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Posted by stacey27 in intention-interpretation.


Due to the gap between the intentions of educators and the interpretations of learners, much of the information expected to be transferred is lost; however through the understanding of this gap and intentional actions to close the gap, it is possible for educators to increase the transfer of information to students and assist in the application of the information into the learner’s world. To understand the issue, it is important to define learning. Then, through understanding educators’ intentions and learners’ interpretations, it is important to grasp how this gap occurs and why is it needs to be addressed. Lastly, there are some steps that can be taken to lessen the gap and ensure a higher transfer of information.

Learning Defined

“Learning…is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (Foundations, 1997, Experiential Education: What It Is section, para. 5). This is becoming a widely held belief and is influencing our techniques and strategies for learning more and more. As there have been many shifts recently in the theory of learning, importance is being placed on the learner’s experience, control, and interpretation in conjunction with the environmental factors to develop the most effective strategies for teaching.

A study conducted by Säljö analyzed what individuals understood by learning. The results were categorized and include learning as a measurable increase in knowledge, learning as memorizing, learning as acquiring facts, skills, and methods, learning as making sense or extracting meaning, and learning as interpreting and understanding reality in a different way (Säljö, 1979). Of course, some knowledge is simply fact-based or requiring memorization; however other learning requires a relation to the world around the user and an individual interpretation of the information, as exampled in the last two types of learning categorized by Säljö. Yet Säljö is not the only theorist to see learning categorized in this way. Many developmental theorists explore how knowledge is acquired through how we make meaning of our experience in the world (Foundations, 1997). Learning is a complex activity and is affected by many factors.


An educator sets out to provide a means to transfer information to a learner. The educator intends for the information, which exists in his or her personal realm of understanding, to be accurately received by the learner. However, based on the above explanation of how people learn, that job is quite complex. Therefore, as great as intentions can be, many times the intention gets lost in the process.

The intention can exist in many forms. The way that information is written can carry intended meaning and be expressed in a certain way that the educator believes is most effective. Also the intention could exist in the design of a review activity or an illustration. To the educator, their presentation of this information is designed with the intent that it will be successfully transferred to the student.

In computer-based learning, an educator designs a course about statistics. The textual information is written following a proven format with objectives. Review questions and interactive games are inserted throughout the computer-based learning. For students who learn best by reading, the approach would be effective, but, for example, a student who learns by hearing the information would struggle to interpret the information correctly. Also, the attempt could fail if the students taking the course were only proficient in basic math and thus, the higher-level concepts in statistics are beyond their understanding.


For students, the learning process can be a frustrating one. Because learners all have distinct ways learning and a separate world of experiences, no piece of information will be interpreted in exactly the same way. No individual learning experience is the same or is just how the educator intended.

“Students construct meaning as they read, listen, act and reflect on the subject content” (Alexander, 1995, Teaching and Learning Strategies section, para. 3). To truly understand something requires an active process. A learner must relate new information to existing knowledge and alter that existing knowledge to accommodate the new information. The deeper information is processed, the more likely a learner will retain the information (Smith). For example, a learner may already know that the origin of the Christmas holiday is religious. However when new information is presented, showing evidence that throughout time people have celebrated it in a very non-religious way, the chunk of information already stored in the learner’s knowledge base is pulled forth and reinscribed to include this supporting piece of information.

The Gap

As alluded to in the previous sections, learning requires a meeting of the educator’s intentions and the student’s interpretations and there is most always a gap between the two. Many times, the efforts of the student do not produce an accurate interpretation of the information the educator intended to transfer due to the various elements of the learning environment and due to the learning process itself.

Computer communication that is text-based can lead to many misunderstandings that go unrecognized. During computer-based learning, the environment is different from a standard classroom setting. Most times, a student participating in computer-based learning is experiencing the learning unaccompanied. Without the educator present to monitor learning, when a misunderstanding presents itself, there is not usually an immediate way to clear up the confusion. However, in face to face communication, not only is information transferred, but there is an important opportunity to set straight any wrongly interpreted information. In addition, communication is aided by the tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language used. When communication is limited to a basic computer-based message, the lines of communication are limited. Thus, face to face learning, with immediate feedback and visual communication cues, has an advantage over computer-based learning by lessening one of the chances for information to be wrongly interpreted (Pedagogy).

When a learner invests in understanding communication on a topic, any slight variation from the intended meaning will result in a loss of information or could result in the alteration of the meaning (Pedagogy). By learning the details of a battle, much knowledge is gained, but by missing a small piece of information, such as which side of the battle was fought by who, the meaning of the information is greatly distorted. A greater chance for the alteration of information can occur when a learner maps out his or her own interpreted structure of information. The interpretation is unique to the learner and the ability to accurately acquire the structure intended by the author is more doubtful. Yet it is imperative for the students to effectively interpret the structure of any information before constructing the meaning because meaning is most successfully given through structure (Alexander, 1995). Yet again there presents the chance for a gap between the way information is interpreted and the way it was intended to be interpreted.

When a learner engages in computer-based learning, he or she is essentially participating in a reading activity that is a complex reception of visual content, primarily text, and requires interpretive understanding (Istrate, 2002). No matter the subject, learning, a complicated activity, involves relating the information into the learner’s world. As experiential education advocates argue, information can not be “…’learned’ apart from understanding, mastery, and application” (Foundations, Experiential Education section, para. 8). In addition, constructivists believe that personal reality affects a learner’s analysis and the world. All knowledge possessed is a uniquely wrapped chunk of information that relies upon the observations, processing, and interpretation of the learner (Tran). All of these theories share one truth: That learning is an individual experience and it relies on the learner’s understanding of the information. Because each learner creates their own version of the information, no two learning experiences are the same. And the educator is again faced with the dilemma that information is not being transferred as intended.

Narrowing the Gap

Aware of the issue and challenges to be faced, it is the educator’s responsibility to attempt to narrow the gap between the intentions of the educator and the interpretations of the learner. There are many actions that can be taken to ensure the best transfer of information to the learner.

It is the responsibility of the educator to create situations that result in an acquisition of knowledge due to experience. This requires the educator to know his or her students, understand which types of experiences help them learn, and expect and respond to situations that develop as an experience unfolds. By being prepared, an educator can better adapt his or her content to the students (Foundations, 1997).

However, knowing the students is not enough. An educator must also ask, “What specific learning and knowledge do I intend to result from this situation?” By doing so, all succeeding planning decisions have a framework and the possible learning outcomes of individual students are not limited. This question will ensure that the “intention to the learning areas will be a part of the experience that results” (Foundations, 1997).

Even with all of this planning by the educator, the learner is still the center of the learning with the educator only advising and facilitating (Tran). An experience that effectively aids students in the transfer of knowledge and allows students to explore and learn on their own terms is critical. But by assisting the process, the educator can further ensure that the students are receiving the intended learning experience. One way to engage learners in an active learning environment is to initiate a group discussion. In a sort of rule of averages way, a learner in a group of other learners can become aware of the variations of interpretation and development of meaning, and, through compiling it all together, result in a construction of meaning closer to the intended learning and individual to himself or herself (Alexander, 1995).

In order to provide a situation where an educator can best support the learning experience, he or she must be dedicated to developing student-teacher relationships, priorities, timelines, allocating resources, and decision making (Foundations, 1997). An educator must be aware of learner needs, abilities, and learning style preferences to be able to match the teaching style to the learning style. Personality type tests, such as Myers-Briggs, the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, and the Classroom Work Style Survey are sometimes used by educators to accurately gauge their learners. However, no matter how many tests are done to estimate the ability and styles of learners, there will always be a variety in a group. By providing a variety of activities to address the different learners, all learners will have some activities to which they better relate and are more successful (Zhenhui, 2001).


No matter how the issue of intention and interpretation is addressed, by being more aware is a good first step. However, to truly make a difference, educators must take steps to ensure that their content and learning experiences suit the intended learning audience. There is a gap between the intentions of educators and the interpretations of learners where unfortunately, information that is intended to be transferred is lost or corrupted; therefore, by understanding this gap and intentionally acting to close the gap, educators can successfully increase the transfer of information to students and students can apply the information into their world.

By narrowing the gap between the intention of the teacher and the interpretations of the learner, the chances of achieving the desired learning outcome is increased (Zhenhui, 2001).


Alexander. Shirley. (1995). Teaching and Learning on the World Wide Web. Retrieved December 13, 2006, from Australasian World Wide Web Conference 2007 Web Site: http://ausweb.scu.edu.au/aw95/education2/alexander/index.html.

Foundations of Experiential Education. (December 1997). Retrieved December 13, 2006, from Emory College Web Site: http://www.tpl.emory.edu/foundations.htm.

Istrate, Olympius. (May 2002). Design for elearning. Retrieved December 13, 2006, from eLearning forum Web Site: http://www.elearning-forum.ro/elearning_theory/elearning_design.html.

Learning Intentions. Retrieved December 13, 2006 from Learning and Teaching Scotland Web Site: http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/sharedglossary/learningintentions.asp.

Pedagogy of CMC, The. Retrieved December 13, 2006, from The University of Edinburgh Web Site: http://www.elearn.malts.ed.ac.uk/services/CMC/pedagogy.phtml.

Säljö, R. (1979). Saljo on Learning. Retrieved January 14, 2007, from The Informal Education Homepage Web Site: http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~infed/ohps/exhibits/saljo_learning.htm.

Smith, Ian. KEY IDEAS. Retrieved December 13, 2006, from Learning Unlimited Web Site: http://www.learningunlimited.co.uk/ideas/key/big_l.html.

Tran, Tu. Learner-centered Education Primer. Retrieved December 13, 2006, from Western Association of Schools and Colleges Web Site: http://www.wascsenior.org/wasc/Session%20Materials/Tranlearningcenteredprimer.pdf.

Zhenhui, Rao. (2001). Matching Teaching Styles with Learning Styles in East Asian Contexts. Retrieved December 13, 2006, from The Internet TESL Journal Web Site: http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Zhenhui-TeachingStyles.html



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