July 9, 2009

Learning Patterns: A Pattern Language for Active Learners

We, Learning Pattern Project, made a pattern language for active learners, which we call "Learning Patterns", and handed out the catalog of the pattern language to university students in Japan. Here I would like to introduce our attempt for supporting learners with the pattern language.

As it is well known in the scene of education, there is a difficult problem how we can teach students how to learn. It is quite easy to show the guideline to follow, however it may shut students out of the chance for thinking the way of learning themselves. In addition, there is another difficulty to provide appropriate guideline for every students who are under various situation. So, is it possible to provide something to help the students under various situation to think their way of learning? Our study of designing a new pattern language is made in order to solve the problem.

As I mentioned before, the idea and method of pattern languages was originally proposed for architectural design. We applied this idea and method to learning design in order to share a `knack' against the way of learning. We believe that the method of pattern language is good way to help the student to design their learning, because it focuses on providing a new view for the reader so that they can think. It is quite important that the method is not easy way to get the result without thinking by themselves. It is not, however, irresponsible way to leave all up to individual ability. It is considered as the way that tolerates individual ability while making a good use of abstract rules of past experience.

The patterns are mainly for the students, but they are also for the educators. The patterns will become a good tool for sharing the way of thinking. This is very heart of pattern languages. Two main advantages to use patterns are generally known. One is that it can make beginners easier to solve problems in the most effective way, since the skill acquired by experts is described. Another is that it can provide common vocabulary on the way of solving problems, therefore it makes people to mention the problems and solutions.
Thus, pattern languages can be considered as the method for supporting thinking, action, and collaboration. Our aim is also to share the tacit knowledge for learning activities.

I should note that the method of pattern language is different from how-to guides to follow. Pattern language is focused on providing a new view for the reader so that they can think, although how-to guide leads to only one "right" result. Pattern language is not easy way to get the result, but way to aware the existence of problem and the clue of the solution. Alexander pointed out that "Each solution is stated in such a way that it gives the essential field of relationships needed to solve the problem, but in a very general and abstract way --- so that you can solve the problem for yourself, in your own way, by adapting it to your preferences, and the local conditions at the place where you are making it"(Alexander 1977).

In pattern languages, each individual is expected to design his / her own way by selecting patterns and putting them together according to his / her situation. In this sense, putting patterns together does not mean to put "modularized unfinished parts" together, which can be seen in modern production system. Borrowing Alexander's words, "It may be hard to believe that one might make a work of art by simply combining patterns. It sounds almost as though there was a box of `magic' parts, so powerful, that anyone can make a beautiful thing, simply by combining them. This is absurd, because, of course, it is not possible to make something beautiful, merely by combining fixed components"(Alexander 1979).

Pattern language is not a substitute for human creativity. Pattern language is nothing but the staff to encourage thinking, action, and communication, so that each user is expected to exert their creativity. Thus, a pattern language for active learners is intended to support learners without killing their own creativity.

Alexander, C., Ishikawa, S., and Silvertein, M. (1977): A Pattern Language. Oxford University Press.
Alexander, C. (1979): The Timeless Way of Building. Oxford University Press.
Learning Pattern Project (2009): Learning Patterns: A Pattern Language for Active Learners at SFC 2009, Shonan Fujisawa Campus (SFC), Keio University

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