Thursday, March 8, 2007

Acquisition or Participation?

This is the third and final posting of my thoughts after reading the first chapter of
Collis B, Moonen J (2001). Flexible Learning in a digital world: Experiences and Expectations. Routledge, UK.
(For an online copy go to and search using the title.)

Sfard's models of education are very interesting. She talks about the acquisition model where the process of learning is defined as the acquisition of pre-defined knowledge and skills and the participation model where the focus of learning "is on becoming a member of a community of practice, learning from the community but also contributing to it" (Collis, Moonen, 2001 - from the book mentioned above). She makes it clear that tertiary education is currently heavily tilted towards the acquisition model, but that both models are equally important and necessary in the education process.

What I find interesting about this is that on reflection, the first year of our (18 month) programme is predominantly taught from within the acquisition model. This is important as the 1st years are learning new skills which must fit the requirements of Massage New Zealand - the professional body for massage in New Zealand. However the 2nd year is much more participative in nature. Our focus in this year is in supporting our students in their practice, business, and profession.


bronwyn said...

again you make some very salient points and give us lots of food for thought. A lot of academic staff like you see first year subjects as a time for students to acquire knowledge - sometimes we do not give students enough credit for the knowledge they may already have.

Participation can be introduced early on in the form of group work - this promotes peer mentoring which is always good in my opinion - projects and active tasks. as long as they have plenty of support in accessing and finding the information they need for their activities, they will not miss out.
what do you think?

Dave said...


We do encourage class participation as much as possible. We're very lucky in that our classes are composed of poeple with a fairly wide range of ages and backgrounds. There's often quite a bit that can be contributed by the students, and we aim to facilitate this process where possible.

With the odd exception, I am not particularly keen on group work within the context of our course. This is for several reasons.

One of the reasons that is often put forward as a justification for group work is that the skills of working in a group are valuable when you go into the workplace. While I agree that these skills are valuable, most people working in the massage industry tend to work as sole traders in private practice. Team work skills are not as important in the massage industry as in most others.

Secondly most of our assessment is designed to determine whether each individual has developed certain competancies. My experience of working in groups as a student is that in most situations the group is carried by one or two individuals who contribute most of the work & thought. I don't see a group mark as being a particularly effective way of measuring individual competancy. I realise that peer evaluations are partially effective in getting around this issue, but even with peer evaluations I don't think that you can measure individual competancy as accurately as you can with individual assessment.

We do have some modules where group work is appropriate. For example we have a research project in the second year. The aim of this project is for the students to engage with the current research literature and to get used to finding & comprehending this literature. It's a fairly steep learning curve, and we have just recently provided the option for the students to do this project in groups if they like. As I see it, it's a wonderful way for students to collaboratively share their knowledge & understanding, and I think group work is appropriate in this type of open-ended learning situation.


bronwyn said...

I guess my suggestions were in response to the idea that some subjects must be prescriptive - "students must have these facts"

I have to admit to being a champion of the constructivist model but only if it is well supported. I prefer a more holistic model for learning - facts combined with authentic tasks and problem-based learning.

Often people feel more secure with more prescriptive models as they align better with traditional assessments such as exams.

with all the quality control we have nowdays assessment criteria are usually easier to set within a prescriptive model of teaching - dare I say it unit standards. Though there is probably a good argument that the learning process within a unit standard framework can be holistic.

I found that a combination of a prescriptive and a consturctivist model worked quite well when I was teaching bioscience for registered nurses online.

i can understand why the necessity for working in a team skills are not necessarily important for masseurs working in their own practice - though nowadays multidisciplinary teams are becoming more common.