Learning About Learning: A Cybernetic Model of Skill Acquisition
Second order cybernetics is concerned with explaining the observer to herself (von Foerster).
In this respect, studies of how humans learn are second order pursuits. Not only do such studies add to the body of scientific knowledge in psychology, reflexively, they inform the investigator (and the reader who studies her findings) about his or her own cognitive processes. This reflexion can be used in powerful ways to improve on one’s ability (i) to learn (ii) to teach (iii) to teach other’s how to learn (iv) to teach other’s how to teach.
In the 1970s, the first author implemented a computer program model of the cognitive processes involved in learning and skill acquisition based on a series of empirical investigations (Scott, 1976). Recently, with assistance from the second author, the model has been reviewed, updated and re-implemented (Bansal, 2010).
The model is an explanatory model designed to provide understanding of the processes and empirically observed phenomena that are involved in learning and skill acquisition.
Key features of the model are:
1. The learner is modelled as a complex adaptive system that is dynamically self-organising.
2. Achievement of goals set is subject to a free energy economy simulated as available processing time.
3. Learning is conceived of as an evolutionary process in which problem-solving ‘operators’ are selected from a population of possible responses.
4. Complex operators may be composed from simple operators. The driver for doing so is simulated by the rule that a complex operator consumes less processing time than the equivalent set of simple operators.
The paper discusses the relevance of the model for understanding and improving learning and teaching practices.
The model is available online with an interface that (i) permits the setting of relevant parameters and (ii) provides a visual display of the model’s workings as it learns. If thought appropriate, the model can be demonstrated at the conference.
Bansal, A. (2010). A Cognitive Architecture for Learning and Skill Acquisition. Intern report, Department of Engineering Systems and Mathematics, Cranfield University, Defence Academy – College of Management and Technology, Shrivenham, Wilts., SN6 8LA, UK.
Scott, B. (1976). Cognitive Representations and Their Transformations in the Acquisition of Keyboard Skills, PhD thesis, Department of Cybernetics, Brunel University.