Learning as a process or a phenomenon is something I sometimes try to escape in my reasonings, as some days I can not even stand the topic because of the too mixed up discourses around it. But for some reason it comes back to thoughts, often with new flavours. Call it passion, call it whatever.
When I moved to Australia, I had to choose just a couple of “real” paper books with me. What I left behind was almost a roomful. Although some consider it after his golden era, I had grown fond of Heidegger’s ‘What is called thinking?’ (Was Heisst Denken?, 1954) and brought it with me. I do not consider myself as Heideggerian, although a certain person (you know who you are) have suggested that. Still, I cannot deny that introduction to his thinking has indeed provided new venues for my own.
As the name of the book implies, it discusses thinking, and simply summarized, with an assertion that we are still not thinking.
Most thought-provoking in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking. (p. 6)
My reason to write this is not to try to explain what Heidegger possibly meant with the series of lectures of which the book builds on. What interests me here is examining the arguments with higher education learning as the focus.
Heidegger suggests that
Teaching is even more difficult than learning. (…) because what teaching calls for is this: to let learn. The real teacher, in fact, lets nothing else be learned than – learning. (…) The teacher is ahead of his apprentices in this alone, that he has still far more to learn than they – he has to learn to let them learn. The teacher must be capable of being more teachable than the apprentices. (p. 15)
I have to resist quoting the whole paragraph, because that is most likely too much. Some of the words in this argument make me think if he really used these terms or has something been lost in the translation. However, this particular part, coming all of a sudden in the book, in conjunction with thinking as the focus, is interesting to me.
Heidegger suggest we are still not thinking. What does this mean? When we are on our paths in the so called formal education, are we not thinking? We “cover a lot of content” and write essays about them in culturally accepted forms. Does this not constitute as thinking? Dears he suggest that this is not what thinking is about? What am I not thinking when I am writing this blog post? What “withdraws” from me, from us?
I feel a connection could be found from Finland, from Yrjö Engeström’s thinking (the use of word intended), and his theory of Expansive Learning. In one of his books, Kehittävä työntutkimus: perusteita, tuloksia ja haasteita [in Finnish, sorry folks], he refers to Bateson’s levels of learning [in English].
These matters connect with Heidegger and his thinking. For us to learn, we very often think about the content and not with it or how it affects our own thinking and frames of reference. I have not followed this idea through, but for me this sounds something to be also connected with Jonassen’s “learning with technology“. We need to ponder what terms such as “medium” and “technology” mean to us. Information and communications technology. Technologies, weather digital or for example processes, are to support humans to achieve something easier. [How] is information and communications technology helping us learn thinking?
We are fond of consuming and examining content, but we do not pause and reflect upon it, or ourselves in the event of learning.
Reflection is also one of those troublesome terms. With reflection, I mean thinking about our own thinking, and thinking about ourselves in the middle of the event of learning; Do we just try to hack the game of learning, how to beat the system (Bateson’s level 2 learning), or do we actively inquiry into how the learning events and stimuli affect our thinking, questioning our very being and thus really try to learn and think? In general we are too fond of following the routes that please us, that make us feel good, rarely asking could something else that does not seem to please us in the beginning to be more important for our understanding.
To think, is to think and reflect the world and ourselves in it, the stimuli we receive and how they affect us. Great deal of evidence shows that we are very picky in our personal theory making, too often we assimilate new information to our existing patterns of thought. I feel that to truly be in the world, is to question the stimuli, processes, our own thinking and how we are in the events we are thrown to. To look beyond those in a larger systemic context.
So what is the message of learning? As I’ve been attending to a media convergence course conserning myself both as tutor (a role assigned to me) and a learner (a role assigned by me), I feel obliged to refer to McLuhan and his “Media is the message”. What are the messages of higher education as a medium [of learning]? The message is written in the processes, in how we act our roles during the play, on what we spend our time in the university and what we try to achieve, and how. The message is quite easily there to be noticed if one reads the world and the word (thanks to Joan Wink and of course to Freire for this nice thinking tool).
Heideggers suggests that the most thought provoking in our thought provoking time is that we are still not thinking. If we are not thinking in the events of learning, what are we doing?
This piece of writing was originally constructed for my studies with Open University Malaysia to critically examine ‘interactive e-content’. I could not hold my tongue, and had to play with language. I already see the writing filled with holes but it is a start, and I wish to have time to reason these matters in depth in the future.
Multitude of authors have jumped to the quest to give various definitions to “new” education-related phenomena, fueled by the hustle and bustle around trying to implement e-learning in formal education. This paints a portrait about the current moment where these things are rather new, and definitions are not, at least yet, etched in steel. Still, one has to ask, although already tried out, can these objects even have a united terminology that all who work in the educational sector, or beyond, would understand and started to use?
Wiley (2002a) suggest definitions based on object-oriented paradigm of computer sciences. Is that something that can make the whole world turn? Unfortunately authors who he refers to seem to use language very broadly. E.g. Hodgins with definition on learning object suggests that “Learning Objects are defined as any entity, digital or non-digital, which can be used, re-used or referenced during technology supported learning” (as cited in Wiley, p. 4). This space is too short to examine the term technology, but to put it in short: with this definition almost everything might be a learning object, as technology is a very broad term reflecting too well the current positivist and technocratic views on learning.
McGreal (2004) and Murphy suggest that in the case of defining what is a learning object, the task should be done from practical, not a theoretical perspective (as cited in Francis & Murphy, 2008, p. 475). A bold statement. How a person generally sees an object, does not differ in the case of learning objects, interactive e-content or a dog or a cat. It is defined by one’s conceptual framework of understanding the form of that object. In education this means that one who draws from behavioristic views, might give totally different meanings to an object than someone thinking through constructivist terms. Same goes in finding generalizable metaphors from computer science for the use of everyone else on this planet.
But the complexity of the matter at hand does not end here. Psychoanalysis, phenomenological and educational research in general, give us all sorts of results how humans have a theoretical level of how they believe they are operating, which in many cases is quite different from how they actually operate – e.g. studies on teachers’ pedagogical ideals versus how they actually end up teaching.
So does this mean we are in vain when trying to form definitions? At least we need to be cautious when using language. Definitions are not simple for example to those who are not using their first language to communicate and understand a concept, or even define what a ‘concept’ is. Can I for example whose first language is not English but Finnish, even experience what certain things such as learning objects or interactive e-content are in to those who are experiencing it originally from the English perspective?
Let’s examine the current billet of a term of interactive e-content. Merriam-Webster defines interaction something as mutual or reciprocal action or influence. The meaning of content is something more hard to find out. For example Wikipedia gives further words to define it such as published material, information published on the World Wide Web, an encoded format for data display and Merriam-Webster to hold in, contain. Based on these definition, of as a note, determining is not just to amuse us, if we then understand e-content something delivered or residing online, we have the term interactive e-learning which should mean somewhat “something that is online and interacts with”. This makes hard to understand what McGreal (2004) means when defining learning objects as “something that enable and facilitate the use of educational content online”. Without taking the similar steps with defining what is an online learning environment, one should presume that it actually works as this kind of a delivery platform. This might be some sort of a cultural and language difference that is hard to translate through being affected by Finnish culture and ways of understanding and being. It could also be McGreal’s (slightly confusing) try to create a taxonomy of his own, from his perspective of understanding the world.
Defining good language as our starting point is indeed an important matter. Contemporary emerging terms seem to very lightly become definitions of something that might not even exist. An interesting thought but difficult to achieve is brought forth by Wittgenstein in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: We should say clearly that of what we can talk about, and what we can’t talk about, we should be silent about. Thus we could also ask if there is something such as interactive e-content or learning objects at all, if giving a valid and acceptable definition to some of them seems such an arduous task? We should also be brave enough to ask if a phenomenon (such as interactive e-content) is something else instead, something maybe consisting of several things, and for some reason there is a contemporary attempt to force a definition to something that as such, does not actually exist? For example, in the case of learning objects, McGreal (Ibid.) tries to assign reason in their existence in a hypothetical situation in higher education (modularity and teacher sharing) that does not generally exist. This is similar to the ever ongoing discussion with knowledge management and actually the process he suggested about learning object repositories is the same. In practice this does not work, but it would make a good study to investigate is there something inherently human affecting this approach that seems to be good at least in theory.
Nothing more than what we believe in is on focus here. If we assume that generally the so called postmodernist view of “objects in itself does not have meaning, but meaning emerges from a continuum of interaction and interpretation”, what can we trust for a single learning object to achieve? Similar effect in achieving learning goals in every single learner the same (required and expected) way? This is what Wiley (2002) seems to imply.
In addition, people learn differently in different situations. There is plenty of debate around learning styles and if they exist or not in the psychological and biological level. Not going to the debate itself, we can most likely agree on the fact that every learner, during the time of being in the same place with his or her co-learners, has taken a different path there, affected by different steps and environments. Now, when these people are at the present moment, their condition for learning is different. This means that we do not even have to know or even assume if people in fact do learn somehow differently. In fact the difference of their being in that particular moment of the learning event, makes mass education, an event where participants are for conveniences sake (not because it was the best for every learner) chosen to be taught with similar methods and content, invalid.
If this what we say is a true portrait of the ill-organised charade, what can facilitate flexible, personalizable learning? Content can be a vessel for it, but too much emphasis is given to it. Books are still valid objects for learning, also video games as an emerging medium can also be, but are not if the learner does not want to learn. If a person does not want to learn, there is not much one can do about it with content itself. Different forms of human facilitation is needed in order to prevent for example dropping out and in the (increasing) worst case scenario, social exclusion (Mäki-Ketelä, 2012).
All of this playing with the language directly affects the design process for better learning. If instructional or learning designers still continue to believe that content is king, we have nothing more to discuss in the field of learning innovations. Instead terms such as persuasion and immersion could give us new ideas on innovative learning environments for example with video games (Bogost, 2007). It is about how we are in a moment and get into objects that matters, not how we ‘consume’ content.
Bogost, Ian. (2007). Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Francis, D. E., & Murphy, E. (2008). Instructional designers’ conceptualisations of learning objects, 24(5), 475–486. Retrieved from http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet24/francis.pdf
McGreal, R. (2004). Learning Object: A Practical Definition. Retrieved from http://www.itdl.org/journal/sep_04/article02.htm
Mäki-Ketelä, J. (2012). Kiskot Vievät Elämään. [Rails Take to Life]. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-93-1388-4
Wiley, D. A. (Ed.) (2002a). The instructional use of learning objects. Bloomington, IN: Agency for Instructional Technology and the Association for Educational Communications and Technology. Retrieved from http://www.reusability.org/read
Wittgenstein, L. Tractatus logico-philosophicus. (1976). Translated by D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuiness. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
“When you have things,
more and more,
in the end,
the things you own,
start to own you.”
I met this sentence maybe in a song or a book, I do not remember anymore. I remember feeling this sentence was brilliant, but I did not actually experience it. It wasn’t part of “my world”.
Due to my move to Australia, I have been selling what I own. Items such as books, movies, games, furniture, what have you. It has started to feel. When I began it, it was simply selling things. During the whole process, it has started to feel more like crawling from under a pile of things to the crispy sunny daylight where you once again can breathe more freely.
When I started to get rid of things, it was merely out of pragmatic reasons. I reasoned that if it is too expensive to ship things over from Finland, I will sell them. During that time I did not think: to what level should I sell them? Half of them? Only the ones I do not like, find useful or need very often? During the process, it started to feel there is no end to the process. The process itself is transformational, in multiple levels.
It has changed how I view buying and owning concrete physical objects. Any thing(s). Even more, it has started me to question more than ever the fact, why am I buying? What is the actual value of an item? Monetary or/and emotional? Those who like quantitative analysis: please, do justify with numbers why we spend so much money based only to the illusion of a need we have ourselves created through our emotions and illogical reasoning.
It has also made me think about the cloud more often. e-books, e-this and e-that, and how they will eventually replace some areas of concrete items. I love reading a paper book, but I do not like packing and unpacking them. Carrying them in piles, sweating because of the fact someone had not yet invented a better way to pack symbols, i.e. letters, words; narratives of various kinds.
Because this is what books are: in the end, nothing more but an object which function is to contain characters of the alphabet (if your language is using them, that is) in orderly fashion that communicate something. Other functions we assign books are merely emotional based and vanity. I know, I love books. Isn’t it odd: to love a pile of paper containing (usually) black ink?
What is it that we love in this? The feel of the rectangle object we have named as a book? The paper that constructs it? The smell? Or is it merely something intangible such as nostalgia? A memory artifact? Book, as itself, reminds us about something. Someone has written in it the date it was bought from some exotic or not so exotic book store. Someone gave it as a present to you and signed it with “xxx love”? An effective way to prevent us ever letting go of that particular object, now assigned only for us, with love.
Can an e-book ever make us feel like a paper book? As objects, are they of same kind at all? In what level? Why should they be? Is there anything more common with them than the fact they both contain characters and [sometimes] try to maintain a narrative? Maybe Markku Eskelinen can wake ideas in us with his book Cybertext Poetics: The Critical Landscape of New Media Literary Theory.
But what about other things? Things that seem to give us an extended memory? By selling my old table I bought when I left my parents house, am I selling away a piece of my history? Perhaps, but why is it important anyway? Who says history is important or valuable as such; why not the constellation of memories or schemas you carry with you? I have said to have a bad memory, and I admit it. But that is mostly because I do not feel overly important to think things of the past. Does it make one somehow, odd as a human being?
About a week ago Edudemic posted about Google Course Builder. Article says it is a “Free Tool To Let You Run Your Own Online Courses”.
In the Google video Peter Norvig sends course designers and teachers the following message: “If you have some topic that you would like to teach, some technical expertise (on the level of a webmaster), then Course Builder is for you”.
I’m all thumbs up for open source technology that challenges the so called costly (and often ghastly) ‘solutions’, but the GCB as a concept makes me wonder what is really behind this? And one of my favorite questions: What’s Google actually up to this time? Trying to fight Moodle dominance? Trying to get the global education to the Google ecosystem? It remains to be seen.
As a note oppose to this idea, nowadays, one does not actually have to have too much programming skills to create effective online courses. We have a vast knowledge network called the In-ter-net with multiple social media platforms, open source platforms, wikis, databank solutions, OERs… you name it.
It means only imagination is the limit for an innovative course design. Imagination and some understanding about why people should learn for the 21st century knowledge society in certain ways. Often in these discussions, the skills and knowledge are highlighted, but at the same time the affective and conative domain gets no attention. We need them too in order to tie education and learning to the larger global narrative.
Thanks @macurcher for sharing the post!
A book for gamers, geeks, Monty Python fans, 80′s fans, and those who want to fuel their imagination with some intriguing ideas about the future of education and the Web.
There are small oddities though already in the beginning section of the story. The protagonist mentions how innovative the virtual world is and how one can learn almost anything there. Still at the same time, he and his classmates are attending virtually to classes where teachers teach by lecturing, and there’s even some software which monitors if the students stay quiet and attend. Whaaaat?!
Does behaviorism sit so tight in the writer’s culture that he could not think this deeper and slightly differently? After all, this is a sci-fi book for Bruner’s sake! Unfortunately I am not surprised, as I have witnessed this in several other occasions. Learning is indeed a difficult phenomenon to re-imagine.
In general, the book makes an easy and compelling read with cool pop culture references.
Check out the book web site at http://www.readyplayerone.com
Just to let you know that the 21st Century Educators, a Post Certificate Program for Teaching in Higher Education (PGCTHE), I’ve been involved with, is now open for registration for the 2013 January intake.
So if you are a teacher or an education specialist, working or thinking of working in the higher ed context, do check the program page and “How to participate page” at http://21stcenturyeducators.tamk.fi/how-to-participate.
No, I don’t usually post “ads” in my blog, but as I think this is a cool program and have myself very much enjoyed learning from and with it, I had to share it.
The big idea in Being There, one with lasting impact in embodied cognitive science, is that minds are not for thinking, traditionally conceived, but for doing, for getting things done in the world in real time. Rather than developing “walking encyclopedias”, robotics in the late 1980s and early 1990s was starting to focus on the dynamic interaction between body and world. Clark drew out affinities between this shift in the conception of intelligent action in computational systems and the emergence of the idea that cognition was scaffolded, embedded, and extended.