In the 1960’s and 70’s one of our major interests was the study of how people ‘Learned by Reading’. Initially being experimental psychologists we used the tools of our trade to obtain records of the way in which people read whilst learning. The electrical recorders, the eye-moment cameras and the thoughts of the readers themselves even when combined, still did not really reveal and record the reading process sufficiently well for the reader to learn from talk-back through the process. And in retrospect this has been true for many of the learning skills that we have investigated.

Firstly the atmosphere of a psychological experiment was disquieting to the reader, so this again meant that we were learning that the experiment was a joint activity in which the learner was at least as important as the experimenter. Gradually we developed a ‘Reading Recorder’ which captured the second by second movement of the eyes over the text and despite our earlier attempts to record the eye movements we discovered that it was much more accurate for the reader to move the text past a viewing window and the recorder automatically recorded the pace and changes in this process. Eventually two or three years of part-time study, with probably with at least a hundred or more people ‘Reading-to-Learn’, enabled us to design the Brunel Reading Recorder.

Here you can see one of the Brunel Reading recorders being used by a pupil from a grammar/comprehensive school producing a read record and making notes on a text pad.
If you would like to read more about this, click here.

The lessons from these earlier experiments enabled us to gain more and more insight into the nature of the evidence of the learning process which can be used by the learner as a resource for improving their reading and the additional skill of reflecting after the event on how they do this.

Recently we have developed a Computer-based program which offers the a wider range of facilities than the Brunel Reading Recorder. It also contains the opportunity for the learner to produce a flow diagram (chart) of their interpretation of the meaning of the text.

All that remains is an opportunity for the learner to create a talk-back through the flow diagram of the reading process. This offers them an opportunity to reflect on the nature of the meaning that they are attributing to the text. In addition whilst the program enabled the learner to produce a graphical record of their reading activity we have still to add the talk-back through the structure of the read-record.

The other early sets of experiments were concerned with for enabling the learners on a production line to become more and more proficient. Again we produced methods of recording the operations of the workers by using a recorder which used a whole variety of sensors based on touch, pressure and sensing at a distance and offering our device to them so that they could:-

  1. develop and reflect on what they were doing.
  2. discuss their records with each other.
  3. rotate the jobs so that each appreciated what was required from their colleagues on the production line.

During one early study we experienced difficulties with the experienced actual production line supervisors and managers of the process. The problem being that after two or three weeks the trainees on their own training line with early versions of the Learning Conversation were performing both more quickly and more accurately than their more experienced colleagues on the production line. What was more difficult was that when the trainees moved to the production line, their productivity dropped.

So our findings from these and later studies has been that production-skill is much more than just the production activity itself. This agreed with the coal mining studies being carried out Ken Rice, Eric Trist & Fred Emery at the Tavistock Institute.