Spiro sees complexity everywhere, in medicine, engineering,
mathematics - and teaching. That complexity is an inevitable
part of advanced knowledge and a particularly thorny problem
for teaching and learning.
that involves rote memorization and general concepts is
easy enough. But what about the learning that can't prepare
you for every contingency, that doesn't lend itself to principles
that can be applied in every instance?
is in this domain of complexity and advanced knowledge that
Spiro has pioneered Cognitive Flexibility Theory, and along
with his colleagues has sought to refashion teaching and
learning for an ever-changing and complex world.
Flexibility Theory is about allowing people to select, adapt,
and combine knowledge and experience in new ways to deals
with situations that are different than the ones they have
encountered before," says Spiro, a professor in the Department
of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education.
is the flexible, adaptive application of knowledge in new
contexts. There are always new contexts and you just can't
rely on old templates. But relying on those old models are
what people will want to do if allowed. Cognitive security
is what people want. That approach just isn't working anymore."
cognitive flexibility, Spiro makes the case for a different
kind of instruction. Among the tenets of this new approach
are that instruction needs to provide students multiple
representations of content, should be case-based and emphasize
knowledge construction (instead of transmission of information),
and knowledge sources should be highly interconnected. It
turns out that new technologies, notably hypermedia and
digital video, are uniquely suited for this type of learning.
and his colleagues are developing digital learning environments
that allow students - from the most advanced to undergraduates
-- to get away from the linear, chapter-by-chapter approach,
and use the new media to easily access different cases,
gain multiple perspectives and understand the complexities
called it random access instruction. You can jump from here
to there, and look at this case or information in the context
of new or previous knowledge." For Spiro, cognitive flexibility
is a radical departure in that the goal is not to give people
a prescription for how to think.
The goal is to give people knowledge with which to think
in dealing with new problems and situations. Technology,
he is convinced, will play important role in achieving that
don't know what society is going to look like in 50 years.
But there is a new kind of learning that I think is in the
midst of being made possible by the new technologies. It
is the kind of learning you couldn't do before with textbooks
fortuitously, this new kind of learning is just the kind
that we most need for this increasingly complex world. Finally,
we have the media to make possible the kind of learning
people have to have for this new century."