Conceptual change

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In educational technology, conceptual change is an issue that occurs at several levels:

  • At the system level (see change management
  • At the teacher/informal workplace learner level
  • At the student/formal learner level
  • ...

“The Stages of Change theory maintains behavior change is a process that unfolds over time through a sequence of stages. There are five stages in the 1992 version of the Stages of Change model (see Figure 2). There are specific strategies for each stage to promote an individual behavior to the next stage, and prevent a relapse to a previous stage” (Prochaska et al, 1992).}} (Campbell et al. 2009)

Precontemplation - (Not thinking about change)
Contemplation - (Thinking about change, weighing pros and cons)
Preparation - (Intending to take action within next month)
Action - (Actively involved in change)
Maintenance - (Have maintained change for six months, working to prevent relapse)

Conceptual change at the workplace

“[...] object-oriented actions are always, explicitly or implicitly, characterized by ambiguity, surprise, interpretation, sense making, and potential for change. (Engeström 2001)”

“Conceptual change is not only relevant to teaching in the content areas, but it is also applicable to the professional development of teachers and administrators. For example, as constructivist approaches to teaching gain popularity, the role of the teacher changes. Teachers must learn different instructional strategies, but they must also reconceptualize or change their conception about the meaning of teaching.” (Joan Davis, Conceptual Change in education)

Conceptual change in teaching and learning

There are different, competing ideas, on what conceptual change is.

“In order to understand the advanced, scientific concepts of the various disciplines, students cannot rely on the simple memorization of facts. They must learn how to restructure their naive, intuitive theories based on everyday experience and lay culture. In other words, they must undergo profound conceptual change.” (Vosniadou 2007: Abstract)

“Teaching for conceptual change primarily involves 1) uncovering students' preconceptions about a particular topic or phenomenon and 2) using various techniques to help students change their conceptual framework.” (Joan Davis, Conceptual Change in education)

“Conceptual change to diSessa (2002) is the reorganization of diverse kinds of knowledge into complex systems in students' minds. In this view, conceptual change is really about cognitively organizing fragmented naive knowledge.” (retrieved nov 20 2016 from Conceptual Change among Students in Science. ERIC Digest. In DiSessa's own words: “I defined and illustrated the idea of p-prims, which are numerous, small, recognition-driven elements that define significant properties of naive physics knowledge, and which become involved in learning scientific concepts. P-prims exhibit a detailed contextuality and sometimes cause unstable, data-driven conceptualization. I also defined and illustrated coordination classes, which are complex systems that consist of many parts (of types I delineated), in particular ways (that I named and classified). Coordination classes are a proposed model for a particular class of scientific concepts. [...] I showed hypothesized behaviors of p-prime driven cognition, such as data-driven instability. I argued that we can see in process data that intuitive "theories" or other large-scale constructs may actually be composed of p-prims.” (DiSessa, 2002:59)

"Blue, clear, I mean clear, it's clear but when you look at the ocean it's blue. But water is always clear." Thato

Studying conceptual change

“I advocate moving from before/after studies, and studies that use only constructs (like coding categories) distanced from cogent theoretical terms, to the use of process data to test and illustrate theoretical commitments about concepts, or other theoretical elements of mind, in use and in change.” (DiSessa, 2002:5


Bibliography and References

  • Beach, A. L., Henderson, C., Finkelstein, N., & Larson, R. S. (2008). Facilitating change in undergraduate science instruction: Synthesis of change strategies across disciplines. Research paper presented at the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) Annual Conference, Jacksonville, FL, November 5-8, 2008. Retrieved August 2, 2009, html
  • Campbell, D., Cook, K.J., Kusch, B. & Moulton, S. (2009). Inspiring Learning and Teaching: Using e-tools to Facilitate Change. In T. Bastiaens et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2009 (pp. 172-181). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.
  • Davis, J. (2001). Conceptual Change. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved Sept. 8 2008, from
  • Engeström, Y (2001). Expansive Learning at Work: toward an activity theoretical reconceptualization. Journal of Education and Work, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2001 PDF
  • Disessa, A. A. (2002). Why “conceptual ecology” is a good idea. In Reconsidering conceptual change: Issues in theory and practice (pp. 28-60). Springer Netherlands.
  • Ohst A, Fondu BME, Glogger I, Nückles M and Renkl A (2014) Preparing learners with partly incorrect intuitive prior knowledge for learning. Front. Psychol. 5:664. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00664
  • Prochaska, J. O., DiClemente, C. C., & Norcross, J. C. (1992). In search of how people change. American Psychologist, 47, 1102-1114.
  • Qualters, D. M. (2009). Creating a pathway for teacher change. Journal of Faculty Development, 23(1), 5-13.
  • Vosniadou, Stella, (2007). Conceptual Change and Education, Human Development 50, 47-54 (DOI: 10.1159/000097684)