The sound of a penny dropping

26 May 2004

As always, it was interesting to read this week’s The wonderful world of Armi.

It does sound like he has had a real aha moment. Providing student’s with meaningful aha’s is very difficult. Here’s why. For me, learning can only be said to have occurred if behaviour changes. If people reflect on their time at university, I wonder how much their behaviour changed. For example, how much has changed in the way assignments are tackled; e.g. how much do you rely on sample assignments to guide you.

Behavioural change is hard because it only happens if a person’s maps change. And maps only change (usually) when they are shown not to work in some way. Firstly, we might not be able to find a map to use i.e. We might have a street map of Auckland, but be lost in Los Angeles (Hmm, what would Weick say). If we know the that we have the wrong map that we experience it as a problem. George Kelly1 would say that when our construct system (maps) fails in this way we experience anxiety.

Secondly, we might be using a map and then realise that it doesn’t work any more. For example, if you’re driving round Auckland using an old Auckland map (or as I did a few years ago, driving around London using an old map of London), you might find that roads you intended to use are now one-way, or closed off, or even there are new roads which you didn’t expect. Your map is broken. When you notice your map is broken, George Kelly would say that we experience it as anger.

So, for us to recognise our maps as being broken (in some way) we have to experience anxiety, anger, or something similar. All of which is uncomfortable–and people are very skilled at avoiding being uncomfortable.

Now lecturers know this. And here’s the dilemma. If real learning (changes in peoples maps) only happen through a degree of “discomfort” (and there’s plenty of evidence for this), what impact does that have when student’s carry out evaluations of the class. We’ll the research seems to say that lecturers get marked down … so the challenge is “How can I engender real learning, without shooting myself in the foot0”.

are pretty useful here, because it is a very ‘map’ orientated view of people (well, he uses the term constructs) and it really is geared to the idea of “man [sic] the scientist”, that is people as constant learners. His experience cycle is much like Kolb’s learning cycle.


  1. George Kelly, and the ideas of personal construct psychology [return]