Education and Research


Kim H. Veltman

Response to Keynote Lecture by Donald A. Norman

(5 September 2000) Respondent to Donald A. Norman, “Information Technologies in Cognitive Processes,"
Information: Science and Technology for the Next Century, Rome, Rome, La Sapienza, 5 September 2000.

1. Introduction
2. Problem-Based Learning
3. Researchers versus Practitioners
4. Distance Education and the Developing World

1. Introduction

Professor Norman’s work on Human Computer Interface (HCI) has made him one of the great figures of the field. His spontaneous lecture raises many stimulating ideas. While I agree fully with his basic premise that knowledge is not information, there are a three points on which agreement is more difficult. These centre around: 1) problem-based learning; 2) researchers versus practitioners and 3) distance education and the developing world.

2. Problem-Based Learning

In Professor Norman’s approach, present day teaching is by abstraction and he assures us that cognitive science can help students by giving them problems, by making teaching problem-based. The idea of problem based-learning is attractive. It was, however, first introduced by Professor Howard Barrows in the field of Medicine (McMaster University, Canada) in the 1970s. The University of Maastricht was the first to apply problem-based learning as an approach across the curriculum.

While extremely useful, especially in medicine and the more practical sciences, there are also subtle problems with Problem Based Learning (PBL). Traditionally a student learned first to master existing knowledge. This made them a Master of Arts/Science. They then proceeded to become learned (doctus), which entailed actively creating new knowledge. By contrast, problem-based learning gives students problems to solve, which means that they are passively reacting to someone else’s problem, and usually someone else’s agenda.

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