Individualism, Immersion and Evolution

Embodied learning acknowledges the individualism of the learner. The individual’s cognitive behaviour connects to past cognitive experiences and present interpretations in ways that are unpredictable and dependent on the the learner’s Umwelt. Umwelt is described as “the environment as the student sees and knows it – a limited view of the real world, ever changing as the student explores it and comes to understand it” (Winn, 2003, p.12). The learner’s interaction with the surrounding environment can be viewed as a biological interaction and a way of knowing. Metaphorically, the learner is an organism interacting with and within its environment. In effect, both the organism (the learner) and the environment evolve and are changed through the interaction (Proulx, 2013). Proulx refers to this interaction as enactivism and suggests that enactivism is the necessary cognitive theory behind problem solving, or more succinctly “problem posing”, in mental mathematics. Through problem posing, “the solver does not choose from a group of predetermined strategies to solve the task, but engages with the problem in a certain way and develops a strategy tailored to the task (both of which also evolve and are co-defined in the posing). Strategies are thus not predetermined, but continually generated for solving tasks” (Proulx, 2013, p.316).

In the brief article by Barab and Dede (2007), there is evidence of the cognitive theory of enactivism as the science learner is immersed in “narratively driven, experientially immersive, and multi-rich media” (p.1). The learner, as the organism, interacts with the immersive game-based simulated environment, bringing individualized input and then coupling {embedded interaction} with the environment. Problem posing exists as the learner poses solutions and generates strategies as interaction occurs with/in the simulated environment. In contrast to Proulx’s (2013) writing on enactivism and mental math problem posing through which students interact with an unprogrammed environment, Barab and Dede (2007) share studies of learners interacting with a programmed simulated environment. Can learner interaction with a programmed environment, even when programmed to be an adaptable environment, allow for enactivism to truly emerge? Or in other words, is the environment truly evolved by the learner, or is it an illusion? Also, what would be the best practices for teacher assessment and feedback when learners and environments are continually evolving and adapting?

In my own practice, I appreciate Proulx’s view on the individual learner and how this individualism aids the approach and walk through learning. I particularly appreciate that his focus is on mental mathematics, an area that seems to be neglected as students interact largely with workbook based curriculum and predetermined strategies. Continuing to engage students in number talks, breaks the misconception that there is one right way to find a solution, and opens the mindset to evolving possibilities. Immersive simulations that allow students to problem pose and structure solutions through interaction with the environment, and then use the adaptations to further generate strategies for solutions is ideal. I look forward to discovering simulations that encompass enactivism through the remainder of this module.

Barab, S., & Dede, C. (2007). Games and immersive participatory simulations for science education: an emerging type of curricula. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 16(1), 1-3.
Proulx, J. (2013). Mental mathematics, emergence of strategies, and the enactivist theory of cognition. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 84, 309-328.
Winn, W. (2003). Learning in artificial environments: Embodiment, embeddedness, and dynamic adaptation. Technology, Instruction, Cognition and Learning, 1(1), 87-114.

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