Recognition, assimilation and accommodation – 3 key terms in education

The mind is set up to process content in a myriad of ways, but 3 processes seem particularly relevant to education: the recognition of content, when what is presented requires little processing as it matches what is already understood by the student, the assimilation of content when there is sufficient difference between what is presented and already known and the brain ‘adds’ it on to the pile, and the accommodation of content when the brain has to change and adapt what it thought was sufficient understanding, thereby producing a new way of thinking.

Carroll and Mack’s paper on ‘Metaphor, computing systems, and active learning’ presents a really interesting view on the role of metaphor in education, and in arriving at their thesis they quite elegantly explicate the 3 processes outlined above:

Carroll & Thomas (1982), for example, suggested an account that appealed to consolidation and integration of new information. On their account material to be learned is apprehended and, by hypothesis, entered into working memory. Next, and as an automatic consequence, a framework of related general knowledge (Minsky, 1973) is retrieved from long-term memory and also entered into the working memory. Finally, with the apprehension of further new material, there is a need to consolidate and compress the contents of working memory into a more integrated format. One way that this can happen is for the new material to be assimilated to the retrieved frameworks.

The appropriateness of the retrieved knowledge framework for the new material being assimilated is crucial to this account. The retrieved framework cannot be completely appropriate, for, if it were, the “new” material would be recognized not assimilated. Hence, the framework must be partially appropriate and partially inappropriate. When it is not, additional mechanisms of inference come into play to modify the old structure to accommodate novel features of the new object of knowledge (see Bott, 1978, for further discussion of such mechanisms).

IRESEARCHNET also have a really nice definition of the terms.

I’m Paul Moss. I’m a learning designer at the University of Adelaide. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger

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