Supporting Mental Model Building
Mental models are schemas or internal representations of how we understand and grasp the world around us. These models are not built from one day to another or from scratch, but rather they are built and adjusted over time as we interact with our environment.
Some cognitive scientists represent this idea as a network that grows, expands, and is redefined constantly as we gain expertise. Experts solve problems more effectively than novices because they have more resources to connect with in their network. Novices, on the other hand, have fewer "connections" to build on, as they are building an understanding of the situation or context. An important concept to take into account is "adaptive expertise", which implies that whereas experts can have a large mental model on a particular area, they can always continue learning, adapting and reconstructing their understanding with a mindset and a humble attitude towards lifelong learning,
I have learned that is important to identify which "prior knowledge" learners bring to the learning experience to help them anchor those ideas by connecting with their previous experiences so new ideas and understanding can be created. Sometimes, by identifying learners' prior knowledge we can also identify possible misconceptions or funds of knowledge that are relevant to the learning goals.
An important strategy to keep in mind in this process is scaffolding, where the instructor or learning designer identifies the learner's zone of proximal development and designs a variety of strategies to help the learner succeed and achieve the goals according to their level.
I also have learned that is important to design so that learners have meaningful and relevant experiences while learning so that those connections are built strongly (as emotions play a huge role in creating these memories).
Moreover, embodied learning experiences are key for building mental models. We learn better if we are engaged with our senses and our body. Examples of theories that support this claim are " the embodied mind (Varela et al), learning by doing (Kolodner), constructionism (Papert), the maker culture, applications of VR/AR for learning, among others...
How I reflected this powerful ideas in my projects
Throughout the design process of the "Curiously App" project, I have been wondering about the richness and value of family engagement for early learners. How the role of caregivers in scaffolding influences mental model building, including meaningful aspects for learning such as islands of expertise, values, funds of knowledge, rich learning experiences to relate to as prior knowledge, identity as a learner, and engagement that then can thrive into intrinsic motivation. I believe in the value of connections that parents can promote in informal learning experiences as preparation for future learning for young learners.
Sustainable Self-care workshop
We took the design decision to include several opportunities during the workshop in which learners connected with their prior knowledge. For example, we include a section in the participants booklet to recall the products they use at home and measure their own plastic footprint based on this data. We also provided opportunities for reflection and imagination on how they'll make a personal commitment based on their own experiences.
During the summer semester, we worked on. a project for designing an immersive experience for learning. We designed an informal learning VR experience so that learners could identify key aspects of the Olmec culture by playing to be archeologists and museum curators. We took the design decision, based on the learning sciences, that learners actively engaged in an embodied experience, using virtual archeology tools as experts do and finding archeological artifacts of the Olmec culture by exploring the jungle.
Additionally, I see the value of tools such as Cognitive Task Analysis in ways that can help inform my designs for supporting mental model building:
I look forward to keeping designing products, experiences, and technologies that foster these meaningful relationships for learning.