The philosophy outlined above has developed from a theoretical educational framework, drawing on our own work, others experiences, common sense and educational theory.
Constructivist theory (Bruner, 1986; Fosnot, 1996) has informed the pedagogical foundation for the design of all ULTRALAB projects, which have aimed at empowering participants via collective learning to actively construct their knowledge rather than passively receive information.
Collective learning emphasises learning as a social process involving the active construction of new knowledge and understanding, consideration, participation in and discussion of existing knowledge. This form of learning developed as a reaction against the behaviourist perspective of individual activity and Piaget's categorisation of learning stages. The restrictive nature of these pedagogues has resulted in their decline in use in most learning organisations.
Collective learning should not be confused with self-direction. Although self-directed learning does not mean isolation neither is it collective learning. Studies of self-directed learning indicate that self-directed projects involve an average of ten other people as resources, guides and the like (Zemke, 1984), but the learning is more passive than active.
Collective learning is seen to be most effective because it involves the active construction of knowledge, combined with peer learning, which results in the development of different methods of problem solving and interaction. This results in motivated and considered feedback (Kaye, 1995). Empirical research demonstrates the strong positive effect of interactivity on learning (Bosco, 1986). Stafford in 1990 examined 96 learning studies and concluded that interactivity was associated with learning achievement and retention of knowledge over time (Najjar, 1995). Educational theory (Bruner, 1986; Vygotski, 1978) has long established that people learn material faster and have a better attitude toward learning material when they learn in an interactive learning environment.
Learners in a collaborative learning environment control their own learning, learn effectively from others and collaborate to construct knowledge. It is important to note that a simple project study or set task is not collaborative learning, even though the pace of work and knowledge acquisition may be in the control of the learner as the learner is gaining information from resources like books, lectures and the Internet. Communication is not collaboration, just as choice is not participation. Effective learning requires both participation and collaboration (Vygotski, 1978).
Following phase 1 of LiNM (Learning in the New Millennium) we recognised that the asynchronous conferencing process, where people could reply to someone's message after thinking about it and preparing their reply at leisure, has significant advantages in that it offers excellent opportunities for reflection. Natural scaffolding (Vygotsky, 1976) can be developed through the continual focus on collaboration, and if participants are encouraged to use the computer and software environment as mind tools (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989, Jonassen, 1994; Prickett, Higgins, & Boone, 1994).
Having the ACOT (Apple Classroom of Tomorrow) research as a model (Dwyer, Rignstaff, Haymore Sandholtz, 1997) we have also established through our projects (LiNM, Schools OnLine, think.com) that the appropriation of ICT technologies through increasing technical competence will lead to a sense of ownership of the work that is developed. It is well established from ULTRALABs own and others work in the field (Cox, 1997) that online communities need to be given time to evolve, and that this process can be enhanced through social, informal dialogue and the exchange of stories (Comstock & Fox, 1995) and annotations. However having substantial expertise and experienced facilitation, as in ULTRALABs Talking Heads project where 15 full time experienced facilitators were use, will shorten start up times. The use of a facilitator as a source of passion and motivation cannot be underestimated. Many successful learning experiences are based more on the teachers ability to motivate than on the value of the materials they use to teach
There have been major innovations in the learning process, which include the use of multimedia teaching materials and self paced learning. These systems have become a fashionable import from American and ILS (Integrated Learning Systems) applications can be found in 1 in 7 secondary schools, despite the cultural differences between American and UK education systems. Recent assessment of the use of such systems1 in both the USA and UK has demonstrated unimpressive results and in fact concluded that the use of ILS can be detrimental to some educational groups. This is because simple addition of multimedia materials and self paced learning is not enough to deliver other than the most basic task orientated training. The best programmes using new technology are non linear, participative and collaborative,
Neither should we assume better learning on the back of technological improvements. Chu and Shram (1967) reported after a decade on the impact of colour television. They found that the addition of colour had had no impact whatsoever as programme makers simply continued to make more of the same rather than investigating new uses of the technology which were enhanced by the use of colour. It is necessary to understand that it is not the technology itself which is important, it's knowing what to do differently and what to continue in the same pattern that matters.
Anecdotally we know that some of our most memorable learning takes place outside the formality of the school curriculum. We often forget lessons but remember the small pieces of information passed on by the security guard in the museum, the TV programme we found by mistake, or by a teacher abandoning that set curriculum to speak with real passion. Such an experience often establishes a new set of relationships and both formal and informal debate among experts, children and teachers as the story is considered over time. Asynchronous conferencing allows this extension or following through of a story/learning experience.
New methods of communication using the Web and computer conferencing are allowing us to extend learning beyond the traditional confines of professional and traditional institutions. This technology can be used as a conduit to deliver content (Information Delivery Technology) or, more usefully, it can help support the building of deeper understanding (Information Communication Technology) through participation, engagement and experienced facilitation. How we use the technology, and the model of learning we adopt, will be vital especially if we wish to reach learning resistant or excluded populations. Technology can open the doors to learning institutions and allow the community inside, thereby enabling all children as well as adults other than teachers to become participants in, and witnesses to, the learning process. The leveling effect of the technology can allow us to develop projects that bring pupils together with adults from outside the classroom as "experts", to scaffold each other, and to work with and alongside each other as was the case in LiNM . We have the opportunity to build online communities where children and adults can engage in thought provoking discourse on their own terms, thereby scaffolding (Vygotsky, 1976) each other's learning