Social Factors

Heim Upp Behaviourism Cognitivism Social Factors Bibliography




  Social factors of learning and education

The term ´intellectual tool´ is generally attributed to Vygotsky (Wertsch, 1985).  He noted that nature contributes humans with certain elementary mental functions such as memory, attention and the capacity to make associations based on contiguity.  We use these basic functions to make sense of our environment. One of the most important tasks to an educational system is to authorize the young with the intellectual tools of the culture. Children are quite capable of incidental learning based on the natural mental functions.  The acquisition of more advanced forms of the tool use, however it must be deliberate and must proceed in the full understanding of the power of the tool, of its generative potential and of the demands made on the user during the period of learning (Davis, N., et al.1997).

Sociocultural approaches to the process of learning are increasingly being applied by educationalists. Sociocultural theorists argue that individuals cannot be considered in isolation from their social and historical context and therefore it is necessary to look at the society and the developments occurring at a given time.

Two principal agencies, the family and the school powerfully shape children’s learning experiences.  The influence of these two agencies is constrained by the wider social and cultural systems into which they are embedded.  There is great diversity in cultural backgrounds, social conditions, family arrangements and school organization.  These two factors have been going through constant modifications; Charles M. Reigeluth (1995) shows the major paradigm shifts in society in the following table;


                     Agrarian                 Industrial          Information society

Transportation:  Horse                  Train                            Plane                                                                                              and Car

  Family:          Extended                    Nuclear                    Single parent                         family                        family                      family

Business:         Family                       Bureaucracy                  Team

Education:       One-room                  Current                           ?                        schoolhouse                system  

(Anglin, G.1995, p.87).

In the competitive and commercial society of today the appearance of existing technology occurs most often first in the business sector.  In the above table we can see that the teamwork is progressing from the bureaucratic way of managing work.  In the same way the role of the teacher is gradually changing from being the sole manager of the class to be the manager of the teamwork in the class.   The developments in technology emerge very much from the marked forces (Edge, D., 1995) whereas the educational systems are quite often conservative and slow to adapt to changes (Ottone, 1996).

The developments in the computer technology and telecommunication are of much interest today but the power of television as a tool is presumably the single most important development  of the past thirty years.

In the 1950s and 60s there was a rapid growth in  the developments of the television.  Previously books and other printed media had been the source of information.  “While books are based on abstract symbols and a linear and sequential structure that encourages logical thinking, television is image- and sound-based, concrete, visceral, sensual, holistic, emotional, nonlinear, simultaneous, and constantly in flux” (Meyrowitz, 1996, p.74).  With the commencement of the television many educators, academics and cultural critics saw this as an end of the literacy and saw our society transformed by the sort of technology represented by the box in the living room. (Meyrowitz, 1996).  Meyrowitz refers to Herbert Marshall McLuhan, he suggests  “that the modes of thinking, behavior, and social organization spawned by literacy and printing were not natural or everlasting and that five hundred years of increasing influence was coming to an end.  Linear progress was a myth.  Just a literate modes of thought and experience were about to override literate ones” (Meyrowitz, 1996, p.74).

 Studies have show that an average child spends more time watching television than any other activity except school and sleep.  Nearly all households, in western societies, possess a TV set, and the average time the TV set is switched on is about five to six hours a day ( Giddens, 1994).

Statistics below from the Nordic countries show television viewing: Average viewing time 1992-1995 (min/day)









Age 4+

Age 10+

Age 12-80

Age 12+

Age 3+

























Note: All figures come from TV-meter ratings, except for Iceland.

Sources: Gallup Denmark, Finnpanel & YLE Audience Research, Social Science Institute at the University of Iceland, MMI Norway, and MMS.


All the countries show steady increase in viewing time and the broadcasting hours of television are also increasing as the table below shows


Nordic countries

Nationwide television:  Transmission time 1990-1995 (hours/week)



















































































Many surveys and studies have been made to assess the effects of television programmes on viewers,  and especially on children.  Violence in television programmes has been of great concern since the early days of television.

In the 1960s an American psychologist,  Albert Bandura investigated children who had seen violent behaviour on film and found out that these children were more likely to be aggressive in their play afterwards. From his famous Bobo doll experiment Bandura´s  Social Learning Theory (SLT) was developed.  It suggests that “learning is primarily a cognitive, representational process in which the representations are mentally transformed, stored either symbolically or iconically, and retrieved before being manifested as imitation” (Spencer, K., 1991, p.194).

In his book "Children Talking Television" David Buckingham's analysis suggests that the relationship between media text and audience response, sociocultural structure and human agency, is one which by a definition, is always played out in relation to children's social locations, purposes and competence.  For example, the trend to which the 'narrative logic' of the latest MTV video or mini-series fixes a dominant cultural ideology, or makes available multiple identities and reading positions, is it self a product of the complex interactions of home, community, school and peer cultures (Buckingham, 1993).

 Buckingham points out that television viewing is mainly a social activity, which usually takes plays in the company of others, where viewers talk to each other or even to the screen, instead of sitting passive absorbing what they watch.  Even when we watch television by ourselves, we talk about it with others and that has become a vital element of our every day social lives.  He also suggests that "talk about television may carry a significant social charge.  It is an arena in which we may - deliberately or inatvertendly - display our moral values, our social and political affiliations, and our perceptions of ourselves and of others" (Buckingham, 1993, p.40).

Talking about television is a process of bringing out the meanings that 'work' for particular audience group, which then, in turn, go to activate those meanings in the next viewing.  In this way solitary viewing can be experienced as a group viewing, because the viewer knows well that other members of the group are viewing at the same time (Fiske, 1987).  In this way a common experience reinforces a shared culture.

Television lifts many of the old veils of secrecy between children and adults, men and women, and politicians and average citizens.  “By blurring “who knows what about whom” and “who knows what compared to whom”, television foster the blurring of social identities, socialization stage, and ranks of hierarchy.  The electronic society is characterized by more adultlike children and more childlike adults; more career-orientated women and more family-oriented men; and by leaders who act more like the “person next door” just as average citizens demand to have more of say in local, national, and international affairs” (Meyrowitz, 1996, p.99).  

The emerge of the television in the 1950s and 1960s developed also in what  way politicians could get their message across.  The relationship between them and journalists are continually evolving in ways that can significantly affect the substance and tone of the media report.  Greater value and increased priority are given on image-making skills and getting the appearance of things right.

The professionalization of political advocacy is manifested in many ways: increased trust on technical experts who supposedly know the media ropes, public advisers, public relations specialists, campaign management consultants; the believe among politicians that the key to a competitive success is in superior agenda setting, getting the main news outlets to give more high-flying and more positive attention to one’s favorite issue than those of one’s opponents; tactics of close message control, focusing  only on those issues that may help one’s course, never straying from the chosen theme of the day, and bombarding journalists with deluge of complaints to show that they are being watched; and adoption of a ´hardball´ publicity ethic, based on the principle that the quickest and most effective way to act on the balance of public opinion is to mount strongly negative attacks on one’s opponent (Blumer, Gurevitch, 1997).

Change is not only refashioning media organizations, technologies, markets and resources;  it is also transforming the social conditions of media audiences. Blumer and Gurevitch (1997) list op in the book Mass Media and Society (p.126) what they find to be the most significant developments:

  1. The breakdown of traditionally authoritative institutions that once anchored many people’s identities and loyalties, such as political parties, churches, trade unions, local communities, allied to diminished defence to and increased scepticism about leaders and figures of authority
  2. A related weakening of traditional agencies of socialization and public order, such as families and schools.  The hold of the family on its younger members has been weakened by many factors, such as the increase in the divorce rate and the related increase in single-parent households; increase of two working parent homes; as well as the negative consequences of the dissolution of conventional households.  A corollary is the shift of socializing powers to peer groups and city streets.
  3. The advance of individualistic, consumerist lifestyles, associated with expectations of rising income and educational levels, aggressive commercial advertising and the ascendance of philosophies that cater to consumption-oriented populations.
  4. Increased mobility, not only geographical, occupational and social but also psychic, with more identities to assume and more cultural perspectives to meet.
  5. An altered, albeit contested, status of certain groups – women, ethnic minorities and young people.
  6. A decline in moral certitude and consensus, blurring formerly more clear boundaries of taste and acceptability, and provoking greater conflict over the boundaries between the permissible and forbidden.  It brings to mind a current joke about the changing situation in Russia suggesting that in the days of the Soviet Union even that which was permissible was banned, whereas in Russia today even that which is banned is permissible.
  7. The onset in the civic sphere of relatively intractable problems, such as those of economic management, safeguarding the environment, escalating demands and costs of social provision and rising rate of crime, drug addiction and other manifestations of social breakdown.


These trends demand more of authorities, whose capacity to cope have been reduced.  They have also created a more communication-dependent society at the very moment when – due to the forces of commercialisation, proliferation of media outlets and globalisation – societies regularity powers and instruments over the major communications media are weakening  (Blumer, Gurevitch, 1997, p.127)


Social factors of education

There are some accusations about the lack of connection between the school environment and the real live experience.  Formal education confronts children with many demands that are not a regular or frequent characteristic of their everyday experience outside the classroom. The practice of education confronts children with meaningful and necessary discontinuities in their intellectual, social and linguistic experiences (Wood, D., 1995). But according to Bernstein children from ´the middle class´ social background find it easier to accommodate to the school system than ´the working class´ one, because of the language and social norm of the school serve better their comprehension. David Wood (1995) does not agree with Bernstein in this respect he says: “ is a mistake to think of schooling simply a preserve of one social group. It is not, I suggest, profitably seen as a ´middle-class´  institution, for example.  It may well be populated by adults from such social backgrounds, but simply viewing school as a continuation of experiences that are typical of one social group is, I believe, a gross oversimplification.  Such a view ignores and belies the many specific demands that are ´special´ to schooling.  Put it another way, schools have a culture of their own” (p.213).   At different time and in different part of the world teachers have had the role of being disseminators of literacy, guardians of culture, vicars of morality, architects of the ´good citizen´  and agents of the Gods.  In more recent times, schools have been allocated the task of achieving social equality, overcoming material disadvantage and eradicating prejudice.  Teachers and instructional designer need to be capable of diagnosing the needs of the individual learner and know how to meet these when discovered (Wood, D., 1995). The technological developments in recent years have equipped teacher and instructional designers with more variety of tools to meet this  new era, but the underlying theories of instructions must be an addition to the use of the tools.  


  Some future perspectives in educational technology

When reading through the literature concerning educational technology and instructional design the development in information technology and communication technology is of a great importance.

Reigeluth (1996) feels the most important new directions for research in educational technology include advancing the instructional prescriptions should be:

1)   Facilitating understanding, generic skills application, and affective learning,

2)   Utilizing the unique capabilities of new technologies,

3)    Structuring and sequencing a course or curriculum,

4)   Selecting mediational systems,

5)   Designing instructional-management systems, and

6)   Motivating learners.


  Other important new directions include:

7)   Developing expert systems as job aids for, or even replacements for, instructional designers, and

8)   Providing more help to the public schools, especially by applying systems thinking to the design of structural features that are more appropriate for the educational needs of an information society.


The arguments for why we should want to introduce technology into education is often that “We should want to prepare workers for the competitive global economy” (Kerr, 1996, p.7). Educational technology is almost everywhere discussed in terms of method, which is seen as having direct effects that are meaningful to national purposes or the formation of citizens able to contribute in specific ways to the society and the economy (Kerr, 1996).

The changes occurring today are the courses of new way of  looking how the curriculum works, with new demands from the economic. M. Young (1996) talks about it in the article  “A curriculum for the twenty-first century”.  He points out the division between the academic and vocational curriculum and takes the curriculum of English and Wales system of post-compulsory education and training as an example of “a highly industrialised country which combines low participation, deep social class divisions and a curriculum which, structurally, has changed little in a half a century or more” (p.107).  He refers to the academic/vocational system and says it is “characterised by a continuing cleavage between social classes, a deeply divided system of qualifications, and a narrow and elitist academic curriculum” (p.108).  He argues that the existing curriculum needs to adopt to new emphasis from the economic sector.

The productivity of industrial capitalism up to the middle of this century rested on the division between mental and manual labour as the professional engineers and managers designed systems of manufacture which depended less and less on skills and knowledge of the majority of employees.  This system became the most productive one that the world had ever witnessed and specialisation was applied to more and more areas of manufacturing and services.  It is this system of production and its dominant form of divisive specialisation that is under challenge from systems that depend on maximising the innovative contribution of all employees.  There are two courses for these changes: the globalisation of economies and the massive growth in the potential for competition that goes with it, and the transformative potential of information-based technologies (Young, M. 1996).  Young uses the term connect specialisation when he talks about a new way to go beyond the traditional forms of divisive specialisation.

“..connective specialisation is concerned with the links between combination of knowledge and skill in the curriculum and wider democratic and social goals.  At the individual level it refers to the need for an understanding of the social, cultural, political and economic implications of any knowledge or skill in its context, and how, through such a concept of education, an individual can learn both specific skills and knowledge and the capacity to take initiatives, whatever their specific occupation or position” (p.121).


Young identifies the current curriculum in England and Wales as:

            ° sharp academic/vocational divisions;

            ° insulated subjects;

            ° absence of any concept of the curriculum as a whole.

He suggests a curriculum which has:

            ° breadth and flexibility;

° connection between both core and specialist studies and general (academic)

               and applied (vocational) studies;

            ° opportunities for progression and credit transfer;

            ° a clear sense of the purpose of the curriculum as a whole.

To change a curriculum is very much depended on the future vision of politic and economic, whether the society will be based on mass production or flexible specialisation.

The question about how the computer technology will influence learning and instructional design is often asked.  Salomon and Perkins talk about it in their article “Learning in Wonderland: What Do Computers Really Offer Education?”  They recognise two things;

“First, computers in and of themselves do little to aid learning.  Their presence in the classroom along with relevant software does not automatically inspire teachers to rethink their teaching or students to adopt new modes of learning…..Second, it has also become evident that no single task or activity, wondrous as it may be, affects learning in any profound and lasting manner in and of itself. Rather it is the whole culture of learning environment, with or without computers, that can affect learning in important ways (Salomon, Perkins 1996, p.113).


It is looking at what learning demands not what technology can do which is the best way of seeing the potential contribution of technology (Kozma, 1994).  The new paradigm based on the cognitive and constructive learning and goes together with the new ideas about the curriculum which Young suggested, make us think about how we can accomplish it with information technology.  Computers are a prime tool in accomplishing learner in what Young called connect specialisation. For instance, computers and attendant resources such as CD-ROMS or network- accessible databases can provide quickly accessible and efficiently searchable information resources.  Through E-mail, computers can support a social network beyond the limits of the classroom.  In a number of ways computers might enable the kind of cognition and interaction called for by connect specialisation and the design of learning environments that foster these processes.  These environments which call for a networking conception and allow it to play out are varied, although  sharing  basic attributes.  Learning is driven by real-life problems and calls for genuine and purposeful knowledge construction and design, thus inviting understanding performances and high level thinking.  Formulating and posing a question play a central role shifting the focus from knowledge recitation to knowledge gathering, selecting, and arranging.

  “The information collected for the solution of a problem or the design of some entity is very often multidisciplinary, affording the creation of understanding as networks of meaningful connection, as well as mindful (“high road”) cross-domain transfer. It is a process based on team work and collaboration, with its joint appropriation of meaning, its opportunity for internalizing other-regulated learning so that becomes self-regulation, and its facilitation of the social distribution of thinking.  And it is a process aided by a variety of high level technical tools for design, communication, information retrieval, and simulation, which enable the realization of a networking pedagogy while serving as the stage on which it can be usefully played out” (Salomon, Perkins 1996, p.125).


These new features of learning can be found in many pioneering projects and illustrate how instructional uses of technology can be justified on psychological and pedagogical grounds that are independent of technology.

Today’s technologies allow the realisation of new styles of pedagogy.  But, according to Salmon and Perkins, technology is more that just the means of making a pedagogical dream come true; often the dream is influenced by what the technology affords, thus leading to the modification of the rationale. The easy asses with technology to vast bodies of information, libraries, databases, archives, discussion groups, and bulletin boards, seems to affect our conception of knowledge.  For if all these information are so accessible and easy to gather and manipulate by technology, it may well be that knowledge stored in students’ minds is less valid today than in the past.

 Salomon and Perkins refer to March that has argued that the real change in education will take place only when our conception of knowledge changes.  They also refer to Herbert Simon who has suggested that such a change  occurs once we come to perceive the concept of knowledge not as a noun denoting possession but a verb denoting access:  knowledge as a process of accessing and manipulating, not as a matter of “having” or not “having” it.  According to Salmon and Perkins this theoretical change, encouraged as it is by new technological possibilities, has important ramifications for the rationale introduced earlier.  Technology not only helps to translate the rationale into practice but has also triggered the development of that rationale.




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Sólrún B. Kristinsdóttir © 2001 Síðast uppfært 21.10.2008

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