Conversation Theory - Sample Essay

If we accept the point that learning how to acquire and apply knowledge — any knowledge, variable knowledge — is as important as learning the fundamental knowledge (and perhaps more important than learning specific knowledge that can soon become obsolete), then teaching students general cognitive process and their corresponding methods — becomes one of the critical goals of education. Obviously, teaching general cognitive processes applicable to variable knowledges can be carried out only through and within teaching specific knowledges.

At issue is, however, whether teaching knowledge represents and objective in itself or, also, a means of teaching general cognitive processes. <from landa> Conversation Theory, developed by G. Pask, is based on the fundamental idea that learning occurs through conversations about a subject matter that serve to make knowledge explicit. Conversations can be conducted at a number of different levels: natural language (general discussion), object languages (for discussing the subject matter), and metalanguages (for talking about learning/language).

In order to facilitate learning, Pask argued that subject matter should be represented in the form of entailment structures that show what is to be learned. Entailment structures exist in a variety of different levels depending upon the extent of relationships displayed (e. g. , super/subordinate concepts, analogies). Pask’s theory has been applied most extensively to the teaching and learning of statistics and probabilities. Pask identified two different types of learning strategies: serialists who progress through an entailment structure in a sequential fashion and holists who look for higher order relations.

The major aspect of CT that distinguishes it from Maturana’s and von Foerster’s accounts of cognition and communication is that Pask chooses to distinguish between the “biological” or “bio-mechanical” and the “psychological” or “conceptual”. As well as the individuality of biological organisms as self-producing, “autopoietic” (Maturana’s term), cybernetic “machines”, Pask distinguishes the individuality of conceptual systems, processes of knowing and coming to know, that are coherent, self-producing and, hence “organisationally closed”.

Pask refers to such systems as psychological (p-) individuals. For Pask, “consciousness” is a property of a p-individual, a system that potentially may “know with itself” that it is a system. It is not a property of a “mechanical individual” (m individual). The participants in a conversation are p-individuals. The conversation is itself a p-individual. Do note the power of the distinction: m and p-individuals are not necessarily in one to one correspondence.

One “m” may house several “p’s”; one “p” may be housed by several m’s. When we learn, we are said to acquire “knowledge”. In CT, as a radical constructivist theory, “having knowledge” is understood as a process of knowing and coming to know. It is not the “storage” of “representations”. However, it is of course still useful to construct external representations of knowledge and to distinguish between different kinds of knowledge. There are many ways of distinguishing kinds of knowledge.

Following Bloom (Bloom, ed. , 1956), it is common practice to distinguish between “knowledge”, “skills” and “values”. Often, different sub-types of “knowledge” are distinguished. For example, Gagne, Briggs and Wager (1992) distinguish motor skills, discriminations, intellectual skills, defined concepts, concrete concepts, cognitive strategies, attitudes, problem solving, verbal information (names or labels, facts, knowledge), rules and higher-order rules.

Romiszowski’s (1984) classification is even more complex. He distinguishes four main kinds of “knowledge” (facts, procedures, concepts, principles) and four main kinds of “skill” (cognitive, psychomotor, reactive, interactive), with further subdivisions. In CT, these more elaborate schemes for describing “what is learned” are avoided as introducing unnecessary complication but also because (in the author’s view) the distinctions made are not always well-defined or easy to apply.