Education Needs Clarity

Beginnings: My Graduate Experience  (The 90s and the oughts)

My PhD was not motivated by a career path, but by my love of learning. Temple U’s Associate Professor Helmut Bartel (a proclaimed social constructionist) was an intellectual guide who helped me to recognize the relevance of social theories to my professional experiences; that is, I was by nature a pragmatist. Helmut left Temple before I could develop a dissertation topic and it was fortuitous because I needed to challenge myself to align my thoughts with new mentors. While trying to form a dissertation topic a professor said offhand, “It sounds to me that your talking about validity.” I read Messick’s chapter titled Validity in Linn’s (ed) Handbook of Educational Measurement. The references and the lineage of his ideas were all different, but the conversations where much the same and they centered around a pragmatic approach. The patrons of validity, Messick, Cronback and Meehl, were very clearly analytic in their thinking, but the logic of pragmatism was already deeply embedded in their thought.

Why Philosophy

My studies were in educational psychology, and I do find many discussion in philosophy to be tedious and boring, so why discuss philosophy.  Because, for everything we say, there are many things that are left unsaid and for everything we do, much of the reasoning is left unsaid and unquestioned.  The philosophy I discuss is about shining a light on practices to see what we are taking for granted and to understand what has been left unsaid. What we need is clarity, and that is precisely the purpose of philosophy in its analytic, neoanalytic and pragmatic forms.

Where is Validity in Educational Practice

How do you address validity questions that appear paradigmatically opposed to traditional empirical scientific practice? I begin with an adaptation of a thought who linage I trace Helmut. A successful paradigm change must account for the current paradigm in both its successes and failures in order to forge a true new order. The dominate and implicit practice paradigms today are still mostly based in a dualist objectivist analytic philosophy. Post-modern / post-structural and Marxis based critiques all excel at accounting for the ideological failures of an analytic approach, but not its successes. They fail to point to a way to move practice forward and seem to be losing steam, even as their critiques of analytic approaches remain valid. I think a better way is to consider pragmatism.
Pragmatism and Analytic Philosophy share a commitment to logic and the science method. What Pragmatism brings is a unity of science, practice and ethics (Boncompagni, 2001). Scientific practices are always situated in the midst of ethical horizons best understood as historicized ideological practices. This also matches my earlier experiences where I was working in disability services. The field was moving on from the least restrictive environment to minority rights and people first language. I thoroughly believe in the practicality of science, but science based practices were slow to adapt and often seemed to be standing in the way of ethically empowering practices. Obsessed with an unsustainable conception of objectivity, many scientists could not see how a lack of ethics impoverished science and made it weaker, not stronger.

Pragmatism to the Analytic and Back

I see the history of Pragmatism beginning with Peirce, James, Dewey and Mead, but it became overshadowed by the analytic approaches of European trained academics, especially those associated with the Vienna Circle. As problems were recognized in Analytic Philosophy there began a slow and constant evolution towards pragmatism. In Analytic Philosophy this included people and their ideas such as Quinn, Kuhn, and Wittgenstein. In educational psychology this included Cronbach, Meehl and Messick. This may not be exactly James’ or Dewey’s Pragmatism, but it’s much closer than the direction sought by the Vienna Circle or BF Skinner and I believe that a movement towards pragmatism continues today.

To understand pragmatic social science, let’s begin with Joseph Margolis’ claim: “language and what language uniquely makes possible in the way of the evolving powers of the human mind are emergent, artifactual, hybrid precipitates of the joint processes of biological and cultural evolution;” I see this as something like taking up the naturalism and social behaviorism of Dewey and Mead.  This approach may no longer provide  a foundation for infallible truths, but there is still room for an ethical, objective and empirically warranted practice. This social behavioral and empirical science should be distinguished from Skinner’s radical behaviorism in the same way logical positivism is distinguished from current analytic / pragmatic  approaches.   The knowledge radical behaviorism engenders, fails to adequately recognize the full nature of language and the social world it makes possible.  As a result radical behaviorism leaves knowledge as flat and shallow and more often results in situations (as Wittgenstein noted) where the educational problem and the method pass one another by without interacting. To be valid, empirical methods must reflect the contextualized, artifactual and ethical demands of the problems within a philosophically Darwinian framework of an organism’s adaptation to the social and physical environment. Adaptation is very personal and includes concepts like social poetics.  That is, I accept analytic tools and methods, but recognize them only within social ethical fields that are interpretive as above.  Just as analytic philosophy has moved back toward Pierce, James, Dewey and Mead, radical behaviorism can only be relevant by moving toward Vygotsky, Dewey, Wittgenstein and social poetics.


Margolis, Joseph (2012-10-17). Pragmatism Ascendent: A Yard of Narrative, a Touch of Prophecy (p. 133). Stanford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Boncompagni, A (2011). Book Review on New Perspectives on Pragmatism and Analytic Philosophy, EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY, III, 2, 290-299.

Garrison, J (1995). Deweyan Pragmatism and the Epistemology of Contemporary Social Constructivism, American Educational Research Journal, 32, 716-740.

The Real Relationship: An Idea to Support Collaborative Practice

Gelso, C.J. (2011). The Real Relationship in Psychotherapy: The Hidden Foundation of Change, Washington D.C.:APA (

Most human practices, like management or education, have a social interactive foundation.  (Managers manage and collaborate with people and educators guide their development.)  Consequently the insights of psychotherapy, the most studied of all interactive processes, are usually very relevant; as is this book.  Gelso’s premise is that a tripartite relational foundation underlies successful therapeutic change: (1)The working relationship (agreements instrumental to completing the task at hand), (2) transference [“a client’s experience of the therapist that is shaped by the client’s own psychological (and social historical based) structure”] and counter-transference (the effect of the therapist’s psychological and social historical based structure), and (3) the real relationship.  He defines the real relationships as:

(T)he personal relationship existing between two or more persons as reflected in the degree to which each is genuine with the other and perceives and experiences the other in ways that befit the other.  . . . In the strongest real relationships persons communicator genuinely with one another, and are willing to let themselves be known deeply, and perceive and experience the other realistically, to an important extent (p. 58).  . . . the theory is bidirectional and represents a two person psychology (p.60).

This makes sense to me.  We have very nuanced relational capabilities and we need to seek collaborative relationships that maximize people’s potential, not seek simple command and control structures that have been shown to be inadequate.  This fits in with the ideas in the real relationship.

Gelso sees the strengthening of the real relationship as involving disclosure (he says relevance is more important than the amount of disclosure) and empathy.  The real relation is presented as critical, but it exist alongside the other two and does not necessarily subsume the other two.  To me this means that:

  1. You need to agree on and clarify your purpose for working together.
  2. You need to be careful regarding your own biases and what you project onto others.
  3. But, success in working with others may depend on putting together a deeper dialogue and relationship.

A Marketing Plan for Promoting Evidence-based Management

What is needed for Evidence-based management to be a relevant business concept.  I believe it will move in that direction when managers can clearly understand the incentives for using it, when they easily understand how to translate and integrate it into their current responsibilities, and when they understand how to change the relevant behaviors.  This issuer can be seen as a marketing problem and, as said by Nancy R. Lee (2009), “words alone don’t often change behaviors.  We need products, and incentives, and convenient distribution channels as well”.  (Nancy’s topic is social marketing to alleviate poverty and associated problems, but the principles can equally apply to a poverty of business acumen, a topic that should include EBMgnt).  Lee’s recommended approach in this podcast is a standard market approach broken down into a 10 step plan:
A Ten step Marketing Plan
  1. Provide a clear rationale and statement of purpose
  2. Conduct a situational analysis with organizational strengths and weaknesses and environmental opportunities and threats
  3. Segment the heterogeneous market; then choose, prioritize and strategize for the needs of specific target audiences.
  4. Identify the behavior(s) to be changed, emphasizing simple and doable tasks.
  5. Listen to the voice of the customer for perceived barriers and reasons why they do not perform the behavior now.
  6. Form a positioning statement describing how you wish the audience to view the behavior and its benefits.
  7. Develop a strategic mix of marketing tools that include the right: product, price/ incentive, placing and promotion
  8. Develop a plan to evaluate outcomes.
  9. Budget for implementation
  10. Plan how the campaign will role out.
This approach wold most likely fall under consultative model of business services.  Besides marketing to specific segments of the management services market, it would also require the development of quality products that can support the needed behaviors and understandings.  These products are likely to be mostly educational and conceptual in nature and would include concepts to help scaffold needed changes to behaviors and business processes.  Also need would be additional appropriate distribution channels to build on the recognition and pre-knowledge of concepts.  These could be business schools or professional organizations and publications.
I find this approach interesting because:
  • It acknowledges the difficulty in changing behavior and understandings,
  • It acknowledges that the goals of managers and researchers are different and
  • It acknowledges that academic and scientific research would benefit from a well-formed translation strategy.
It would be nice to know if anyone can see any problems with an approach such as this, or would know of any other similar approaches.
Nancy R. Lee on How Social Networking Can Create Change for the Poor, podcast accessible on itunes or at

More on Representations and Doing

My last post was not advocating that we abstain from all representations in education and assessment; that is simply not possible.  What I am advocating is for a carefully evaluation of the representations we choose and how we choose use them.

In example: it’s common to engage in classroom training, based on representations of work actions, with follow up assessments based on recall of those representations.  We are not really interested in representation recall, we’re interested in performance.  Many recall items have limited validity for actual performance or at least this correspondance has not been evaluated.  It is easy to assess if these representations can be recalled, but what do we care if simple recall has a limited impact on performance.  The actual actions needed in the work setting frequently have limited correspondence to the classroom representations and as a result have limited utility.

A better way is to provide multiple ways to support work actions that can include classroom activities, but can also include informal social media tools, communities of performance, searchable web-based tutorial and onsite performance support tools like coaching and collaborative teams.  These tools will likely make use of representations, but those representations will be more closely related to the actual actions required.  With learning assessments and with educational programs, it is always better to choose representations that are more closely related to and valid for actual performance.

Another example is Liz Coleman’s (President of Bennington College) TED Talk regarding the reinvention of liberal art education.  She proposes a more active program of education.  Instead of learning about what ever subject is at focus, it is about learning to actively do.  Rhetoric, design, mediation and other ways of doing education gain prominence because of the ability to actively do intellectual work; to act on challenges, not to recall words (representations) that  are useful only for talk about challenges.  Her great takeaway line: “There is no such thing as a viable democracy made up of experts, zealots, politicians and spectators”.  What is needed are participants.

There Is No Learning without Doing

Learning is doing as doing is learning.  The primary biological purpose of neurological activity is found in how it is associated with motor activity in ways that allow an organism to couple with its environment through movement (Maturana, H.R. & Varela,1992).  The problem with many educational activities is in how they over emphasize representation and under emphasize the activity that is the true target of learning.  Most classroom activities focus on manipulating symbols and leads to the recall of these symbolic representations.  Problems occur in the gap frequently seen between representations and an inability ability to act based on those representations.  What is needed instead is a holistic approach that creates a new portfolio of actions to replace an old portfolio (Zeleny, 2008).  The outcome of learning activities, the test of learning if you will, should be the performance of new activities not the recall of representations.  Zeleny gives an example of this type of thinking through his assessment approach to strategy.  Strategy is not found in plans and statements.  It is found in the action a company takes.  If you want to know what a company’s strategy is, look at the actions they take and the structure of those actions.  Do not look at what they say.  Talking does not convey their strategy, acting does.

Workplace learning is moving beyond the classroom to a holistic approach to performance improvement.  Emphasizing learning transfer is not going to significantly help performance unless it can recognize that learning is about doing, not in grasping representations of doing.  Real learning is not learning about doing, it is learn to do.  Classroom training may occupy a small part of any program, but most training and performance support must focus on the location where actions are performed and focus what is actually needed to support doing.


Zeleny, M. (2008). Strategy and strategic action in the global era: overcoming the knowing-doing gap International Journal of Technology Management, 43, 64-75.

Maturana, H.R. & Varela, F.J. (1992). The Tree of Knowledge: THe Biological Roots of Human Understanding, Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications Inc.

A Networks Model for Evidence-based Management and Knowledge Transfer

Couple of interesting reads this morning (Bandura 2006 and Guest 2007) that are relevant to the topics of learning, performance support, knowledge transfer and evidence-based management (EBM).  The bottom-line:

(From Bandura) Knowledge transfer in many situations can be seen as a form of learning that proceeds through ongoing modeling with feedback and increasing approximation, not by an explanation of abstract information.

(From Guest) Practitioners do not generally change their practices as a result of abstract knowledge, but from the example of others in their organization or field.  (e.g. bankers looking to other bankers or retailers looking to other retailers)

Furthermore – Guest laments the current state of EBM.  Changing it requires attention to the communication process (communicator, message, medium and receiver) and the building of bridges (both traditional and non-traditional) between research and practice.  Guest is pestamistic about the readiness of the management field to address EBM.  I would disagree and suggest the following based on Guest’s communication process analogy:

  • Communicator – The concept of EBM is not an outcome, it is the bridge that can close the gap between researchers and practitioners. However, the communicator must stand on this bridge, not on either shore.
  • Message – Standing on the EBM bridge, the most important aspect of research is validity.  It is a view of validity that begins with the whole of the concept (not the narrow view of traditional research validity).  Research is not valid until the consequence of it use in practice can be demonstrated.  See a previous post on validity here although I may need to do additional work on the validity concept.
  • Medium – In the light of Bandura, the real medium of concern, in fact, are the people in the practitioner’s network.
  • Receiver – We need to build up the scope and diversity of practitioner’s networks and the ability of these network to act as learning models for evidence-based practices.

Management Rewired Reviewed: Chapters 5, 6, 7 & 8

Chapter 5 discusses the benefits of organizing through small cross-functional teams over hierarchal forms and chapter 6 talks about examples of strategy and how emotion and other previously mentioned themes can have an impact for good or ill.  There is nothing particularly new in either of these chapters.

The topic of chapter 7 is change and change management.  Jacobs addresses this subject through previously introduced topics.  He suggests leading change by changing the paradigm and avoiding negative relationship dynamics.  Because we often think of organizations like machines (he calls this Aristotelian logic) rather than mindful thinking people, the best path to change can often seem counter-intuitive rather than direct.

In chapter 8 Jacobs talks about transformational leadership (as opposed to transactional leadership).  The idea of a transformational approach is consistent with the main themes of this book, but I think it can be better viewed by looking at the distinction between leading and managing (See the subsection Leadership versus management in the Wikipedia leadership article).  Jacobs’ ideas of Socratic management de-emphasizes power relationships while emphasizing vision and empowerment.  This makes the distinction between leading and managing to almost nil.  His 5 key actions of leadership reads like a summary of the book in actionable terms (paraphrased):

  1. Transform the way people think; shift the paradigm
  2. Make it Participative;
  3. Convey an aspirational vision
  4. Tell the Story: Use the power of narrative
  5. Create focus and urgency

Ideas on Professional Development

From the Tommorow’s Professor’s Blog an article by by Pat Hutchings 933. Different Way to Think About Professional Development

This compliments my 3-20 post on changing behavior

For the past several years the Carnegie Foundation has been working with a group of California community colleges . . . for different ways to think about and conduct professional development.

  • First, opportunities for teachers to grow and develop must be sustained over time.
  • A second principle is the importance of collaboration.
  • The third defining feature is a focus on evidence about student learning. . . . information is at the heart of powerful feedback loops. But an important lesson . . . is the power of viewing classroom data through the lens of larger institutional trends and patterns.

Some Sources of Behavioral and Organizational Disfunction (via Soe and Creed 2002)

While reading dissertations from MIT’s DSpace (Thanks to Richard Hoeg for the link) I followed a reference from Seo & Creed (2002; Academy of Management Review, 27 #2).  This is a follow-up on my previous post and shows some reasons why there are multiple ways that disfunctional behavior can be supported in organizations.  They discuss four reasons why contradictory impulses can be seen in organizations:

Legitimacy that undermines functional inefficiency: There are certain practices and beliefs that become legitimate and require conformity within organizations or even entire industries.  But, these standard practices can be confining to technical practices that need to remain fluid  and change according to the context if they are to achieve maximum efficiency.  Over time some crystalized organizational structures can hamper practices substantially.

Adaptation that undermines adaptability: This concern is very similar to the previous one except to recognize that many crystalized forms are originally adaptive.  In one example they discuss the way individuals develop schemas to deal with complexity, but that they may resist changing that schema even when it is no longer functional.

Intra-institutional conformity that creates inter-institutional incompatibilities: “Organizations tend to incorporate all sorts of incompatible structural elements, practices, and procedures. . .”  This can occur because of different competing ideals in society where capitalism, family values, government bureaucracies, liberal democratic ideals and Judeo-Christian traditions can have “contradictory “central logics”.

Isomorphism that conflicts with divergent interests: There are social and power arraignments with divergent interests within any organization.  This means that all organizations are political. Politics can often get in the way of function and efficiency.

Ok; So what’s the suggested responce?

Decouple – Allow and explore how individual teams can explore diverse ways to self-organize and decouple from institutional structures and ways of acting.

Praxis – Politically recognize and support teams that are engaged in serving their customers over internal power struggles.

How Do You Change Behavior

Geetha Krishnan asks us a foundational question that is central to education, management and any other field related to psychology and concerned with behavioral skills. “Can (behavioral skills) really be taught to an adult? More accurately, can an adult change behavior through training?” I would answer yes; with substitute behavior, with appropriate mediation, with changing the functional structures supporting change and with a long term view and plan.  In answering, I will reference the examples presented by Geetha in his blog post

Before beginning, let’s take Geetha’s question one more step.  Trainers, coaches, and others involved in leadership, professional development, training or performance support are responsible for facilitating behavioral change.  The question is not if, it’s how?  I think it starts with a deep understanding of the person: their motivations, beliefs and desires, as well as with the expectation of the culture and community in which they are embedded and it continues as a partnership. You may develop curricula materials and training programs based on the general needs of the population you’re targeting (like the inspirational program Geetha references), but I think facilitating behavioral change is person specific, long-term and personal.  This may not be an exclusive list, just a start.

Substitute Behavior: One of BF Skinners insights is that people are active.  You can’t stop behavior, people will still be active, you can only change behavior.  In Geetha’s initial discussions the question is; how do you get people to talk less in meetings and to substitute active listening and recording behaviors instead.  In addition to thinking about what you do not want people to do, give some thought to what else they could do instead.

Mediation: The psychological insight of Vygotsky and Leont’ev was that people can regulate their behavior through cultural mediation.  That is, we can use language (inner speech) and ideas to regulate our behavior and these ‘mediators’ originate in the social world around us.  In Geetha’s example, there was an original training session that provided the ideas and justification for changing the way a supervisor was interacting with the people under him.  These ideas (mediator) were reinforced by the person’s peer group and likely by the corporate hierarchy.  What we don’t know from Geetha’s example are the cultural community and social influences on this persons behavior.  I think Geetha correctly identifies that there are tools that help us to change behavior, there are hows and methods for making this change and there are whys and reasons we are motivated.  What I suggest is that these are all mediators and that they are formed in the social world, but the ones discussed are not the only ones.  There are many others, sometimes contradictory ones that are out there and it takes a deep understanding of the social situations to understand what is supporting behavior in a person’s social milieu.   It is not hierarchical either.  Pressures from subordinates can be as important as those from bosses.

Structure: I believe that behavioral changes that are functional are the most likely to be maintained.  What do I mean?  Consider a person who listened more and recorded what he learned during client meetings.  Suppose he would then follow up by regularly summarizing what he learned and would make that learning a part of his response to his clients.  If that improved his performance, especially as it is seen in the social milieu, it would be a strong motivating factor in maintaining his new behavior.  I believe people can do things out of habit.  Making the new behavior a functional improvement is one why to break out of a habit.

The long view: Prochaska, DiClemente & Norcross (1992) speaks of a reoccurring cycle when trying to change behavior.  (They were speaking of therapy for addictive behavior, but I think it is applicable to many types of behavioral change.)  Behavioral relapse is common.  It does not mean that behavior cannot change, just that the cycle of change must be repeated.  For any change that is important, I think we must be committed to a long-term view with repeated efforts. Any change process should anticipate relapse and the need for repeated efforts to change should be considered normal.

This rather long and wonkish post should be considered the first draft of an idea in response to an important question.  It is almost the history of psychology.  I am sure that much addition thought and revision needs to occur here.  I certainly welcome any comments.