Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Cognitive Flexibility Theory & Multiple Representations

After reading Clark's comment on my posting from yesterday, I've been looking into Cognitive Flexibility Theory (Spiro), trying to better understand the notion of "multiple representations." (You can read more about CFT here and here and here, or just Google it like I did and see what you find....)

I had been thinking of multiple representations as meaning you show the graph on one screen with audio, then on the next screen have a video of someone talking about that concept. Use multiple representations to provide the learner with multiple ways of accessing the information: visual or auditory. Not quite.

From the CFT vantage, multiple representations is not about providing the same information in a different format (the learning styles approach), but rather presenting different perspectives on that information. Provide a variety of examples or case studies that get to the concept in different ways. This allows the learner to be more flexible in her understanding of the material, so that she can effectively apply it to concepts in the real world (knowledge transfer).

Got it. Makes sense. Provide lots of examples as a way of beating that path through the woods; helping the learner make connections to ensure successful transfer of knowledge to a real-world situation.


jmarrapodi said...

Hi Cammy.

You might want to check out Bernice McCarthy's 4MAT work at

She uses a sort of mashup between left/right brain thinking and Kolb's learning styles and creates a cyclical approach to teaching that attempts to present things to impact all learners. Her work is primarily for elementary ed, but has applicability in our corporate worlds too.

I think there's quite a bit of alignment with CFT.

Jean Marrapodi

Cammy Bean said...

Thanks for the tip. I'll definitely look into it.

Clark said...

Actually, Cammy, you've got part of it, but I believe that it's not lots of examples, but instead multiple different representations of the concept (which of course then get exemplified). The point is to provide more than one way to initially get it, more ways to trigger activation when it's seen in practice, and more frameworks to apply to solving the problem.

Cammy Bean said...

Thanks, Clark. That's a helpful explanation.

Way back in May when I first posted this I was coming at the concept of using multiple representations as a way to address different "learning styles." My thinking has evolved way beyond that, and I think I've wrapped my little brain around the concept.

The more context we can supply to learners, the more likely they will be able to transfer that knowledge into their own worlds.