As I shared in my previous article that learning leadership is essential where the emphasis is more on the process of learning than its outcomes.
Awareness and improvement of one’s own learning process yields a learning leader, which, thus, may lead to a better achievement. However, becoming a learning leader is not an effortless task, and what learners can do to refine it, and how teachers may help them in mastering the process of learning is a question ask by them a plenty of times. Learners are ignorant concerning their learning process as their focus is more on the product, so they end up with poor results.
There are many ways and strategies employed to improve the process of learning, and one of them is to link new information with the existing one to help learners in acquiring a new concept. The existing information indicates, a knowledge, learner has earned from one’s past experiences whether in school, with teachers, peers or family. But, now you will say that teachers already connect new information with students’ experiences. Assuming and assessing students’ previous knowledge for the upcoming topic during the planning of lesson is not uncommon for teachers. I remember, during the teacher training course- professors would lay stress with their gawk eyes on the previous knowledge questions framed by teacher trainees. It is one of the mechanism to elicit information from learners concerning new concept. Does previous knowledge testing facilitate a link between the old and new concept? In that case, few students remember previous concepts, and many do not, though this mechanism is a fine way to evoke previous information, but it treats all learners same, and do not provide enough time to induce learners for drawing out related information from them. As everyone is distinct, therefore, their thinking is different too- the ideas, concept and relationships between them, stored in their mind must be different also. However, we assume that each learner has a same structure of knowledge and ignore individual’s peculiar representation of ideas.
Learning and personal experience has a positive relation, and David Ausubel, an American psychologist, stressed upon the link of past experiences with the learning and implied that people learn from experiences because they are stored in the memory, and there is a link between past and new knowledge we gain. Owing to the fact that we have our own personal experiences, hence, each one of us possess distinct cognitive structure and therefore, we follow different learning path or process for receiving any information.
Everyone has a different capacity to organize relationship between ideas in their memory, and organization or representation of these ideas form a network termed as Semantic Network. Thus, along with previous knowledge test, which may be helpful in eliciting a response from learner in relation to his/her past experiences, we also need to understand knowledge structure of every member of the classroom. Each learner need to know his or her semantic network for the particular concept and teachers can match their semantic network with them to determine the level of knowledge learners hold in their possession. Relating new knowledge with the past one strengthens one’s cognitive structure, and it becomes easy for a learner to grasp new concepts which improves their learning process. As said earlier, the knowledge one hold is a result of one’s own experience, and if we talk about learners, they have their personal cognitive structure. If teachers help learners to represent knowledge, and associate the new concepts with the past one’s, then it would be uncomplicated for learners to organize new information with the old one, and interpret its meaning.
Semantic network is one such technique which helps in knowledge representation. It is also interchangeably used with other names as concept maps or concept network. Gulmans (2004) has defined semantic network as a cognitive tool which permit the growth of concept map. He described concept map, a network of concepts or ideas which are interrelated, and learners analyze their cognitive structure by making a network of concepts, labelling the associations among the concepts of network, and explaining the nature of their relation. Lanzing (2004) defined concept or semantic mapping as a “method to visualize the structure of knowledge: concepts and the relations between concepts, and can therefore aid the student in the process of meaningful learning”.
It engrosses learners in analyzing the structure of knowledge they have, and organizing existing ideas with the new ones to represent knowledge, which in turn enhances critical thinking and higher order learning skill of learners. This type of semantic networking processes knowledge to the deeper level, and thus helps in reorganizing knowledge by mapping the content knowledge onto the cognitive structure of learners (Gulmans, 2004). To sum up its meaning, semantic network assesses cognitive structure, analyze and integrate it with the new concepts by visually representing the structure of one’s knowledge. For instance, constructivism and connectivism instructional philosophy may be employed for acquiring any new concept where learners can grow their knowledge by determining the link, similarities and dissimilarities between concepts in a network, and making their own learning path which can then be compared to the semantic network of an expert (teacher) to assess and examine what learner knows and what they think: later, teachers can simply pick up the weak point of a learner and improve it.
How to create semantic network?
Semantic network is a visual representation which employ less text and focus more on drawing a map of the structure of knowledge which indicates relationship between the concepts. There are two kinds of concepts: old concept and a new concept. The old concepts are stored in our memory as a knowledge base, and during learning a new topic, one needs to use it. Concepts make relationship with the associated concepts, and in this way, it forms a network. They are associated because they share some common attributes which help them in connecting with each other. For instance, when I think of a ‘girl’ which is a concept, I also reflect upon the characteristics associated with girl such as she has two legs, two arms. It makes me ponder over other related concepts: a boy, man, woman and a kid. All concepts have same attributes possess by a girl (two legs, two arms), so they all form a network because they are interrelated. All I want to emphasize here is, concepts do not exist individually, but they make associations with other related concepts and this is the only way by which we recall old knowledge and connect it with a new one, and that is how humans learn.
Semantic means ‘meaning’, hence, semantic network indicates a meaningful network of concepts. It constitutes two basic elements: node and arc. A node (in any shape or picture) represents a concept while a relation between concepts is represented by an arc (line or arrow).
Two simple examples which indicates difference between a node and arc:
This semantic network shows six concepts and four relationships (MemberOf, SubsetOf, SisterOf & Legs)
Fernandez and Nettleton (2015)
This network summarizes nine concepts and three relationships (is-a, has & builds-a).
Besides, its constituents: nodes and arcs, it also designates hierarchical network which shows hierarchy such as in the first figure: mammals are at the top hierarchy, while Jill and Jack are at the lowest levels. In addition, it was proved (as cited by Basu, 2008) that humans learn and recognize specifics first which are at the lower level than general concepts such as mammals of the upper hierarchy, and hence, it also informs teachers to talk about lower levels (specifics) first to connect new information with acquired or stored concepts in the memory.
To draw a network of semantics of concepts and their relationship, there are many computer software available which can be employed to draw a semantic network, and both students and teachers may use it. Some of the freeware, free and open source software are:
Semantic network is a great tool which helps in visual and meaningful learning by connecting past knowledge with the present one through representing it in a network which shows relationship between concepts. It helps in retrieving information from memory by a process named as recognition where a new concept is matched with the concepts already exist in a memory. In this way, it represents knowledge own by a learner in the form of personal roadmap or a learning pathway. The network diagnoses and assess students’ knowledge about the concept, engage them in analyzing the topic, helps in communicating to teachers regarding their level of knowledge in the form of graphical representation of their thinking.
One of the important aim teachers set for their students is to demonstrate intelligent behavior (Basu, 2008). It can be achieved only if students acquire and use knowledge meaningfully, and semantic network helps in a meaningful learning by assisting students in retrieving knowledge from their memory and relating it with the new knowledge. They indulge in a meaningful learning when they understand old concepts, and map it to the new one or to a real world because our mind make associations with the related concepts. Our mind has aggregated piles of knowledge in the past, and for acquiring and receiving new information, one needs to employ that stored knowledge to make some conclusions or inferences concerning new concept. Semantic networks tell us how students think or how they represent concepts in their mind, and through this network, previous (stored or structured) knowledge enable the assimilation of new information because we learn from what we already know, and associate the stored data with the new knowledge.
Basu, A. (2008). Semantic net [Lecture 18, 31 minutes & 39 seconds]. National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTmafl2rzEw
Fernandez, H., & Nettleton, D. F. (2015). Identification and extraction of memes represented as semantic networks from free texts online forum. Ingeniare. Revista chilena de ingeniería, 23 (1). Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.4067/S0718-33052015000100006
Gulmans, J. (2004). Cognitive support for learning: Imagining the unknown. In P. A. M. Kommers (Ed.), Mapping for the Constructivistic Acquisition of Concepts? (Chapter, p. 41) Amsterdam, Netherlands: IOS Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.co.in
Lanzing, J. (2004). Cognitive support for learning: Imagining the unknown. In P. A. M. Kommers (Ed.), Everything you always wanted to know about … Concept Mapping (Chapter, p. 48) Amsterdam, Netherlands: IOS Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.co.in