Engines for Learning on WWW

[from Gary Cziko 950311.1602 GMT]

For those of you with access to the World-Wide Web, I recommend that you
take a look at the hypermedia "book" _Engines for Learning_ by Roger Schank
of the Institute for the Learning Sciences at Northwestern University. It
can be found at:


I dream of having materials organized this way about PCT. But not only is
the organization of this book impressive, it makes many arguments for
revising education that fit very nicely into PCT. Below is an excerpt on
motivation. The very end will give you an idea of the hypertext links
built into the book.--Gary Cziko



Schools are full of courses that constitute what the academic authorities
feel students must learn to be "qualified" in a given subject. The French
curriculum covers certain aspects of French language, culture, and history
as deemed appropriate by the designers of that curriculum. When colleges
say they require students to complete the math curriculum, they mean that
they require study in certain particular aspects of mathematics, to be
studied over the course of a certain number of years, with certain tests at
the end. There is some variation in these curricula from school to school,
of course, but not all that much, especially when standardized tests loom
at the end of the year.

Courses, however, ought to be no more than a collection of scriptlets to be
acquired. That is, if real knowledge comes from doing, and scriptlets are
what are acquired in doing, then any course should be no more than, and no
less than, a set of experiences that allow students to acquire a scriptlet
in the natural way scriptlets are acquired; that is, by practice.

Of course, there is the issue of motivation. No one will learn a scriptlet,
much less practice one, unless there is real motivation to drive what may
be real work. Programming your VCR or sending e-mail are not intrinsically
rewarding activities. Learning to do them comes from the results they
bring. This means, to a course designer, that the results they bring need
to be brought to the fore, serving as real motivation to acquire the

To motivate a student to learn a scriptlet, one of three things needs to be
true. Either the student must find the result of the scriptlet to be
intrinsically rewarding, or the scriptlet must be part of a package of
scriptlets which are intrinsically rewarding.

An example of a scriptlet that stands alone and is intrinsically rewarding
is the ability to use a cash station machine. Most scriptlets, however, are
not so rewarding when considered by themselves. No one would sit still for
a lesson dedicated to signing credit card slips, for example.

Often, however, scriptlets can be grouped together to accomplish a goal,
although not one of them would naturally stand alone. Driving a car is a
collection of scriptlets, including engine starting, braking, and lane
changing. Playing baseball is a collection of scriptlets, including
fielding a ground ball to your left, hitting the curve ball, or sliding.
People don't do these sorts of activities (unless they are practicing) in
the absence of a real need to do so. Nevertheless, all of them take
practice. Scriptlets that are part of packages must be taught within the
context of those packages. We shall see why this matters later on.

Sometimes, however, scriptlets are not intrinsically interesting either
taken by themselves or in some natural package of scriptlets. We might all
agree, for example, that being able to calculate square footage of an area
is a useful skill that any adult might need. Schools would normally place
such instruction in a course of mathematics. But I am arguing that the
concept of scriptlet makes clear that there should not be any courses in
mathematics (especially not in the early years of school). Rather,
mathematics scriptlets (of which the calculation of square footage is one)
need to be taught in a meaningful curriculum. Square footage calculation is
not intrinsically rewarding, nor is it a part of a package of scriptlets
that depend upon each other. It is a quite independent scriptlet that no
one wants to learn for its own sake and it presents a serious motivation

If we believe that scriptlets like calculating square footage are indeed
important, we must figure out how to devise a curriculum that will make
learning them rewarding. The answer to this conundrum is, as usual, goals.
To motivate students to learn a scriptlet, we can give them a goal that
interests them and requires them to know the scriptlet. For example, we
might embed learning how to calculate square footage within an attempt to
plan and build a house. In such a curriculum, this calculation would need
to be made many times and would be learned in a natural way. If no
situation containing a particular scriptlet can be found that is rewarding
for the student, it is reasonable to assume that this scriptlet isn't all
that important for the student to learn.

The same is true in business. If we determine that reading a financial
report (a package of scriptlets) is important to know, we must find a
context in which that knowledge matters (i.e., whether to approve a loan to
a business). For instance, giving students a decision to make in which the
various scriptlets in reading a financial report come into play can make
all the difference between students really acquiring the relevant
scriptlets and their simply learning them in order to pass a test. One
thing is important to remember here. It is not simply a question of finding
the context in which the scriptlets come into play, they must come into
play quite often. Practice is a very important part of scriptlet
acquisition. This does not mean repetition of the same scriptlet again and
again as is done in drill and practice situations in school. Rather, it
means finding repeated situations in the curriculum in which the same
scriptlet is of use so that the practice does not seem like practice. If
you want someone to become a good driver, the issue is not having him drive
in circles, but giving him a job which requires repeated driving in a
non-artificial way.

A course, then, ought to provide a means by which scriptlets can be
acquired even if the scriptlets (or packages of scriptlets) themselves are
not intrinsically rewarding. The situation must be structured to so that
students can see how and why they need each scriptlet.


[Image] Facts, Subjects, and Domains

[Image] Where am I in the content of the book?


      What are examples of good and bad teaching methods in action?
      What is an example of a curriculum of goal-based scenarios in


      What is an open curriculum?


      Why does Learning by Doing work?


      Why does extrinsic motivation fail?


      How do current educational practices fail to teach scriptlets?
      How are curiosity and curriculum antithetical?
      What are the main problems with our current fixed curricula?
      What is wrong with a "Back to Basics" curriculum?


      What types of knowledge should be taught in our schools?


      What should the role of the teacher be?
      How should scriptlets be grouped into curricula?
      How should courses be designed?


      How are scriptlets related to MOPs?
      What is goal-directed learning?
      What are scriptlets?


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Copyright 1994, The Institute for the Learning Sciences