Hypernontraditional Learning Strategies and Project Concepts



Within the context of software engineering, this article will distinguish between traditional, alternative, and hypernontraditional (HNT) learning strategies, describes coding projects associated with each learning style, and speculates about cases where hypernontraditional solutions might be indicated. The three concrete HNT approaches described are social-emotional learning, emotional learning, and sensory learning.

Distinguishing Learning Strategies

The college degree remains the traditional educational path in software engineering and related job families, although only about half of engineers have a college degree in a related field. Traditional learning strategies are adapted to the college environment and traditional pedagogy. This is mainly the lecture format, with a bit of team-based learning and project-based learning.

Alternative education has been on the rise over the two decades. We have seen the rise of online courses and remote learning, we have seen MOOCs tested and fail in the early 2010s, we have seen a newer breed of relatively effective MOOC and non-MOOC online learning options from the later 2010s, and we have also seen coding bootcamps flourish.

Coding bootcamps echo traditional pedagogy, differing mainly in intensity and emphasis. For high-prestige coding bootcamps, project-based work and learning by doing are the standard mode of learning. Among other alternative forms of learning for programming, lecture remains prominent, and it is often of the non-interactive and prerecorded form. This form of pedagogy isn’t ideal for the average student, and there are some students with learning styles that are an even poorer match than average. This article refers to such students as hypernontraditional learners.

Hypernontraditional (HNT) students may fall into one or two subcategories. First, HNT students may be clinically or subclinically neurodivergent or cognitively limited. Second, HNT students may face noncognitive constraints such as a lack of interest in the topic at hand, lack of motivation, or lack of emotional sensitivity or control.

Notably, a lack of motivation or interest in some particular topic may stem from a prevalence of other interesting opportunities, and a lack of emotional sensitivity may be related to personality, medical treatment, or hormonal state. As such, HNT learners come from across the ability spectrum from low-performing to high-performing individuals, and particular individuals may prefer an HNT learning style only for a short duration or with respect to a particular topic.

Three Concrete HNT Pedagogies

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) has come into a new vogue recently. At this point, it has been well-documented that it can improve some outcomes for traditional and nontraditional students. I suggest experimenting with SEL for HNT students as well.

Another interesting approach is emotional learning. The success of both team-based learning and SEL has been documented, but what about isolating the emotional component? At a glance, isolating a student may seem counter-productive, but on second thought, contemplative isolation has been demonstrated as fantastically useful in the form of meditation.

I suggest that HNT students, particularly when observed with emotional blunting, lack of emotional control, or low motivation, may benefit disproportionately from emotional learning, and I particularly suggest the use of meditation to this end. I provide a concrete meditation protocol here. I also encourage working with the student to understand whether their emotional bluntness is a brute personality trait, or whether it might also be addressable in whole or part through a change in diet, medication, lifestyle, or through counseling for psychological issues like trauma.

Finally, sensory learning may be great for HNT learners. In the programming world, front-end work is more visually stimulating, and we can incorporate projects that have an audible capacity as well for a greater degree of sensory stimulation and potentially a greater degree of student interest and engagement. Visual stimulation may be achievable through data visualization as well.

Finally, projects in the domain of the Internet of Things (IoT) or robotics represent a largely untapped tool that is even more engaging from a sensory perspective. Imagine a student project that involves the creation of a robot pet that moves around the physical home of the student and responds to voice commands and physical movements like gestures, clapping, and petting. While the senses of smell and taste are left out of such a project, I think this kind of project already represents an improvement, and the reader may be able to take the point further.

Summarizing Dr. Immordino-Yang and Huberman

Speaking of the vogue around Social-Emotional Learning, Dr. Immordino-Yang was recently featured on the Andrew Huberman podcast discussing social and emotional components of learning. I leave you with not only the video but also a GPT-4 summary prompt and the summary result of the video.

GPT-4 (v May 24, 2023) Prompt:

ROLE: You are a researcher interested in providing concrete techniques to students in order to improve their learning outcomes

TASK: summarize the benefits and issues associated with social emotional learning discussed in this video. describe quantitative results associated with the use of social emotional learning. describe individual characteristics associated with effectiveness when applying social emotional learning techniques:

GPT-4 Response:

The video discusses the importance of social emotional learning (SEL) in education and its impact on students’ learning outcomes. Here are the key points:

Benefits of Social Emotional Learning:

  1. SEL encourages students to engage with ideas and think critically, which enhances their learning experience.
  2. It promotes the development of students as thinkers, individuals, and civic agents.
  3. SEL fosters intellectual curiosity and encourages students to engage systematically with their own beliefs and perspectives.
  4. It helps students to develop their capacities and dispositions to deconstruct their own beliefs and understand the world around them.

Issues Associated with Social Emotional Learning:

  1. The current education system often discourages students from engaging with complex perspectives and ideas, which is contrary to the principles of SEL.
  2. There is a lack of support, resources, and training for educators to implement SEL effectively.
  3. The focus on high-stakes accountability measures can detract from the intrinsic power of using academic skills to understand the world in a different way.

Quantitative Results Associated with the Use of Social Emotional Learning: The video does not provide specific quantitative results associated with the use of SEL. However, it emphasizes the transformative potential of SEL in enhancing students’ learning outcomes.

Individual Characteristics Associated with Effectiveness when Applying Social Emotional Learning Techniques:

  1. Intellectual curiosity: Students who are naturally curious tend to benefit more from SEL as it encourages them to explore and understand new concepts.
  2. Openness to different perspectives: Students who are open to different ideas and perspectives can engage more deeply with the learning process.
  3. Ability to self-reflect: Students who can reflect on their own beliefs and understandings are better able to engage with SEL.

Please note that the video is quite lengthy, and I have not yet been able to review the entire transcript. There may be additional relevant information in the later parts of the video.


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