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The explicit top-down approach and the correlated implicit bottom-up approach to learning relate to the concepts of explicit and implicit knowledge and how best to acquire the needed one and the needed cognitive skills. Top-down knowledge is that which goes from the general explicit concept to specific implicit application through deductive reasoning. Bottom-up knowledge is that which goes from observed implicit specifics to general explicit conclusions through inductive reasoning. The aim of each approach is to arrive at both explicit knowledge and implicit knowledge but by going from two different directions, though studies show this aim is not fully realized especially pertaining to the bottom-up approach.
In top-down, the student goes from receiving knowledge from an instructor to acquiring related implicit knowledge through application and expansion of the explicit knowledge. This uses deductive reasoning going from the general rule or theory to specific applications or observations. In bottom-up, the student starts with a topic or a question, performs self-directed research and study and ultimately arrives at explicit knowledge. This uses inductive reasoning going from the specific observations to the general rule.
Sun and Zhang, in "Top-down versus bottom-up learning in cognitive skill acquisition," indicate that top-down may be the better approach for "highlevel, highly structured, cognitive skill" tasks because they require "high-level, explicit thinking ... [with] explicitly encouraged goal recursion." Conversely, a Sun et al. 2001 study showed "the necessity of bottom-up learning in low-level skill domains." Sun and Zhang conclude that while top-down is vital for highlevel cognitive skill acquisition, top-down and bottom-up lowlevel skill acquisition interact and work together: "human skill acquisition processes often involve both implicit and explicit processes [of human skill acquisition] and thus involve their interaction (Sun et al., 1998, 2001, 2003)."
A top-down approach is the much more traditional model of teaching. For the past hundred and fifty years, education in most classrooms across the country have been delivering the 'top down' approach. The 'top down' approach does have some advantages; for example, the teacher can directly control the students' access to the material and content, so she can focus their attention on exactly what she wants them to know. Another advantage of this approach is that it saves time, because the teacher directly gives the students the information they need.
Now while the 'top down' approach is a tried and true method of content delivery, new research in educational psychology has come forward to support a more student-directed approach, called inquiry-based learning. Many schools, including my own, are moving toward a project-based learning model in which the students are much more self-directed.
The general knock against this particular model of learning is that it is very effective for teaching content, but not so great when it comes to facilitating critical thinking and fostering creativity within students.
Look at it from the perspective of teaching science. Two, three hundred years ago, if you wanted to teach a child about science, it was a fairly easy task. The teacher presented facts about the world, asked the students a few questions, presented them with plenty of memorization based tasks, and poof, the student understood science.
In the context of the modern classroom however, this just doesn’t work. There are literally dozens of fields of science that simply didn’t exist at their current level of complexity hundreds of years ago. It would take any one person a lifetime to master all of the content contained in even one of these fields.
As the previous poster stated, it is much more efficient to simply teach students how to seek knowledge on their own and then cut them loose.
A top-down approach to learning is based on the idea that a teacher drives the classroom. The teacher determines what is to be taught and then delivers it to students. This is the opposite of the student-driven classroom, where teachers and students interact to determine content.
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