Saturday, 21 February 2015 02:30

Portfolio Approach: Ill-Structured Cognitive Domains Featured

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As I prepare for my presentations at the INTED conference in Madrid, I am working through and externalizing my ideas about how the Portfolio Approach to Learning supports and promotes the concept of Integrity in experiential learning.

Ill-structured Cognitive Domains

Spiro et al (1992) discuss the concept of ill-structured cognitive domains. They use two disciplines to highlight their theory: Medicine and Education. In the first example, they discuss a patient who comes in for a belly-ache. The number of issues that could cause the same condition is overwhelming and could even be the result of several combined causes. 

Similarly in Education, there are so many processes and competing factors at play in a classroom, that the practitioner must be constantly alert for changes and be able to adapt to developing circumstances. As shown in this diagram, educational processes are often:

  • ill-defined
  • ill-aligned
  • non-linear

They may also be

  • concurrent
  • consecutive
  • short or occasional

ed processes

As such, they are often very difficult to discuss, to manage and to capture in a portfolio demonstration of competency. We are then reduced in our ability to learn from our experiences because we have had difficulty to capture them.

In a portfolio approach, as argued in my upcoming paper for the conference, the various processes can be much more easily captured through the use of 21st century tools supported by the community of inquiry model.

ed processes port approach

If we can capture our processes more easily and then reflect on them more readily, we will be able to achieve a higher sense of integrity when considering our work.

Speaking of a portfolio approach, here are the original board notes:

demon board 


As we teach, we have concrete experiences, trying out new lesson plans and ideas, we perform reflective observation by examining the results of our work. We then consider the abstract concepts of those reflections and try to relate them to our existing ideas about the world. We then practice active experimentation by applying our new and improved concepts to revised lesson plans and activities. We take those new ideas into our classroom and have new concrete experiences.

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As new practitioners, we may expect our students to go through 2 to 3 such cycles over the course of a 6 week practicum, while recognizing that the cycle is highly dependent on the nature of the research project. 

As we become more experienced, we may expect to move through this cycle much more quickly. The sense of integrity comes from the ability to view all areas of the experiential learning model as an integrated set of skills rather than as discrete activities. 

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Dr. Paul Leslie

Associate of Taos Institute:

Education is a Community Affair. 

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