Learning situations and individual uncertainty orientation

Guenter L. Huber  University of Tuebingen, Germany,  Anne A. Huber  Paedagogische Hochschule Weingarten

According to Sorrentino and Hewitt (1984; cf. Sorrentino, Short & Raynor, 1984; Sorrentino et al., 1990) self-discovery methods, open learning situations, or cooperative learning situations are characterized by the common feature of uncertainty.
Many psychologists embrace the idea that the important element in the content or form of instruction is that it should arouse the epistemic curiosity of the student. It is argued that one should encourage self-discovery by group learning methods, or conflict situations, or pure uncertainty, and students will be more motivated to find out, to reduce uncertainty and to achieve greater understanding. Particularly cooperative learning arrangements are recommended as motivating learning situations, because by offering more alternatives the dynamics of social interaction confront team members with greater uncertainty about the usefulness of own ideas.

Unfortunately our studies showed over the last 10 years that uncertainty may not at all motivate all students to learn: The uncertainty of particular aspects of the self or the environment will only motivate so-called "uncertainty-oriented" students to reduce controversies and to attain greater understanding, whereas so-called "certainty-oriented" students -- maybe the majority in everyday classrooms -- are not too much interested in finding out anything new about the self or the environment. While uncertainty-oriented students' epistemic curiosity is aroused by ambiguous aspects of instructional arrangements, certainty oriented students not only are not attracted by learning arrangements of the "curiosity" or "debate" type, but reject them in favor of clearly structured situations including much guidance by teachers.

This presentation summarizes findings from a number of studies which demonstrated the crucial role of individual uncertainty orientation on processes and results of learning in cooperative groups. As conclusion from the fact that students preferring the challenges of uncertainty are more active and profit more from social interaction in learning groups than do their certainty-oriented teammates, instructional modules offering balanced learning opportunities for all students are discussed. In addition, contrasting findings from a recent study in eight schools using  fractal learning arrangements" combining teacher guidance, individual learning and team processes in a  sandwich architecture" will be presented. These findings demonstrate that the challenges of open and social learning situations can be preserved, while compensating for individual preferences due to different orientation styles.

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