Skills and Competencies as Representable Meta-knowledge for Tele-learning Design by Gilbert Paquette cirta-licef research Center



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Integrating cognitive, affective, social and psycho-motor domains


The generic process on figure 4 shows a strong emphasis on affective and social skills. For example, “To persevere and to adapt the course of action” is a sub-process where affective and social skills are deeply involved. We can indicate this by labels C, P, A and S representing a cognitive, psycho-motor, affective or social skills. More over this generic process can be applied in domains as different as a research project (cognitive skills), a psychosomatic therapy (change of the emotional attitudes), organizational change (social skill) or sports training (psychomotor skill).

This kind of integration is a fundamental feature of our skills taxonomy. Figure 5 shows another example where a diagnosis meta-process model is represented together with two very different instanciations in a cognitive and an affective application domain.

At the metaknowledge level, the diagnosis process takes a component model of a situation as input and returns a list or faulty element to correct. First, a sub-model is selected to focus on a probably faulty sub-model. Then this model is decomposed to generate hypothesis or faulty candidates. Each hypothesis is tested with attributes compared to some norms. If the corresponding component is faulty, it is added to the list; if not, a new hypothesis must be generated and tested.

The only difference between the two applications is the nature of the input and output of the diagnosis process.



  • In the first case, it is applied to the model of a hardware system with components being pieces of equipment down to very small part that can be deficient; the output is a list of faulty parts.

  • In the second case, it is applied to an affective situation where the components are facts and opinions that people have expressed on a certain event that has caused guilt to occur in a person; the results can be acts that should not have been made, or opinions that are not supported by facts or are clearly exaggerated.

Figure 5 – A diagnostic skill applied to a cognitive and an affective situation

This example shows us that skills in our taxonomy are described mainly by their functions in the process by which a person perceives and transforms knowledge, acts, reacts or interact in a given situation, rather than according to the type of stimulus or response: cognitive acts, motor actions, affective or social attitudes.

Contrary to their traditional use in the definition of the educational objectives, skills are here learning goals, (meta-) knowledge that one can represent, analyze or evaluate in itself or in relation to knowledge of various domains. Skills as meta-knowledge must be present in domain knowledge (as meta-traces) if we want to be able to propose them as targets of learning activities, in the same way as the knowledge in a specific domain.

It may seem ambitious to propose a taxonomy integrating the cognitive, psychomotor, emotional and social domains, while so many practitioners in education use taxonomies of skills separated for each of these meta-domains. We believe on the contrary that in instructional engineering, it is important to integrate them. As underlined by Martin and Briggs: "This subdivision is relatively arbitrary because the psychologists and the educators agree that, in the reality of educational practice, no real separation between the cognitive, emotional and psychomotor states is possible "9. Martin and Briggs quote in support to this assertion several other authors, notably some having produced important taxonomies such as [Bloom 1975] and [Gagné 1970].

Although recent developments in neuro-physiology suggest that regions of the brain are specialized in cognition, emotions or psychomotor commands, research in this domain shows evidence of an integration between the various constituents of the brain in each of our activities. As an example, Daniel Goleman underlines that "our emotional faculties drive us constantly in our choices; they work of concert with the rational spirit and allow - or forbid - the exercise of the very thought processes. Also, the cognitive brain plays an executive role in our feelings." 10

In Paquette et al 2000 we have built a complete table showing examples in the cognitive, affective, social and psycho-motor meta-domains for each of the 10 major skills on the second layer of the taxonomy. It shows that this taxonomy can be interpreted in each of the four meta-domains (cognitive, psycho-motor, affective or social). For example, we can repair theories and movements, as well as attitudes or social relations. What differentiate these four meta-domains is essentially the type of input to a skill and its resulting production. If the stimuli or the result concerns rational thought, motor capacities, affectivity or social interactions, we will label the skill to be cognitive, psychomotor, affective or social.

More generally, we could say that somebody is "intelligent" on the rational, physical, emotional or social dimension if it he or she is capable of applying in most of cases, all types of skills for that dimension. This is basically what the American psychologist Howard Gardner suggests by taking into account multiple intelligences as the basic conceptual structure of the intellect.11


4. Use of the taxonomy for instructional engineering


We will now briefly outline some applications to instructional engineering of the skills taxonomy presented above. We will first present a way to standardize the interpretation of competency profiles, our starting point in this paper. Then, we will use a meta-knowledge approach to define learning needs and help focus content definition. We will use a skills representation as a basis for a learning scenario and to identify the roles and resources of different actors in a tele-learning system Paquette 2001.
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