Tutoring 2

So — we now have a basic framework for the tutorial session, which can be reflected in its "agenda", and which can be repeated several times within one session to deal with different topics.

But is there anything different about the "culture" or perhaps the mode of thinking which operates in the reflective, private phase, which is different from the active phase? I think there is.

The graduated background in the graphics on the previous page is not there simply for show. It represents a world, if you like, into which the learner must dip and from which she must emerge, in order to learn. Think of the dolphin (or any other marine mammal): his life is a continual movement between the depths of the ocean, where he feeds, and the surface where he breathes. The learner is engaged in a similar movement between environments. What I wish to argue here is that the rules are slightly different in each medium, and the better we understand this, the more effective we can be as tutors.

Figure 7

Figure 7 represents Laurillard's model of the learning conversation (Laurillard 2001), with one change — it is "upside-down". This brings it into line with the preceding diagrams, and shows the fit between the conversational model and the experiential learning model: the difference lies largely in the responsibility to manage the process with which Laurillard charges the teacher.

Useful though Laurillard's model may be, it has little room for the important affective component of learning. "Affective" is the kind of term which psychiatrists attach to what the rest of us call "feelings", and also the label Bloom uses for the third domain of his taxonomy of educational objectives, that concerned with values. It is this dual use which I am exploiting here: there can be excitement, despair, boredom and fear attached to learning, but feelings rarely make themselves felt so dramatically in the learning process, so words like the "emotional" or "feeling" component of learning are a little over-stated. The muted "affective" component is more appropriate. Moreover, the addition of the spice of the affective component to the blandness of an information-processing model allows us to work with factors such as motivation, commitment, disaffection, and belief that things not only are so, but that they are "important" or "trivial", or "worth" or "not worth" the effort they require.

So the deeper tint towards the bottom of the diagram represents the increasing significance of the affective component—for the learning process. It is self-evident that there may be a strong emotional component in the "Concrete Experience" domain—but it is not attached to the learning process as such.


The easiest way of typifying this affective component is as "receptiveness"—an affective state of open-ness to the possibility of learning. It embraces a number of elements: (this whole business of labelling affective states is fraught with difficulties, and so this list has no special claim to validity. It is not exhaustive and is merely indicative: and the fact that the initials spell "MAD" has nothing to do with anything!)

So far, so innocuous. Or is it? If this model is adopted, it challenges the conventional wisdom of andragogy. It does not contest the desirability of treating adult learners like grown-ups, but it suggests (as I shall go on to argue) that this is largely a matter of enabling them to manage their regression to dependence for themselves, rather than denying it altogether. It is interesting that whenever Knowles and his advocates start discussing andragogy in practice, they seem to end up denying or distorting its proclaimed principles. It is an "espoused theory" rather than a "theory-in-use" (Argyris and Schon, 1974).

For example, if this is what Knowles thinks is andragogy in action, is it not amazingly patronising? 

Oscillation theory

Oscillation theories describe social and psychological processes in terms of continual movement between (usually) two states or poles. Instead of postulating a static (if perhaps delicate) balance as being the typical form of adjustment, they suggest attraction to one pole giving way to a reverse attraction to the other, over a time-scale which may be measured in anything from nano-seconds to aeons, depending on the model.

The model so far suggested of tutorial learning is clearly oscillation-based. But what are the poles? My own model (1989) used the invented metaphors of "Skeleton" and "Shell". Reed's early formulation (1978) referred to "intra-dependence" and "extra-dependence", his and Maiteny's later work speaks of "realisation" and "identification". There are differences of emphasis and framing, and this business is far from exact science, so scholarly disputes are of marginal value — let us let it all pass with the recognition that the oscillations of the tutorial process have something to do with opening oneself up to new ideas (and perhaps personal influence) — here simply called "receptiveness" (bottom of the diagrams), and acting on them, which we can call "autonomy" (top). Remembering that the precise labels do not matter very much, we have so far been dealing with constructs of:

I am coming to conceptualise the difference in emphasis as that between "mould" (me) and "cast" (Reed). I am primarily interested in the circumstances which call forth the oscillation, Reed in the psychological features of it. The relationship is similar to that between the mould and the cast which is produced from it. (That is often represented traditionally as female and male, but that introduces too many connotations!)




Active Experimentation and Concrete Experience


Reflective Observation and Abstract Conceptualisation






















So — whatever its precise nature, it seems that this oscillation is going on, and that it is necessary for a "successful" tutorial. But is this simply a rather sloppy academic point, or can it cast some light on why some tutorials are effective and some aren't?

 1 2 3 Notes

To reference this page copy and paste the text below:

Atherton J S (2013) Doceo; [On-line: UK] retrieved from

Original material by James Atherton: last up-dated overall 10 February 2013

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