The I-LEARN model—Identify, Locate, Evaluate, Apply, Reflect, kNow—is a work in progress that is largely complete in its theoretical development but awaits verification in practice. It is grounded in the research and theory from information science, instructional systems design, and learning theory and draws on the author's own research and writing for more than a decade. It expands the well-known information literacy paradigm—accessing, evaluating, and using information—to focus specifically on the use of information as a tool for learning.
The model's closest ancestor is Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning (AASL & AECT, 1998)—the current national guidelines for the school library media field. These guidelines themselves are grounded in previous research, beginning with Doyle's (1992) early work to identify the components of information literacy, and assume the American Library Association's definition of information literacy:
To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information…. Ultimately, information literate people are those who have learned how to learn…. They are people prepared for lifelong learning because they can always find the information needed for any task or decision at hand. (ALA Presidential Committee Report, p. 1, quoted in Behrens, 1994, p. 315).
This definition is significant because it makes explicit the link between learning and information use. It suggests going beyond the general notion of information seeking— that is, accessing and evaluating information—to encompass the ultimate reason for students' information seeking—that is, learning. The key assumption underlying the model is that “developing expertise in accessing, evaluating, and using information is in fact the authentic learning that modern education seeks to promote” (AASL & AECT, 1998, p. 2).
Theoretically, the I-LEARN model draws upon conceptions of the nature of information presented both in the information science literature (principally Buckland, 1991; Dervin, 1983, 1992; Kuhlthau, 1985, 1988, 1993; Marchionini, 1995; Wilson, 1981, 1999) and in the literature of instructional design (principally Gagne, 1965, 1977, 1985; Hill & Hannafin, 2001; Mayer, 1999; Merrill, 1983, 1999). It combines and expands these understandings in a way that suggests that information is a dynamic phenomenon consisting of entities and relationships that can be mixed and matched according to their nature and to the uses to which they are put—including learning. I-LEARN is also grounded in the findings and assumptions of contemporary learning theory (principally Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001; Bransford, 2000), particularly constructivism.
Buckland's (1991) typology blurs the traditional distinction between “information” and “knowledge” and posits that information is more dynamic than such a clear dichotomy suggests. According to Buckland, information can be conceptualized as a process (i.e., the communication act); as knowledge (i.e., an increase in understanding or a reduction in uncertainty); and as thing (i.e., an object that imparts information). Marchionini (1995) builds on Buckland's ideas to note that information “is anything that can change a person's knowledge” and that it “includes objects in the world, what is transferred from people or objects to a person's cognitive system, and … the components of internal knowledge in people's minds” (p. 5). Both authors, then, affirm the dynamism of information.
While Buckland and Marchionini address the nature of information, Wilson (1981, 1999) addresses the scope and nature of information-science research. Extending the concept of information seeking to include information behavior—that is, information seeking embedded in a context—his model broadens the field's purview to the study of what might be done with information after it has been found. The model's inclusion of a step labeled “information processing and use” invites information scientists—not just researchers in end users' disciplines—to investigate ways in which information is actually used. Clearly, “cognitive … aspects of interactions with information”—one of the themes of this conference—include the ways in which information is used in various contexts, including both formal and informal learning environments.
Dervin's (1983, 1992) emphasis on closing the “cognitive gap” to make sense of observed data led many information-seeking researchers to look to relevant cognitive issues, and Kuhlthau's (1985, 1988, 1997) work on the Information Search Process laid important groundwork for looking at information-seeking within particular learning environments. Reflecting the core ideas that information is neither static nor context-independent, both these authors provided early insights into the relationship of information seeking and learning. The I-LEARN model is infused with their contributions.
The earliest instructional-design theorist to incorporate cognitive theory into the design of learning activities, Gagne (1965, 1977, 1985) is revered in the instructional-design world for linking the activities of instruction to the corresponding steps of cognitive information processing—for example, showing the relationship of activities designed for “stimulating recall” to the step of “coding/storage entry.” Over his long career, Gagne also linked information use to learning by proposing five “categories of learning” that correspond closely to different types of information use. From making simple stimulus-response connections between discrete pieces of information to employing various kinds of information to engage in highly complex learning, Gage provides the theoretical basis for instructional design theorists and practitioners to consider learning as a kind of “information behavior.” The fifth and highest category in his typology—“intellectual skills”—is in fact a summary of four learning behaviors that involve using information in various ways: making “discriminations” (i.e., differentiations), understanding “concepts,” applying “rules,” and engaging in “problem solving.”
Merrill (1983, 1999) also deals directly with the relationship of information and learning, proposing that information to be learned consists of four types and that learning involves three kinds of cognitive performance with those types. His “component display theory” is generally depicted as a matrix showing how the cognitive procedures of remembering, using, and finding interact with the facts, concepts, principles, and procedures that constitute information. While his ideas have been elaborated and extended over the years (notably by Reigeluth, 1999), the basic structure he devised of the ways in which cognitive processes interact with different kinds of information continues to provide solid grounding in instructional design theory for a discussion of information as a tool for learning.
Others, too, within the instructional design community have provided insights into the use of information for learning. Wiley's (2001) work on designing instruction based on “learning objects” continues the field's tradition of considering information as a basic component of learning. Mayer's (1999) model for designing instruction “for constructivist learning” is in fact a model for showing designers how to help learners “select, organize, and integrate” (p. 141) information in order to learn. Hannafin and Hill (2001) resurrect an earlier information-studies focus on “resource based learning”— helping students learn directly from library resources—and translate it into insights for learning with digital information.
I-LEARN is grounded in the understanding of learning presented by Bransford et al. (2000) in the National Academy of Sciences summary of decades of learning research. Recognized as a key resource for understanding both historic and contemporary learning theories, this summary presents today's view of learning as an active, dynamic process that involves stages and levels. This constructivist stance meshes well with the dynamism of information as outlined by Buckland (1991) and Marchionini (1995) and strongly supports the use of information as a tool for learning. The I-LEARN model— which is itself a dynamic construct—is thoroughly consistent with this outlook.
Finally, I-LEARN incorporates the ideas outlined in Anderson and Krathwohl's (2001) A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. This revision of one of the most important and widely used sets of ideas in education includes both a “cognitive process dimension” and a “knowledge dimension.” The “cognitive process dimension” describes a reconceptualized version of the six levels of learning delineated in the original Taxonomy, published in 1956: these are now identified as remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create. The “knowledge dimension” is new; it delineates the four types of knowledge that underlie the six levels: factual, conceptual, procedural, and metacognitive knowledge. The initial Taxonomy did not directly specify the types of information involved in learning. The inclusion of a “knowledge dimension” in its first revision in almost fifty years indicates the importance to contemporary educators of understanding that a spectrum of information types underlies the spectrum of learning.
From an information-science perspective, the types of knowledge can be seen as four types of information: facts, concepts, rules, procedures, and the knowledge and strategies that underlie metacognition. The 2001 Taxonomy posits that, to varying degrees, different types of knowledge are involved in different kinds of processing across the hierarchy of learning levels. This relationship is obviously flexible: both “factual knowledge” and “metacognitive knowledge” can support all six levels, for example, although each is more likely to come into play than others at various levels. (We remember facts, while we use metacognition when we integrate new information with prior knowledge to create new understandings.) The existence of this web of relationships reflects the connections across content, process, complexity, and dynamism that underlie conceptions of information held by the fields of both information science and instructional design.
The research base for I-LEARN draws upon all the theoretical constructs noted above as reflected in almost two decades of research and writing by the model's creator (Neuman, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2003, 2004; Chung & Neuman, 2007). A consistent theme throughout these publications involves the ways in which information can be organized and presented to enhance students' opportunities for deep engagement with content that will enable them to construct higher-level knowledge. Ideas from many other researchers in addition to those mentioned earlier in this section—Bilal, 2000, 2001; Crane & Markowitz, 1994; Eisenberg & Small, 1995; Fidel et al., 1999; Kafai & Bates, 1997; Large et al., 1994, 1995, 1996; McGregor, 1994; and Pitts, 1994; to name a few— have also informed the development of the model.