Contextualizing learning through the Ecology of Resources (EoR) framework

Ecology of Resources Design Framework (EoR)

The EoR is a framework used to investigate and consider the forms of resources a learner currently obtains, and subsequent resources to help build their understanding. Applying the EoR model requires exploring the learner’s context in various ways (interview, ethnographically, observation) to reveal their available internal and external resources, such as knowledge, environment, tools and people, and the relationships between them.

Following this would be determining other resources and more able partners (MAPs) that would help move the learner from their present state of understanding to a more developed one. The space between the two states would be considered zones: zone of proximal development (Vygotsky), proximal adjustment, and available assistance. See diagram below about these zones taken from:   The placement of assistance would be to have supports that are just-in-time and fading in order to scaffold learning.


This is a complex framework and model to help explore the context of the learner in order to design useful, supportive and  customized/personalized learning experiences. It continues in understanding the relationship between resources, such as the use of technology and available apps or WiFi connection, and other affordances.

The framework also identifies both positive and negative filters in a learner’s context, which are taken into consideration when developing learning supports. This could be a mentor, organizational structure, workshop, rules, etc.

While developing learning using such a framework could be potentially overwhelming and complex, I believe it offers a deeper look at the many influences and resources surrounding a learner. I like the concept of considering the relationship between resources – this peaks my interest, and has me wonder about multi-layered and dynamic situations, tools and influences affect learning based on and for real-life scenarios.

A good case study about exploring EoR for language learning can be found at:


Rhizomatic possibility

Dave Cormier spoke this week via the change MOOC venue on rhizomatic learning – a model meaning that “curriculum is not driven by predefined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process” (Cormier, 2008). I can appreciate Dave’s attempt to define and theorize the learning taking place in a networked, information-heavy world to illicit it and to  present an argument that formal education should apply it, as well.The distributed knowledge/network learning/chaos theory movement, as played out through MOOCs, is a good attempt to forward new ways of learning due to the affordances of technology and the learning hunger of people.

Yet, I can’t help feeling that measures are taking place to ‘name’ what is happening to justify it as the BIG way to learn while diminishing traditional formal ways of learning. To me, this is an attempt to throw the baby out with the bathwater and not learn from the earlier work of others (okay, that might be a bit harsh – he does draw on constructivist type learning, etc.). Emerging as modern day critical theorists, Dave et al. are showing how traditional modes of learning are antiquated and ineffective. I do think there is truth to that but I also see the amazing work some teachers are doing within their imposed structures.

However, my concern is not that they are exploring new horizons (which I am following with them) but that the slate is being wiped clean in order to make way for another suggested mode of learning. If they can mix in the old by considering other foundational thinking and theory, I can buy in more. It takes time to think through these things and I appreciate how Dave, Stephen and George are being open and sharing in their thought process.

I rarely criticize others in a public venue but Dave has something and has my interest. So, Dave, my criticism is a good thing and I encourage you to keep developing your ideas and I will, too!

Complexity and chaos theory

Picking up the book The Ingenuity Gap by Thomas Homer-Dixon after a Christmas break, I found the author’s comments and ideas generating new questions for me as an educational researcher. For instance, he comments that scientifically it is difficult to understand the complex, and at times chaotic systems, of our economical, ecological, social,and technological worlds – thus, increasing the difficulties of finding innovative solutions to their problems. He stated, “Chaotic behaviour arises from a conjunction of some of the key characteristics of complex systems … multiple components, dense causal connections among these components, feedback loops, synergy, and nonlinear dynamics” (2001, p.124). That is, components and initial conditions that might affect systems are hard to determine.

He also stated scientists have found behaviour in any system less predictable due to:

  • their different reactions to varying, and changing conditions, and
  • their multiple states of equilibrium.

Using these theories in terms of understanding an organism like humans, thus students, increases the difficulty of teaching them and understanding how they learn. If our personal environments, past experiences, and current physiology affects our reactions and behaviours, then how can teachers/instructors teach to such diversity? Is creating less formal, less structured, and open learning environments the answer? However, from my understanding of Homer-Dixon’s explanation of these theories, neither negates structures indicating systems don’t necessarily need to be free flowing. Perhaps, no or little structure creates more chaos?

I think the question then becomes how to work with unpredictable organisms, such as humans, and create learning structures that produce significant and interesting results (learning outcomes, in a rough manner of speaking), that might in turn solve problems of our increasingly complex world. When I look at teaching in this way, it becomes overwhelming. However, I think current thinkers, such as Stephen Downes and George Siemens, are starting to examine new ways of learning, which I consider draws somewhat on complexity theory.

One philosopher that might be helpful for this inquiry is Anthony Giddens and his theory of structuration. In his theory, both structure and agents (individuals) are valid and affect each other. That is, structures are necessary and enable humans to act. What, then, are the structures that would enable good and useful learning for today’s students? Additionally, how does technology factor into that? I believe it is time we re-examine learning for the 21st century.

Placing the field of ed tech

Laura Czerniewicz (2008) in her paper, Distinguishing the Field of Educational Technology, outlines the field of educational technology as emerging and viewed differently from a scholarly and professional perspective. Foremost, the state of the field is questioned and wondered if it is coherent and unified, with some commenting the field is fragmented. She also offers that educational technology is used synonymously and erroneously with instructional technology and instructional design.

As a profession is it is relatively new with emerging professions in educational institutes, as an example. Yet, its scholarly role is questioned. For instance, it is stated “stability, recognition and boundaries are therefore generally associated with the concept of a discipline. Given that these are still so contested, it is surprising that educational technology seems more often referred to as a field than as a discipline” (p.174). However, Merrill refers to instructional design as a scientific discipline. What is more, “educational technology draws on so many disciplines, the community of educational technologists may only be familiar with “feeder disciplines”, each of which is own theoretical domain, and indeed these outlooks may be incommensurable” (Jones, 2004 as cited by Czerniewicz, p. 174). Therefore, Reigeluth and Carr-Chelman (2006) suggest that instructional theory needs more consistent terminology and common knowledge base, which would help future developments. More important, this field needs to be grounded in theory.

Theorizing about connectivism

Kop and Hill (2008), in their article Connectivism: Learning Theory of the Future or Vestige of the Past?, examine if connectivism, as given by George Siemens and Stephen Downes , is a viable theory to be used in education and its development within the digital age. They argue whether connectivism is an emerging, tested theory or one that is developing, primarily providing a framework to view a phenomenon. They consider it as the latter with potential to be tested empirically later, and which provides practical implications for elearning and pedagogies today.

Downes and Siemens see knowledge as the collective arrangement of information, not something that solely develops in one’s mind. Thus, they see the web as a key source for knowledge building. And by selecting and filtering information, based on a person’s decisions, experience, and skills, people learn. However, other learning theorist defend the use of language, logic, and the social influence as the way people learn. The differences in this argument makes for an interesting discussion.

The main conclusion was that learners still want to be led by an instructor and not necessarily wander through the vast web networks selecting information on their own, or learning entirely in informal ways. Kop and Hill think this method would diminish the learning required for formal education. Thus, they feel critical engagement, developed thinking and debates need guidance. Guidance could also include the best uses of technology.

Though the authors realize newer generations are more adept at using modern technology and new softwares than are older students and even institutions, this does not give license to removing tutors or minimizing their role as a facilitator. There must be leaders in the learning process that offer critical and localized influence, as believed by Freire. Kop states “nearly all students preferred the help and support of the local or online tutor to guide them through resources and activities, to validate information, and to critically engage them in the course content” (p.8).

Yet with connectivism, learner autonomy is high relying on informal learning and individual information/network choices. Perhaps, there can be a blend of the two views on how people learn. Would giving liberties to develop student-selected networks, to build one’s own understanding and presenting it as such gird against the formal education system? How would one assess this? Could the instructor give up that much control? Do we need to rethink what constitutes knowledge and learning in our own settings?

Yet, perhaps blending constructivism- and connectivism-based learning methods, in the end, would only create conflict, and counter the essence of each. More so, addressing epistemology is a large debate that would take a long time to resolve. Too long to consider if and how to use connectivistic ideals in education. In the meantime, connectivism is a welcomed new idea and discussion on how we think and learn, and can use advanced technologies to support this.

Online learning theory

Terry Anderson (2008) has edited a book on The Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Most chapter authors are by staff at Athabascau university, or are paired with other authors, sharing insights and best practices most likely from their experience with delivering online learning.

Theory without practice leads to an empty idealism,
and action without philosophical reflection leads to mindless activism
(Elias and Merriam as cited by Hanuka, p.90)


Here is a summary of some of the chapters that focus on theory of online learning:

Introduction by Terry Anderson

  • the 5th generation of distance education brings with it Web 2.0 ideas but does not stand along. It blends with the other generations. 
  • the Net has changed formal education

Foundations of Educational Theory for Online Learning by M. Ally.

  • in order for instructors to develop and teach online, they must know the principles of learning and how students learn
  • online learning draws on a combination of theories such as behaviouralism (what/facts), cognitive psychology (how/process), constructivism (why/self interpretation), and connectivism (learning through networks).
  • teaching strategies should “motivate learners, facilitate deep processing, build the whole person, cater to individual differences, promote meaningful learning, encourage interaction, provide relevant feedback, facilitate contextual learning, and provide support during the learning process” (pp.18-19).
  • the design of individual learning objects will become prevalent and be designed/redesigned for online learning

 Towards a Theory of Learning by T. Anderson

  • Four concepts contribute to a good learning environment per Bransford, Brown & Cocking (1999): it is learner-centered (includes learner, institution, instructor, society); knowledge-centred;  assessment-centred; and community-centred (collaboration)
  • Terry has found a “wide variation in expectations of learners towards participation in a community of learners” (p.51)
  • this might be due to “the higher and richer the form of communication, the more restrictions are placed on independence” (p.56); as well, community can bind time for learners as with group work (p. 61)
  • “the flexibility of virtual communities allows for more universal participation, but a single environment that responds to all students’ needs does not exist. Thus, the need for variations that accommodate the diverse needs of learners and teachers at different stages of their life cycles is necessary” (and I would add: stage of online experience, and time since last in a formal program)
  • the affordances of the web includes communication and information management tools that aid flexible time and space, access, different types of exchanges, constructive learning, learner control, peer tutoring and support, customization, learner vs teacher participation, tagging, social software, self-organizing capacities, and the Semantic web (user and agent driven)
  • knowledge can be created through many networks (Dron, 2007)
  • consider the interactions between students – content – instructor and between themselves; whereas, “sufficient levels of deep and meaningful learning can be developed as long as one of the three forms of interaction is at very high levels” (p.66)
  • Thus, rich interaction and engagement can be established through diverse teaching and learning strategies that focus on the learner, the community, flexibility, and intentional construction that considers the needs of learners, the role of the instructor, the use of content, meaningful uses of technology, and the networked world.

Understanding E-Learning Technologies-in-Practice through Philosophies-in-Practice, by H. Kanuka

  • how we perceive teaching and learning (our philosophy-in-practice) will determine if and how we choose e-learning technologies
  • are technologies neutral? (ie. McLuhan, Clark)
  • philosophies of technology: user determinism (tech is neutral and users determine/control their effect; instrumentalism); social determinism (tech uses are affected by social structures); technological determinism (tech determines our uses and changes society – good/bad effects, disruptive tech catalyst of change, influences postmodernism) 
  • philosophies of teaching: liberal (search for truth, develop moral people, lecture, teacher-driven); progressive (personal growth, democratic cooperation, pragmatic, learner-driven);  behaviourist (observable changes, mastery learning, content-driven); humanist (self-actualization, freedom, autonomy, self-directed learning, affective vs cognitive); radical (invoke change with action; ideal speech, collective dialogue); analytical (develop rationality, content focus)
  • considering one’s philosophy of teaching influences how technology is used. The matching of these philosophies is unique and gives a clearer view of the diversity of teaching with technology. It also gives permission for those instructors that do not see the medium as the message as with technological determinism. Can we not continue to teach in rich ways online that do not take into account the semantic network, networked learning, Web 2.0 and the other evolving ways to create and interact online?