The Question of Learning

Posted: February 12, 2011 in Education, Inspiration, Pedagogy, Stimulus

Sitting in a room full of educators I was intrigued by a statement that a presenter displayed to us. The statement is:

Learning is a social practice where the process in critical ways comprises the product” (Mc Laughlin and Zarrow in Adger, 2002)

So why did this statement distract me from the reason for the day? The answer lies in the words of the statement themselves. To start I hit a speed bump at the end of the first five words.

“Learning is a Social Practice” is something that needs to be contemplated and questioned. There are aspects of learning that, in my mind atleast, do not rely on a social context or interaction. From my own thinking, learning is something that derives from someone’s desire to enquire and ask questions as well as to solve problems and create things. The concept of a question can rely on someone wanting to develop, create or solve. This can be for personal, individual or group-based needs and the process of the generation of the product can be likened to the idea of learning.

To make this a little clearer than above, part of my thinking is that learning results from an experiential outcome that builds on a person’s prior knowledge base or learnt content. But what does this mean and how is it different from the statement above? To start it means to me that for a person to learn they don’t necessarily need the social constructs mentioned above. They need a reason for their enquiry or question to give the chance for the experience. Only once there is a reason will there be learning deep enough to meaningful. Learning at a purely social level runs the risk of peaking at the information collection state. To give that learning is a social practice is limited as not all learning needs social acceptance or feedback, let alone the context of others.

As educators this also promotes other questions. Can we regard a student’s experience in all classes as times of learning? Is the facility to rote practice something learning or skill building? Where is the point that learning becomes knowledge and how as educators can we promote and up-skill students to take knowledge and elevate it to Wisdom? All these are big questions that could take a lot to unpack.

I have to acknowledge that the statement above probably has a lot of supporting facts within the paper from which it was extracted and that I am only giving a limited and singular view. I also have to give credit to the statement as it prompted me to work through some critical thinking.

To pose a question for others, How would you describe learning? The above is but one potential view.

  1. Malyn says:

    I doubt that the intent of the article from which the quote came from was to state that learning is purely a social construct. Ultimately, the collective is made of individuals so it leads back to the individual.

    I’ve always ascribed to “learning” as both process and product. Moreover, awareness of the processes enhances (deepens?) the product which is why I value reflective practice (a chance to revisit the process and product) – not too unlike the original statement: process in critical ways comprises the product. Granted, it doesn’t have to be social all the time, as you yourself stated above.

    What strikes me is that we were in the same room and this statement didn’t strike me at all. That’s very telling about individual learning, don’t you think?

    Here’s a recent post which is likewise an exercise in critical thinking: Why teach simultaneous equations?



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