diSessa (2001) provides an overview of phenomenological primitives (p-prims). Interestingly, he comments that even when people disprove their p-prims, they often try to force the p-prims compliance with the situation. He uses the example of the vacuum cleaner going up in pitch when the nozzle is plugged, where people try to justify this result by saying the vacuum cleaner must be working harder to compensate for the plug. People prefer to question the situation before questioning if the p-prim is correct. diDessa discusses Ohm’s p-prim, where more/less effort at the input should yield more/less result at the output. As well, he describes p-prims as a judgement where people decide what collection of p-prims best match a situation. Furthermore, diSessa distinguishes logic and p-prims, where the former is closed, bound, and independent of context. While the latter is generative and personal.

Lobato (2006) summarizes the historical and recent conceptualizations of the transfer of learning. Classically, transfer is said to occur when elements from the learning situation are sufficiently similar to the transfer situation that someone could recognize the elements and apply what was learned. Lobato notes five problems of the classical approach: first, it privileges the observer and their expectations of what a learner should do; second, it assumes learning can be decontextualized; third, that task and context can be considered independently; fourth, that knowledge is independent of contexts; and fifth, the formation of transfer environments is independent of the process of transfer.

Lobato also highlights the paradox that transfer is difficult to empirically measure, yet most learning theories assume some notion of using prior knowledge from different situations. He presents actor-oriented transfer as an alternative perspective: “the influence of learners’ prior activities on their activity in novel situations” (p. 436). Moreover, this perspective looks for evidence that prior activities have influenced the current activities in some generalized way. This avoids focusing on predetermined elements that a learner should transfer.

Smith, diSessa, and Roschelle (1993) critically evaluate literature on student misconceptions. Central to their critique is that much of existing literature frames misconceptions as barriers to learning rather than being a part of learning. Moreover, the former perspective conflicts with constructivist ideas of learning. Smith et al., discuss seven assertions of existing research about misconceptions, which are inconsistent with constructivism. For example, they argue misconceptions cannot be simply irradiated or replaced. As well, misconceptions often hold functional validity in the contexts in which they were tested.

In Lobato’s article, he speaks of issues about transfer of learning, which also includes learned misconceptions. The actor-oriented transfer he describes seems to me a good explanation of p-prims and misconception, where transfer occurs from one situation to another, but unlike the classical perspective, the transfer is not predetermined by an observer. Furthermore, this makes me question whether intuition/p-prims are different from misconceptions. Expertise and intuition only remains valid until it is disproved, at which point it becomes a misconception.

diSessa, A. A. (2001). Changing minds: Computers, learning, and literacy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Lobato, J. (2006). Alternative perspectives on the transfer of learning: History, issues, and challenges for future research. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 15(4), 431ā€“449.

Smith III, J. P., diSessa, A. A., & Roschelle, J. (1994). Misconceptions Reconceived: A Constructivist Analysis of Knowledge in Transition. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 3(2), 115ā€“163. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327809jls0302_1


~This post is part of a weekly reflection requirement for a graduate level introductory course of the historical and philosophical foundations of the Learning Sciences. As such, it may seem a bit out of place without the context of the in-class discussions, but Iā€™m including it here for posterity. The general premise is to create a brief summary of each reading and include a reflection about them.~