Forms of Presentation and the Future of Comprehension

Relevance of international documentation system to innovative learning

Anthony Judge

1. Maintenance versus innovation

The previous sections have emphasised the new problems which individual and collective users face in benefitting from internationally available information. The basic assumption of this paper has been that the "international documentation system" could respond to these user problems and gear itself to a participative approach to innovative societal learning. The question is whether it should do so.

To what extent should the international documentation system be perceived as part of any societal "learning" process, for that matter? This paper assumes that this is a major function and that those responsible for such systems would perceive this to be the case.

Whilst stressing the vital importance of the new innovative learning approach, the Club of Rome report recognises that maintenance learning will itself continue to play a vital role. The two roles must be recognised as complementary.. Does this mean, however, that they are incompatible within the same information environment? Given the already onerous task of document information systems (and the ever-present budget restrictions), to what extent can they respond to user requirements for innovative learning?

Then there is the question of whether international documentation systems have until now concentrated exclusively on users' maintenance learning requirements (as is argued here). The Club of Rome report clarifies the distinction as follows:

    "This type of learning consists in assimilating as quickly as possible time-honored procedures developed slowly but surely for given and recurrent "problems". The response to any such problem starts by making simplifications -- the process is to define, select, and isolate a situation from a larger maze of interrelationships. This is the classical approach of science. It is also a description of maintenance learning which is a process of problem solving based on bounded plans and agreed-upon procedures, with well-defined goals and tasks.

    Maintenance learning is essential, but insufficient. It is indispensable in closed situations where assumptions remain fixed. The meaning derived from such learning easily assumes an inner coherence. The values underlying it are given and granted. It is primarily analytical and rule-based. But it falters in "border situations". For example, when driving a car, maintenance learning teaches what to do when the traffic light turns red or green. It falters, however, when a power shortage blacks out the light altogether.

    Innovative learning is problem formulating and clustering. Its main attributes are integration, synthesis, and the broadening of horizons. It operates in open situations or open systems. Its meaning derives from dissonance among contexts. It leads to critical questioning of conventional assumptions behind traditional thoughts and actions, focusing on necessary changes. Its values are not constant, but rather shifting. Innovative learning advances our thinking by reconstructing wholes, not by fragmenting reality...

    Another difference of approach between maintenance and innovative learning is more subtle but no less important. Maintenance learning typically creates solutions whose validity is ascertained by the scientific or administrative authority which originated them. Adoption comes first, public understanding, assimilation and acceptance come afterwards. A key premise for innovative learning is that proposed solutions are judged prior to their adoption...

    Thus a key aim of innovative learning is to enlarge the range of options within sufficient time for sound decision-making processes". (5, pp. 42-44).

In this sense user innovative learning demands more than information systems have been able to supply. So the fundamental question is whether they should respond to these additional requirements, or whether these should be met by other parallel systems.

As stated in the introduction, if they do not consider it appropriate to respond to these new conditions then the report of the 1972 Symposium (1) is an adequate guideline. The following sections assume, however, that they do wish to respond to the problems of innovative learning.