Is learning a series of transactions that combine to pave an evolutionary road of progress? If so, how is the road paved? What materials are used? Is learning the process of aligning bricks over a defined area or pouring gravel in a general direction? Is the purpose of learning to fill in all the holes, or just create enough contact between the solid points to be able to make the next step? Or perhaps, does all of this depend on what we are learning? Is the metaphor of the acquisition of knowledge more applicable to the study of mathematics then it is to the study of educational technology, for example?
This week, one of the foci of my formal studies is to reflect upon Sfard’s (1998) concept of “the metaphor of learning as acquisition and the metaphor of learning as participation” in an attempt to gain a better grasp of what the intangible process of ‘learning’ means to me. I think that these two metaphors were able to encompass the breadth of the learning experience up until a few years ago, or maybe even up to a decade ago in some cases, but the nature of our information ecology has morphed into something so complex, so intricate and approaching an unanticipated level of artificial intelligence that makes ‘learning as acquisition’ a thing of the past.
Perhaps learning as participation mixed with learning as connection is a more accurate representation of the modern-day version of learning. Although I sense that the definition of ‘participation’ must also be re-evaluated because what was engagement ten years ago has ballooned into so much more now. Affordances change the nature of everything they impact. In our case, technology has changed learning far beyond just making it more accessible. It’s opened up a great big cupboard of neatly aligned cans of worms.
When information didn’t sprout as dynamically or as quickly as it does today, it was easier to justify the metaphor of learning as acquisition. We had access to a manageable amount of information and communities could readily interact/engage with that information because it didn’t change very quickly. We talked about skills like shorthand and speed reading that helped us keep up with new information. Today, we talk about power browsing strategies and the transmission of information via video link and other forms of rich media and that just brings a whole new meaning to the truth that a picture tells a thousand words.
Why don’t I try to use a picture to describe what I mean? Below is a visual representation of Information Streams – the ways in which we connect to information in the current age. If the image below doesn’t load, just go to this link.
You can click and drag the image to move it around.
Clicking on the magnifying glasses on the bottom left of the mind map screen enables you to zoom in and out making the font bigger or smaller.
Clicking on the plus signs next to the nodes will expand the information streams.)
I purposefully included all of these streams into one visual burp because it more closely reflects our current reality then if I were to separate each flow. For example, who can relate to this image:
I open my laptop in the morning and Firefox is still active from the day before. I have 12 tabs open in 5 windows (so that my ideas are groups in clusters). I have 4 TextEdit files open with ideas jotted down but not yet ready for publishing. I have two Scrivener files open in which I’m organising my thoughts and preparing answers to this week’s course activities. I also have a Finder window open (MAC user here) in the background that reminds me that I have to clean up some files and expand my file structure to accommodate a couple new projects on which I’m working. After a couple sips of coffee and a practiced attempt at ignoring all the information gushing out at me from my screen, I open Thunderbird to check my mail (for some reason I sleep better knowing I quit my email client before going to bed). I always have my volume set low so that when the alarm notifies me that I have new mail, I don’t get more freaked out than I normally do! After Thunderbird checks my three email accounts, it starts working on all my RSS feeds. I am comforted when I see an email from Continental Airlines or Bank of America because I know that all I have to do is click delete. If I’m brave, I’ll take a look at a new blog entry but that usually results in five or 6 more clicks and usually a new item on my TO DO List ( as per the visual above), so I have to be prepared to spend some time on that tangent if I want to follow it through.
So, if that’s what a typical day looks like for me, I don’t see how learning can be about acquisition anymore. Our mental pockets aren’t deep enough to acquire information at the rate that it becomes available. Today…I think…it’s more about…connecting the dots…
If you’ve read through my information streams, you will probably have noticed that none of them ‘end’. They all trickle off into the unknown. Whether I return to those specific streams to continue my research or I pick up somewhere else and new research leads me back to them is to be determined as I continue exploring.
Adding your information stream
Now, I invite all of you – veteran Power Browsers and Newbies alike – to help paint a more detailed picture of what information streams look like in our current reality. Think about a recent bit of research you just did, or some casual browsing you did on your lunch break, or even the stream that brought you to this blog entry. Then, add it to this mind map.
To add your information stream: Click on the mindmeister logo on the bottom right of the mind map. This will open a new window bringing you to the editable version of the map. Click on ‘Edit’ found on the bottom left of the new window to begin adding your stream. Once you’re done, you can just close the window (your changes are automatically saved).
Sfard, A. (1998) ‘On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one’, Educational Researcher, vol.27, no.2, pp.4–13.