Force Field Analysis – An Exercise in Critical Thinking

Force Field AnalysisForce Field Analysis in business.
The Force Field Analysis was developed by Kurt Lewin in his work as a social psychologist in the 1940s.  Now it is used in business for identifying the pros and cons of a decision. If you are interested in this concept check out MindTools.com to download a form and learn more about it in this context.  

Recently while taking a MOOC, I discovered another format that I believe will help students to analyze a new concept and understand how that concept can be applied in a different context or how it might resolve a problem.  Basically, it becomes an opportunity for my students to engage their critical thinking skills.

First, an introduction to the concept of a force field. In Physics, "a force field is a vector field indicating the forces exerted by one object on another object" (Wikipedia definition). I am not sure if that is sufficiently clear, but basically an object in the physical universe may move or fail to move due to counteracting forces that force them back into status quo or moves them forward.  

Danar tests a force field.
Roga Danar, an Angosian prisoner tests the force field on a prison cell on board the Enterprise in "The Hunted" episode of Star Trek: The Next Enterprise.
I was unsuccessful in explaining this to a group of undergraduates until I resorted to a few images portrayed in science fiction.  The Starship Enterprise could move objects or reflect objects using force fields.  They could be used to invisibly detain prisoners in a cell or seal a damaged hull of the ship.  Now that is a clear vision.

In the context of a classroom or elearning activity, I interpret these forces as brakes and accelerators. A brake inhibits forward motion on a car and an accelerator propels the car forward or backwards.  One might use this to examine a concept and determine what type of impact it might have on a situation.  

I will illustrate the opposing forces of inhibitors (or restraining brakes) and accelerators (or driving forces). Let us examine the concept of social learning theory and eLearning.  Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist stressed that most important learning by a student occurs through social interaction with a more knowledgeable other (MKO) or, in other words, a teacher.  The force field analysis exercise provided me with an opportunity to reflect on the application of the social nature of learning using a contemporary framework, the Community of Inquiry Model.  The Community of Inquiry examines the influence of 3 types of social interaction called social, teaching, and cognitive presence. As a teacher, what can I do to focus on the accelerators while minimizing the inhibitors in their role as the more knowledgeable others as proposed by Vygotsky?

Check out my Force Field Analysis Chart

A teacher can minimize social presence inhibitors by ensuring the elearning students possess the skills to effectively utilize the content management system before beginning an online course and limit project group size to a smaller number to encourage interaction among members. Social presence should be nurtured by powering up accelerators, such as providing an icebreaker activity during the course orientation to ensure students know each other, fostering social interaction between members.

A teacher can minimize teaching presence inhibitors by ensuring the course design incorporates audio and/or video recorded lectures. Another inhibitor can be eliminated by utilizing Skype, a course management system, or other software that empowers the instructor and students to instant message or synchronously chat with each other. Teacher presence can be enacted by short messages acknowledging a student's contribution on discussion board with encouragement and/or suggestions for improvement.

A teacher can minimize cognitive presence inhibitors by ensuring the students adhere to basic netiquette and standard codes of behavior to minimize negative comments that dampen open communication between students.   Cognitive presence can be fostered by incorporating thinking routines with their lectures that encourage critical thinking and deepening the content within dialogue in discussions and group projects.

The Force Field Analysis was useful in identifying how an instructor can power up the influence of social learning theory to improve learning in an eLearning environment.


(Please note that a portion of this blog post was originally published by Linda Ralston as an assignment in the Coursera.org MOOC entitled Foundations of Teaching for Learning: Introduction.)