Skip to content Skip to navigation

Learning Through Research Part 2

Tomorrow's Research

Message Number: 


Below is Part 2 of the address on Learning Through Research, taken

from the keynote address by Ludwig Huber, University of Bielefeld,

Bielefeld, Germany given at the 25th International Conference on The

University of the Future and the Future of Universities:

Learner-Centered Universities for the New Millennium, Johann Wolfgang

Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany 17-20 July 2000.

In Part 1 (Msg. # 286) Huber looked at the challenges and rationale

behind the learning through research approach. In this concluding

part, he discusses the objections and difficulties presented by this



Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Learning by Critique

Tomorrow's Research


------------ 1,041 words -------------




Of course there are serious objections and difficulties standing

against such advantages.

3.1 First objection - in view of modern research Modern research has

thus left far behind Humboldt's image of science that neither his

famous principle of the unity of research and teaching nor the idea

Learning through Research holds true any longer. Given insufficient

qualifications and all too little spare time students, it is said,

have no chance of getting anywhere near the real research projects

neither in the humanities (large scale editions, long-time historical

projects oder complicated linguistic analyses nor by any means in the

natural sciences where advanced research requires highly specialized

experts or even teams of such, big laboratories, expensive apparatus

etc. and takes place in a context of international competition (cf.

Neuweiler 1997). For the scientists teaching would be but a

diversion from such research, and for students only a diversion from

what they really have to learn.

Three replies to this:

First: Paradigms of research vary from one to another. I cannot

dwell on my favorite subject, "disciplinary cultures" here (cf.

instead Becher 1989; Becher/Huber 1990, 1991, 1998). But if one

realizes these differences, e.g., along Becher's matrix of hard and

soft, pure and applied disciplines (Becher 1987, p.289), one is bound

to see: for the teachers in each discipline different ways are open

of linking research and teaching, and for the students therefore

different opportunities present themselves to watch research in

process, to observe it as such and even to participate in it in some

way. I think it is not too bold to guess that research in the

humanities concerned with the cultural and social practices and

products of people and often using hermeneutical methodology rather

than in the natural sciences is open for the exchange of

interpretations and participation by non-specialists, i.e., also by

students, and at the same time does more profit in terms of what they

are able to contribute to different perspectives, experiences and

arguments without depending on expensive technology. The same is

also partly true for the social sciences where smaller research

projects as a teaching device ("Lehrforschung") can indeed start to

analyze new problems and produce original results. And then: even in

engineering softer technology is a Learning through Researcheady

approachable by students. We shall

see examples of both later.

Second: Not all research has to be necessarily top research, and is

not so in reality either. The term research is not limited to

projects in mega-institutes working at the so called cutting edge of

research and striving to discover 24 hours earlier than rivals

worldwide something new patentable or deserving THE Nobel Prize.

Rather, the term also

comprises what Thomas Kuhn called "normal science", i.e., manifold

inquires, studies, experiments, etc., which apply available

methodology, perhaps somewhat modified, to constantly changing

objects and produce new knowledge with regard to them or reexamine

old theories about them. For Learning through Research as "learning"

it is sufficient that students experience or participate in such

"normal" research.

Third: Concerning the objection that research is a long-time business

it is important to differentiate the research process with regard to

its phases. Typically, it proceeds in roughly the following steps:

- Developing questions/ideas

- Examining the state of the art/available information

- Defining the actual problem

- Designing a project plan, choosing methods, instruments etc.

- Carrying through the investigations/the experiments etc.

- Evaluating, interpreting, reflecting the findings

- Formulating, presenting, explaining the results

(Of course these steps are interrelated or may be iterated) For the

sake of Learning through Research students would a Learning through

Researcheady profit if they were involved in some of these phases or

at least invited to discuss them, even if they did not have the

resources to carry out projects themselves: the main thing is that

they are put in a position to grasp concept as a whole and to

problematize some of its elements or aspects.

3.2 Second objection - in view of the organization of teaching and

learning After all that has been said here about Learning through

Research it seems to require complicated arrangements, difficult to

organize, and incalculable demands on time and energy of both

teachers and students - and all this with an open end and certain

learning effects. Therefore, this model is unfit for modern mass

higher education, because the institutions have to compete in terms

of efficiency in teaching, and because most students look for just

this, for efficient training for the professions through the safest

methods. This objection touches upon real problems but holds up if

one totally subscribes to its underlying assumptions.

Three replies to this:

First: Universities have (or ought to have) more far-reaching goals.

If they really claim to be more than just higher level vocational

schools for other sectors of the system, they have to create at least

the preconditions so that a part of the students can have the

opportunity to discover science as a way of life and work for

themselves - and who those students will be cannot be identified in


Second: Even if one accepts vocational training or education for the

professions as the main purpose, these today, as mentioned above,

require general abilities, which students can develop only if

challenged by complex learning situations. Risks of failure or loss

of time, if they occur, are but the price to be paid for this.

Third: The claim is not that courses of study should be designed

totally according to the model of Learning through Research. We talk

of at least one exemplary experience of such a process in each of

them so that in some students the wish may be awakened to continue

research work, in others the preference of such methods of work also

in learning, and in all of them the idea of necessary personal growth

in such general abilities. In this sense a project of Learning

through Research would be analogous to a practical (course) in

industry or administration or another social area, which for similar

reasons is an -often-obligatory - part of many courses of studies.

Lets strive for at least one practical experience of research - if

possible, more - in each course of study, as early as possible.

References available on request.

Professor Dr. Ludwig Huber

Faculty of Education/Obestufen-Kolleg, University of Beilefeld

Universitatssr. 15 D 33615 Beilefeld

El. ++ 495211062862 Fax ++495211062967