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Gibson, Affordance

By Steve Draper,   Department of Psychology,   University of Glasgow.

There have been discussions on what J.J.Gibson means for visual perception, for the notion of affordance in HCI, and for the notion of affordance in e-learning. We all have enormous trouble integrating his ideas with our habitual ones, and the more we are trained (indoctrinated) in computer programming and reductionist "science" the more trouble we have. A number of authors have attempted to define and redefine terms like "affordance". Normally, I am strongly drawn to this kind of approach. But the trouble is that when we attempt to define a term, we fall back almost entirely unconsciously on existing patterns of thought, and do not even consider giving up anything we already believe. Gibson however constitutes a challenge to some of our patterns of thought.

I think the simplest short thing we can do is to list some basic lessons Gibson taught: whenever we write something inconsistent with these, then we are showing our prejudices in ways that are incompatible with the real world (as well as with Gibson's ideas, which aren't necessarily right in all ways). Here's my list of such Gibson inspired points, or facts.

Comments, HCI, Education

Oliver, Dohn and others have commented on the problems with people's definitions of "affordance" in the fields of HCI and Education (especially technology and education). They try to do conceptual analysis, and to connect the concept with philosophical concepts. I'm going to leave them to it because I don't find their papers illuminating of educational issues. Following my comments above I'm going to:

Here goes.

Gibson's ideas thus give us 4 useful things for pushing forward our ideas about education:


Benjamin S. Bloom (1984) "The 2 Sigma Problem: The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring" Educational Researcher Vol.13, No.6, pp.4-16

Biggs ch.

Carroll, J.B. (1989) "The Carroll model: A 25 year retrospective and prospective view" Educational Researcher vol.18 no.1 pp.26-31.

Dohn, N.B. (2009) "Affordances revisited: Articulating a Merleau-Pontian view" Computer supported learning vol.4 pp.151-170

Oliver,M. (2005) "The problem with affordance" E-learning vol.2 no.4 pp.402-413.

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