Volume 12 · Number 1 · Pages 91–100
A Cybernetic Approach to Contextual Teaching and Learning

Philip Baron

Log in to download the full text for free

> Citation > Similar > References > Add Comment


Context: Public universities in South Africa are currently facing the challenge of decolonising knowledge. This change requires a review of curriculums, as well as teaching and learning with the goal of embracing the epistemology of the learners, addressing issues such as social justice and transformation. Problem: Human communication is subject to several perceptual errors in both listening and seeing, which challenges the success of the communication in the education system. The ability of the teacher and the learners to effectively communicate with one another is a factor for the success of each reaching their goals. The teacher imparts her knowledge in the classroom, but according to von Foerster, “[i]t is the listener, not the speaker, who determines the meaning of an utterance,” for the listener contextualises this information based on her own past lived experience. Thus, the student’s epistemology and her expression of her understanding is integral in the classroom context and should be actively included into the education system. Method: I present a cybernetic approach to the teacher-learner system, challenging traditional ideas about the role of each actor within the system, with special attention given to Pask’s conversation theory. Results: Early empirical findings suggest that a conversational contextual approach results in higher student involvement and better memory retention among the learners. Conversational approaches that are epistemologically inclusive diffuse social problems where the student groups require their individual worldviews to be reflected within the curriculum. This reduces the friction of competing epistemologies within the education system, moving toward a co-created contextually-driven knowledge system. Implications: Many educators would like deeper engagement from their learners but have not found a way to successfully engage the student group. A cybernetic approach is one method that can be adopted to remedy this. This is particularly useful in contexts where there is cultural diversity and impending social change. Constructivist content: I address von Glasersfeld’s points on human cognition, linking it to Austin’s speech acts.

Key words: Contextual approach, conversation theory, decolonisation of knowledge, education, epistemology, teaching and learning.


Baron P. (2016) A cybernetic approach to contextual teaching and learning. Constructivist Foundations 12(1): 91–100. http://constructivist.info/12/1/091

Export article citation data: Plain Text · BibTex · EndNote · Reference Manager (RIS)

Similar articles

Larochelle M. & Désautels J. (2009) Constructivism and the “Great Divides”
Quale A. (2007) The Epistemic Relativism of Radical Constructivism: Some Implications for Teaching the Natural Sciences
Confrey J. (2011) The Transformational Epistemology of Radical Constructivism: A Tribute to Ernst von Glasersfeld
Baron P. (2019) A Proposal for Personalised and Relational Qualitative Religious Studies Methodology
Baron P. (2018) Heterarchical Reflexive Conversational Teaching and Learning as a Vehicle for Ethical Engineering Curriculum Design


Anderson H. & Goolishian H. (1992) The client is the expert: A not-knowing approach to therapy. In: McName S. & Gergen K. J. (eds.) Therapy as social construction. Sage, London: 25–39. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Archer A. & Breuer E. (2016) A multimodal response to changing communication landscapes in higher education. In: Archer A. & Breuer E. (eds.) Multimodality in higher education. Brill, Leiden: 241–255. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Archer A. (2008) Cultural studies meets academic literacies: Exploring students’ resources through symbolic objects. Teaching in Higher Education 13(4): 383–394. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Archer A. (2009) Invisible landscapes: Students’ constructions of the social and the natural in an engineering course in South Africa. Social Dynamics 35(2): 258–275. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Archer A. (2010) Shamanism and science: Reciprocal curriculum as transformative. Education as Change 14(1): 61–75. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Arrow K. J. (1951) Alternative approaches to the theory of choice in risk-taking situations. Econometrica 19(1): 404–437. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ashby W. R. (1956) An introduction to cybernetics. Chapman & Hall, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ashby W. R. (1981) Ashby says. In: Conant R. (ed.) Mechanisms of intelligence: Ross Ashby’s writings on cybernetics. Intersystems Publications, Seaside CA: 425–427. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Augustine (1995) The teacher. Translated by Peter King. In: Augustine, Against the academicians and the teacher. Hackett Publishing Company, Cambridge: 94–147. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Austin J. L. (1962) How to do things with words. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Bandura A. (1973) Aggression: A social learning analysis. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs NJ. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Bandura A. (1977) Social learning theory. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs NJ. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Barnes G. (1993) Future of psychotherapy today. Psychiatria Danubina 5: 5–26. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Barnes G. (2007) Education in mind: Mind in education. In: Glanville R. & Müller K. H. (eds.) Gordon Pask, philosopher mechanic: An introduction. Edition Echoraum, Vienna: 65–96. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Baron P. & Baron A. C. (2015) A quantitative examination of two different teaching paradigms in a Germiston based pre-school. Kybernetes 44(8/9): 1207–1218. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Baron P. (2014) Overcoming obstacles in learning cybernetic psychology. Kybernetes 43 (9/10): 1301–1309. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Baron P. (2015) A challenge to objective perception in hearing and seeing in counselling psychology. Kybernetes 44(8/9): 1406–1418. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Bartlett F. C. (1933) Remembering: A study in experimental and social psychology. British Journal of Educational Psychology 3(2): 187–192. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Bateson G. (1979) Mind and nature: A necessary unity. Fontana, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Beer S. (1985) Diagnosing the system for organizations. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Borg P., Hewitt D. & Jones I. (2016) Negotiating between learner and mathematics: A Conceptual framework to analyze teacher sensitivity towards constructivism in a mathematics classroom. Constructivist Foundation 12(1): 59–90 http://constructivist.info/12/1/059
Britain S. & Liber O. (2004) A framework for the pedagogical evaluation of e-learning environments. Report to JISC Technology Applications Programme. http://ubir.bolton.ac.uk/301/1/iec_reports-2.pdf
Caesar J. (2006) “De bello gallico” and other commentaries by Julius Caesar. Translated by W. A. Macdevitt. Gutenberg Project. Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/10657
Clark W. (2006) Academic charisma and the origins of the research university. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Comenius J. A. (1998) The labyrinth of the world and the paradise of the heart. Translated by H. Louthan & A. Sterk. Paulist Press, Mahwah NJ. Originally published in 1633. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Daniel J. (1998) V. C.’s view. Sesame. The Open University’s Newsletter April/May: 12. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
de Zeeuw G. (2001) Constructivism: A “next” area of scientific development? Special Issue “The impact of radical constructivism on science.” Foundations of Science 6(1–3): 77–98 http://cepa.info/2745
Deleuze G. (2004) Difference and repetition. Translated by Paul Patton. Columbia University Press, New York. French original published in 1968. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Department of Education (2004) White paper on e-education transforming learning and teaching through information and communication technologies (ICTs). Government Gazette No. 26734. South Africa. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Du Plessis A. (2015) Rethinking traditional science teaching through infusing ict learning embedded by a “learning-as-design” approach. Journal of Baltic Science Education 14(1): 4–6. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Dubberly H. & Pangaro P. (2015) Cybernetics and design: Conversations for action. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 22(2–3): 73–82 http://cepa.info/3529
Dungen W. van den (2009) Ancient Egyptian readings. Taurus Press, Brasschaat. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Felder R. M. (1982) Does engineering education have anything to do with either one? Toward a systems approach to training engineers. The R. J. Reynolds Industries, Inc., Award Distinguished Lecture Series, North Carolina State University, Raleigh NC. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Flecha R. (1997) Compartiendo Palabras: El aprendizaje de las personas adultas a través del diálogo. Ediciones Paidós, Barcelona. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Foerster H. von & Poerksen B. (2002) Understanding systems: Conversations on epistemology and ethics. Carl-Auer, Heidelberg. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Foerster H. von (1984) On constructing a reality. In: Watzlawick P. (ed.) The invented reality: 41–62 http://cepa.info/1278
Ford N. (2008) Web-Based learning through educational informatics. Information Science Publishing, Hershey PA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Frankl V. E. (1985) Man’s search for meaning. Simon and Schuster, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Freire P. (1970) Pedagogy of the oppressed. The Continuous Publishing Corp., New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Freire P. (1996) The pedagogy of the oppressed. Penguin Books, London. Portuguese original published in 1968. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Gardner H. E. (2006) Multiple intelligences: New horizons in theory and practice. Basic Books, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Glanville R. (2001) An observing science. Foundations of Science 6(1): 45–75 http://cepa.info/3636
Glanville R. (2008) A (cybernetic) musing: Five friends. Cybernetics and Human Knowing 15(3–4): 163–172. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Glanville R. (2012) The black boox. Volume 1: Cybernetic cycles. Echoraum. Vienna. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Glanville R. (2014) Acting to understand and understanding to act. Kybernetes 43(9/10): 1293–1300. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Glasersfeld E. von & Steffe L. P. (1991) Conceptual models in educational research and practice. Journal of Educational Thought 25(2): 91–103 http://cepa.info/1419
Glasersfeld E. von (1989) Constructivism in education. In: Husen T. & Postlethwaite T. N. (eds.) International encyclopedia of education. Supplement Volume 1. Pergamon Press, Oxford: 162–163 http://cepa.info/1404
Glasersfeld E. von (1992) Guest editorial. Educational Studies in Mathematics 23(5): 443–444 http://cepa.info/1435
Glasersfeld E. von (1995) A constructivist approach to teaching. In: L. P. Steffe & J. Gale ( Eds.) Constructivism in education. Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale NJ: 3–16. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Glasersfeld E. von (1997) The incommensurability of scientific and poetic knowledge. Methodologia 17: 1–7 http://cepa.info/1487
Glasersfeld E. von (2007) The constructivist view of communication. In: Müller A. & Müller K. H. (eds.) An unfinished revolution. Edition Echoraum, Vienna: 351–360. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Graeber D. (2015) The utopia of rules. Melville House, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Griffith J. L. & Griffith M. E. (1992) Owning one’s epistemological stance in therapy. Dulwich Centre Newsletter 1: 5–11. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Haley J. & Erickson M. H. (1973) Uncommon therapy. Norton, New York: 122–127. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Hallowell E. M. M. & Ratey J. J. (2011) Driven to distraction: Recognizing and coping with attention deficit disorder from childhood through adulthood. Anchor, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Harri-Augstein S. & Thomas L. F. (1991) Learning conversations. Routledge, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Hattie J. (2011) Visible learning for teachers. Routledge, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Hegel G. W. F. (1998) Phenomenology of spirit. In: McNeill W. & Feldman K. S. (eds.) Continental philosophy: An Anthology. Blackwell, Oxford. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Illich I. (1971) Deschooling society. Marion Boyars Publishers, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Kauffman L. H. (1987) Self-reference and recursive forms. Journal of Social and Biological Structures 10: 53–72 http://cepa.info/1816
Kelly G. A. (1955) The psychology of personal constructs. Volumes 1 and 2. Norton, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Korzybski A. (1933) A non-Aristotelian system and its necessity for rigour in mathematics and physics. In: Korzybski A., Science and sanity: An introduction to non-Aristotelian systems and general semantics. International Non-Aristotelian Library: Lakeville CT: 747–761. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Krippendorff K. (2000) Ecological narratives: Reclaiming the voice of theorized others. In: Ciprut J. V. (ed.) The art of the feud: Reconceptualizing international relations. Praeger, Westport CN: 1–26. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Landa L. N. (1971) Algorithmization in learning and instruction. Translated by V. Bennet and edited by F. Kopstein. Educational Technology Publishers, Englewood Cliffs NJ. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Laurillard D. (1993) Rethinking higher education. Routledge, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Laurillard D. (2013) Rethinking university teaching: A conversational framework for the effective use of learning technologies. Routledge, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Lazanas P. (2012) Subconscious (tacit) structures of expertise. PhD Thesis at Wits University, South Africa. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Lerner N. (2007) Laboratory lessons for writing and science. Written Communication 24(3): 191–222. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Lewis B. & Pask G. (1972) Open university. Curriculum context, design and development course team, teaching strategies – a systems approach. Open University Press, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Lochhead J. & Clement J. (eds.) (1979) Cognitive process instruction. The Franklin Institute Press, Philadelphia. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Lochhead J. (2001) Thinkback. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah NJ. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
MacIntyre A. (1987) Relativism, power, and philosophy. In: Baynes K., Bohnman J. & McCarthy T. (eds.) After philosophy: End or transformation. MIT Press, Cambridge MA: 385–409. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Martin R. J. (2015) Second-order cybernetics, radical constructivism, and the biology of cognition: Paradigms struggling to bring about change. Cybernetics and Human Knowing 22(2/3): 169–182 http://cepa.info/2467
Maturana H. R. & Varela F. R. (1992) The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding. Revised Edition. Shambhala, Boston MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Metzinger T. (2010) The ego tunnel: The science of the mind and the myth of the self. Basic Books, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Meyer W. F., Moore C. & Viljoen H. G. (2008) Personology: From individual to ecosystem. Fourth edition. Heinemann, Sandown. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Moghaddam F. & Harré R. (2010) Conflicts and political processes. In: F. Moghaddam & R. Harré (eds.) Words of conflict, words of war: How the language we use in political processes sparks fighting. Praeger, Santa Barbara CA: 155–171. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Nizami L. (2011) Memory model of information transmitted in absolute judgment. Kybernetes 40(1–2): 80–109. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
O’Halloran K. (2009) Historical changes in the semiotic landscape: From calculation to computation. In: Jewitt C. (ed.) The Routledge handbook of multimodal analysis. Routledge, London: 98–113. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Pangaro P. (2001) THOUGHTSTICKER 1986: A personal history of conversation theory in software, and its progenitor, Gordon Pask. Kybernetes 30(5/6): 790–807. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Pask G. & Scott B. (1972) Learning strategies and individual competence. International Journal of Man-Machine Studies 4: 217–253. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Pask G. & Scott B. (1973) CASTE: A system for exhibiting learning strategies and regulating uncertainties. International Journal of Man-Machine Studies 5(1): 17–52. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Pask G. (1975) Conversation, cognition and learning. Elsevier, Amsterdam. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Pask G. (1975) The cybernetics of human learning and performance: A guide to theory and research. Hutchinson Educational, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Pask G. (1976) Conversational techniques in the study and practice of education. British Journal of Educational Psychology 46(1): 12–25. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Pask G. (1976) Styles and strategies of learning. British Journal of Educational Psychology 46(2): 128–148. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Perry W. (1970) Forms of intellectual and ethical development in the college years. Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Pinker S. (1999) How the mind works. Penguin, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Plato (2008) Meno. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/h1643/1643-h/1643-h.htm
Plato (2008) Phaedrus. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1636/1636-h/1636-h.htm
Prensky M. (2001) Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon 9(5): 1–6. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ramachandran V. S. & Hirstein W. (1997) Three laws of qualia: What neurology tells us about the biological functions of consciousness, qualia and the self. Journal of Consciousness Studies 4(5–6): 429–58. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Richards L. D. (2014) Education as a subversive activity: A proposal. Kybernetes 43(9–10): 1392–1398. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Richards L. D. (2016) The many varieties of experimentation in second-order cybernetics: Art, science, craft. Constructivist Foundations 11(3): 621–622 http://constructivist.info/11/3/621
Rogers C. (1980) A way of being. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ryan S., Scott B., Freeman H. & Patel D. (2000) The virtual university: The Internet and resource based learning. Kogan Page, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Schön D. A. (1983) The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. Basic Books, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Schön D. A. (1987) Educating the reflective practitioner: Toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Scott B. & Bansal A. (2013) A cybernetic computational model for learning and skill acquisition. Constructivist Foundations 9(1): 125–136 http://constructivist.info/9/1/125
Scott B. & Bansal A. (2014) Learning about learning: A cybernetic model of skill acquisition. Kybernetes 43(9/10): 1399–1411 http://cepa.info/1283
Scott B. (1993) Working with Gordon: Developing and applying conversation theory (1968–1978) Systems Research 10(3): 167–182 http://cepa.info/295
Scott B. (1997) Inadvertent pathologies of communication in human systems. Kybernetes 26(6/7): 824–836 http://cepa.info/1809
Scott B. (2000) CASTE revisited: Principles of course design in a hypertext environment. Information Services & Use 20(2/3) 117. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Scott B. (2001) Conversation theory: A constructivist, dialogical approach to educational technology. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 8(4): 25–46 http://cepa.info/1803
Scott B. (2002) A design for the recursive construction of learning communities. International Revue of Sociology 12(2): 257–268 http://cepa.info/1800
Scott B. (2010) The global conversation and the socio-biology of awareness and consciousness. Journal of Sociocybernetics 7(2): 21–33 http://cepa.info/1792
Scott B. (2010) The role of higher education in understanding and achieving sustainable development: Lessons from sociocybernetics. Journal of Sociocybernetics 7: 1: 9–16 http://cepa.info/1793
Scott B. (2011) Education for cybernetic enlightenment. Cybernetics and Human Knowing 21(1–2): 199–205 http://cepa.info/1286
Scott B. (2011) Explorations in second order cybernetics. Edition Echoraum, Vienna. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Scott B. (2015) Minds in chains: A sociocybernetic analysis of the Abrahamic faiths. Journal of Sociocybernetics 13(1) https://papiro.unizar.es/ojs/index.php/rc51-jos/article/view/983
Scott B. (2015) Putting flesh on the bones: Ranulph Glanville’s contributions to conversation theory. Cybernetics and Human Knowing 22(2–3): 59–72 http://cepa.info/3510
Scott B., Shurville S., MacLean P. & Cong C. (2007) Cybernetic principles for learning design. Kybernetes 36(9/10): 1497–1514 http://cepa.info/1796
Searle J. R. (1975) A taxonomy of illocutionary acts. In: Gunderson K. (ed.) Language, mind and knowledge. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Simon M. A. (1995) Reconstructing mathematics pedagogy from a constructivist perspective. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education 26(2): 114−145 http://cepa.info/3671
Simpson Z. & Bester J. (in press) Cognitive demand and student achievement in concrete technology study. Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Simpson Z. (2014) Representation, resource and regulation in civil engineering drawing: An autoethnographic investigation. In: Archer A. & Newfield D. (eds.) Multimodal approaches to research and pedagogy: Recognition, resources and access. Routledge, New York: 41–56. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Skinner B. F. (1968) The technology of teaching. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Stanistreet P. (2012) Anyone can teach, everyone can learn. Adults Learning 23(3): 20–26. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Thomas L. F. & Harri-Augstein S. (2001) Conversational science and advanced learning technologies (ALT) Tools for conversational pedagogy. Kybernetes 30(7/8): 921–954. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Thoreau H. D. (2006) Walden. Yale University Press, New Haven CT. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Turing A. (1950) Computing machinery and intelligence. Mind 49: 433–460. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ulich R. (1967) Social and individual aspects of the curriculum. In: Burnham B. (ed.) New designs for learning. University of Toronto Press, Toronto: 12–17. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ulrich C., Tillema E. S., Hackenberg A. J. & Norton A. (2014) Constructivist model building: Empirical examples from mathematics education. Constructivist Foundations 9(3): 314–316 http://constructivist.info/9/3/314
Vygotsky L. S. (1978) Mind in society. The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Whimbey A., Lochhead J. & Narode R. (2013) Problem solving and comprehension. Routledge, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Whitehead A. N. (1978) Process and reality: An essay in cosmology. Free Press, New York. Originally published in 1929. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Windschitl M. (2002) Framing constructivism in practice as the negotiation of dilemmas: An analysis of the conceptual, pedagogical, cultural, and political challenges facing teachers. Review of Educational Research 72(2): 131‒175. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Wu P., Feng Y., Pienaar J. & Zhong Y. (2015) Educational attainment and job requirements: Exploring the gaps for construction graduates in Australia from an industry point of view. Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education 141(4). ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Zeeuw G. de (2001) Three phases of science: A methodological exploration. Systemica 13: 433–460. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar

Comments: 0

To stay informed about comments to this publication and post comments yourself, please log in first.