Simon Walker researches the human ecology of 'steering cognition' a distinct, cognitive process described and evidenced by the findings of a 15 year research programme in the UK.
Steering cognition is related to a broader category of non-algorithmic, heuristic cognition. Since 1996 Walker has been interested in identifying, measuring and improving cognition which is uniquely and unreplicably human. Walker suggests that steering cognition may be very difficult for machines to ever replicate because machine learning is built upon algorithmic processing.
Walker believes developing uniquely human cognition function will be crucially important as machines increasingly outperform humans in a growing range of white collar professions such as law, accountancy and banking, which rely heavily on algorithmic cognitive processing skills.
A series of studies Walker conducted between 2001-15 provided large scale quantitative evidence for the effects of steering cognition upon adolescent learning and mental health.
Walker developed a consistent, standardised assessment method for measuring steering cognition, which he has used repeatedly across large, diverse, independent cohorts of up to 8,000/study to produce commensurate, replicable data.
His study populations have been drawn from large primary and secondary schools as well as some university and adult cohorts.
These studies have indicated that:
• IQ does not contribute to steering cognition, but steering cognition uniquely contributes at least 15% to a pupils academic outcomes.
• A learner regulates their steering cognition to accurately and effectively incorporate varied and novel data from the world in order for it to be processed by their IQ or map cognition.
• The regulation of the imagination is the central brain process involved in steering cognition.
• Steering cognition explains how what has been previously described by some researchers as a separate heuristic system actually contributes to one single learning system.
• Unlike IQ, steering cognition can be improved by training, effort and guidance.
• Unlike IQ, pupils’ steering cognition is strongly influenced by the school environment they are in. Schools provide a ‘road’ on which pupils’ drive using their steering cognition.
• Some school roads are better than others; this explains about 15% of the difference in school rank in A Level league tables. However some, but not all, high performing schools create a very narrow road for their pupils to drive along; pupils travelling fast but do not necessarily learn how to drive.
• The ability to regulate your steering cognition accounts for about 15% of the GCSE grades in maths, science and english a pupil will achieve. This may explain why some pupils with lower IQs do better than expected, and vice versa..
• Overall, pupils at higher ranking schools had better available regulation of their steering cognition than lower ranking. However, pupils at lower ranking schools utilised their steering cognition more effectively when learning maths, science and english than higher ranking pupils did.
• Pupils with better self-regulation of their steering cognition show significantly less mental health concerns than those with poor regulation of steering cognition.
• Improving a pupil’s regulation of their steering cognition
Since 2010, Walker has worked with Jo Walker to investigate the academic and non-academic effects of the self-regulation of steering cognition. They are researching the priming effect of educational environments upon the regulation of steering cognition in students. One of the key objectives is identify reliable methodologies to improve academic and non-academic outcomes by improving pupil self-regulation and classroom signposting.
Current research projects
Walker currently uses a proprietary steering cognition assessment technology to collect about 5,000 steering cognition assessments per week in UK schools. He is currently leading three studies:
- Leadership of a UK study involving 8,000 secondary school students to study the effects of the regulation of steering cognition on both academic and non-academic outcomes.
- Co-leadership of a study into the impact on academic outcomes of improving steering cognition in undergraduate students in the UK.
- Leadership of a research programme to study the effects of the regulation of steering cognition on both academic and non-academic outcomes in students at a group of primary schools in the UK over 3 years.
In 2015 an international programme to assess national and ethnic factors of steering cognition is planned.
Walker collaborates in his research with Jo Walker, a specialist in the affective-social self-regulation of steering cognition in primary and secondary pupils. He has collaborated with Meredith Belbin on several previous projects. Walker has developed within his company Human Ecology Ltd, several proprietary psychological technologies and instruments for use in business, registration of which with the British Psychological Society is currently underway.