Quantum theory, mechanics and research is fascinating if your into that sort of sh#t. Its already old news that a particle can occupy two places at the same time. We know already that the rules of the micro world in which particles can occupy two spaces at the same time don’t apply to the macro world, at least as far as we know so far. Whats really fascinating however is the applicability of what quantum theory teaches us about ‘the state of being’, our lives and how the universe tends to operate. One of my favorite books is ‘Schroedingers Cat’ by Mark Anton Wilson who writes a lengthy fiction based on the logic of possible worlds coming out of quantum theory.
If you are into this sort of thing, then you’ll understand that the ‘measurement of something’ is what instantiates that thing into the state of being in which it is measured. What does this mean? Until I measure something, it is a spectrum of possibility and its measurement is in quantum speak what makes it real. Take for example the measurement of test scores. The test itself is in theory a measurement of something. The results from the test dictate the state of being of whatever was just measured. I got 8/10 on this test = I learned.
The tool, the hypothesis and the results are all critical pieces, but whats even more critical than that is the acceptance that the measurement itself removes a thing from the world of possibilities and makes it real. To some degree the measurement, biases the results. Not only does measurement bias results but it does not exclude the thing that was measured from being something else (light exhibits qualities of wave and particle based on the tool used to measure it). By using a tool that affirms light is a particle, I am in that moment of time making light to be a particle but in quantum reality the light is both a particle and a wave, until the moment in which it is measured.
It is time for us in the learning sciences field to not only question the assumptions of research (example: retention is a measurement of ‘learning’) but to broaden our understanding of what the research actually tells us. Remember the rules of measuring the micro world and macro world are different. Different laws apply. SAT scores taken on a macro level mean something different than a single person’s score on the SAT. I can predict with a certain degree of reliability how many people in the US are going to die by car accident in a year but I cant tell you who its going to be.
The assumptions and tools we have for measuring ‘learning’ even in the best scenario tell us very little about what someone may have ‘learned’ during a period of time. They will only tell us what we set out to measure not what we didn’t set out to measure. A worse case scenario is that we haven’t the slightest idea how to ‘measure learning’, if it can even be measured.
So here is where I stand and why this is even called a rant. Those of us in the learning sciences field ought to behave like scientists. We shouldn’t read without questioning. We shouldn’t pretend like our designs will solve all problems for everyone. We need to look at what we do as a process and use data to advance our agendas without perversely making false claims of universal applicability. If sales is the end game, then work to affect change in sales but don’t pretend that learning may or may not be involved. Stop calling data ‘learning data’. It doesn’t make sense. Stop calling people ‘learners’. Its patronizing and conceited. We know far less than what we know and a little humility would be great!