understood if it is done in the context of a learning partner. The reason for the advantage is that two different people typically have non-overlapping knowledge, in that they share some of the same knowledge, but they also know some things that the other person does not. We also see things differently. The reason interactive learning can be better than constructive learning is when collaborators infer new knowledge together. In the literature, this idea goes by many names, including co-construction or co-inference.

To summarize, Table 1 defines each learning process and provides a concrete example.

Learning Process Definition Example
Passive No overt activity Listening to a lecture
Active Overt activity is observed
Learning by doing
Taking notes during a lecture
Constructive Going beyond the given information Drawing a concept map
Interactive Co-inferring new information with a partner Collaboratively identifying differences and similarities

Table 1. A summary of each learning process.

The S.T.E.M. Connection

Marshall McLuhan famously said, "The medium is the message." When students are given a video to learn from, it is very tempting to sit back and assume a passive learning orientation. After all, that's what we do when we watch television. That might change with the rise in popularity of educational videos; however, most of us have been trained to treat videos as entertainment. One way to combat passive learning is to give the student a task while watching the video that pushes them toward the active/constructive end of the continuum. 

Another suggestion is to ask students to watch videos in pairs with the explicit instructions to pause the video and ask each other questions. This is a good way to structure collaborative learning because the students can learn from the video as well as from each other [5].

I realize it's not always possible, or even desirable, to ask students to work collaboratively and co-construct new information. But I think the iCAP Framework is a useful way of organizing the learning literature because it helps highlight learning processes that are more (or less) effective. Our goal as instructional designers is to use the framework to select the appropriate learning process for the task at hand.

Share and Enjoy!

Dr. Bob

Going Beyond the Information Given

[1] The video "Jet Engine, How it works ?" is produced by Learn Engineering. If you are interested in learning more about a variety of other engineering topics (e.g., wind turbines), this is a good resource.

[2] Chi, M. T. H., & Wylie, R. (2014). The ICAP framework: Linking cognitive engagement to active learning outcomes. Educational Psychologist, 49, 219-243.

[3] I find this idea so useful that I open each blog with the heading Learning By Doing.

[4] Again, I find this idea so compelling that each blog also has also has a section entitled Going Beyond the Information Given.

[5] Chi, M. T. H., Roy, M., & Hausmann, R.G.M. (2008) Observing tutorial dialogues collaboratively: Insights about human tutoring effectiveness from vicarious learning. Cognitive Science, 32(2), 301-341.