Transactional learning & knowledge objects

by Paul Maharg on 29/09/2008

Some of the evaluation outcomes of the SIMPLE project are very interesting indeed. A group of them stem from the concept of transactional learning that drives much of the simulation activity. A key question that arose as the sims proceeded related to how students actually formed knowledge through simulation activities. How did that happen, if at all? How did it related to the pre-existing literature on how students did that in more conventional learning environments? The questions resolved themselves into the polar opposite below the fold…

Transactive knowledge object-forming vs.
knowledge object-forming by conventional assessment

As Entwistle and Marton described it in their classic phenomenographical study, a knowledge object for students is a form of understanding legitimated within a particular disciplinary community, ‘a tightly integrated “bundle” of ideas and related information and experience’, in which the nature of the knowledge object formed will depend crucially on the range of material incorporated, the effort put into thinking about that material, and the frameworks within which the knowledge object is developed. (Entwistle and Marton, 1994, pp. 174–5). There are four characteristics of knowledge objects:
1. the student’s awareness of a closely-integrated body of knowledge
2. the quasi-sensory representation (often visual) of this corpus
3. a movement from unfocused and episodic remembering to much more detailed and coherent knowing
4. structure of the knowledge object itself

Does the SIMPLE environment enable students to form a transaction as a knowledge object. This does happen to some degree in the Conveyancing Sale & Purchase transactions within the GGSL, where it has been noted by staff that students who have difficulty with these domestic Conveyancing transactions also encounter difficulty in transferring their learning to the commercial leases open book assessment. Whether it happened in all transactions within the SIMPLE project is very much a function not just of the complexity of the transactions but their alignment to learning resources. The average 10% uplift in assessment results achieved by Glamorgan in both coursework and examination assessment, and similar results achieved in Stirling, for instance, demonstrates clearly the usefulness of SIMPLE as a knowledge object-forming environment within the curriculum. But this needs to be qualified: much relies, of course, on how simulation activities are deployed within a module, and how they are designed and supported with resources.

It also needs to be qualified by the context of the simulation. No curriculum, not even the GGSL Diploma in Legal Practice, runs entirely as a simulation course. There are other forms of assessment, and within this mixed jurisdiction of assessment processes, students learn study habits that form knowledge objects most efficiently, given all other affordances.


Entwistle, N., Marton, F. (1994) Knowledge objects: understandings constituted through intensive academic study, British Journal of Educational Psychology, 64(1), pp. 161–78

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