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Structural communication was developed by John G. Bennett and his research team in the 1960s, originally designed to simulate the structure and quality of a small group tutorial through automated means. It was intended as means of addressing the issue of providing high level learning from a relatively few sources of understanding to many. In essence it deals with a communication as both content and form, or as information and structure - or ‘information about information’. An effective two-way communication would involve mutual verification of understanding through comparisons of structure. In structural communication, information is provided that participants have to organize in explicit ways.

In its current form, Structural Communication is an instructional approach that provides a simulated dialogue between an author of instructional materials and the students. It has been called "an interactive technique for communicating understanding" (Egan, 1976). Understanding is "inferred if a student shows the ability to use knowledge appropriately in different contexts, and to organize knowledge elements in accordance with specified organizing principles" (Egan, 1972, p. 66). The technique was designed to encourage creative thinking in learners, allowing them to develop an understanding of a topic, not simply to memorize facts. Furthermore, Structural Communication was designed to promote learning for social action. Hodgson, in line with many current constructivists, viewed the social contexts of the learning activity to be critical for the transfer of learning to practical situations (Egan, 1976). The distinctions between the learning of knowledge and the learning for social action are evident in the actual components Hodgson designed into the Structural Communication technique. The typical components of a Structural Communication unit are described below.

Intention The opening statement, which defines what is to be studied, provides an overview, possibly an "advance organizer", and sometimes a rationale. It is used to provide a context for the content of the study unit.

Presentation The material, experience, exercise, case study, etc. which supplies the essential facts and concepts of the domain being studied. This may be an existing text, a video, a case study, a simulation, or real-life experience, depending on the overall strategy of the exercise. This could also be any sort of computer-based instruction, including simulations.

Investigation A set of problems for solution, which are designed to present the "intellectual challenge" that is an essential part of the Structural Communication methodology. These problems are interrelated and are open-ended to allow multiple responses and viewpoints. The purpose of the investigation section is for the learner to interact with the subject matter.

Response Matrix A randomized array of items which summarize key parts, concepts or principles from the knowledge base that is being used and studied in the exercise. Often it resembles a "key point summary" of the Presentation. The student composes a response (outlines an essay) by selecting any number of these items as a "best" response to a given problem.

Discussion The Discussion has two parts: a Discussion Guide and a set of Discussion Comments. The Guide is a set of if-then rules, which test the student's response for omission or inclusion of certain significant items, or combinations of items. The Comments are constructive statements that discuss in depth the rationale for including or excluding certain items.

Viewpoints An outline of the author's, and other alternative viewpoints; this may review some aspects stated in the Intention, make explicit some biases or standpoints held dear by the author, draw attention to other views in the literature, etc. Ideally, the viewpoint section plays a final, interactive role between author and learner.

An additional aspect of the Structural Communication study unit is the assessment of the learner's responses to the questions posed by the study unit.


Sample ExercisesEdit

Exercise made using Authorware [htpp://idde.syr.edu/ed-media/]

Multiple examples [1]

ReferencesEdit

Egan, K. (1972). Structural Communication: a new contribution to pedagogy. Programmed Learning and Educational Technology, 9(2), 63-78.

Egan, K. (1976). Structural Communication. Belmont, CA: Fearon Publishers. Hodgson, A.M. (1972). Structural learning in social settings: some notes on work in progress. Programmed Learning and Educational Technology, 9(2), 79-86.

Hodgson, A.M. & Dill, W.R. (1971). Programmed case: reprise of the missfired missive. Harvard Business

Romiszowski, A.J. (1990). Computer-mediated communication and hypertext: the instructional use of two converging technologies. Interactive Learning International, 6, 5-29.

Romiszowski, A.J. & Chang, E. (1992). Hypertext’s contribution to computer-mediated communication: in search of an instructional model. In M. Giardina (ed.) Interactive Multimedia Environments (pp. 111-130). Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.

Romiszowski, A.J. & DeHaas, J. (1989). Computer-mediated communication for instruction: using E-mail as a seminar. Educational Technology, 24(10).

Villalba, Carlos. & Romiszowski, Alexander. (1999). AulaNet and other Web-based Learning Environments: a comparative study in an International context. Proceedings of the 1999 ABED International Conference, Rio de Janeiro, August, 1999. São Paulo, Brazil: Associação Brasileira de Educação a Distância (ABED). www.abed.org.br


Structural Communication – journal Systematics, vol 5 no 3 1967

Structural Communication – Kieran Egan, 1976


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