Dec 22 2007
Recently I read a wonderful article by Jean Lave where she asked the simple question, “what’s a learning theory?” and suggests some questions to ask about learning theory instances.
Jean Lave (1996) “Teaching, as Learning, in Practice” Mind, Culture, and Activity
3 (3), 149-164.
On page 156 she says:
“[Martin Packer] asked [what a theory of learning consisted of] because he already had an answer in mind: At minimum, he proposed, a theory of learning consists of three kinds of stipulation: a telos for the changes implied in notions of learning; the basic relation assumed to exist between subject and social world: and mechanisms by which learning is supposed to take place.”Telos: that is, a direction of movement or change of learning (not the same as goal directed activity),”Subject-world relation: a general specification of relations between subjects and the social world (not necessarily to be construed as learners and things to-be-learned),”Learning mechanisms: ways by which learning comes about.”
- Telos: that is, a direction of movement or change of learning (not the same as goal directed activity),
- Subject-world relation: a general specification of relations between subjects and the social world (not necessarily to be construed as learners and things to-be-learned),
- Learning mechanisms: ways by which learning comes about.
To me this is an almost exact match for the good old Buddhist three-fold logic of Ground, Path and Fruition, although it’s usually used in a different order:
- Fruition: direction of development (not just what you are teaching but what people are learning for themselves)
- Ground: context, social-network, world-view assumptions
- Path: mechanisms, activities, and processes for the negotiation of meaning
I actually like “fruition” over “telos,” the Greek word for “end” because fruition reminds us that it’s only a partial end in that it contains the seeds of the next cycle. Learning certainly is that way. Anyway, I’m resolving to use three-fold logic as I explore what it is I’m doing as a coach. I’ve been thinking a lot about who exactly it is that I think I’m helping and how. I think that thee-fold logic applies to individual sessions as well as at larger scales of interaction. It’s a handy meme.
To encourage anybody who’s interested to read the article, here’s a snippet from the introduction:
Theories that reduce learning to individual mental capacity/activity in the last instance blame marginalized people for being marginal. Common theories of learning begin and end with individuals (though these days they often nod at “the social” or “the environment” in between). Such theories are deeply concerned with individual differences, with notions of better and worse, more and less learning, and with comparison of these things across groups-of-individuals. Psychological theories of learning prescribe ideals and paths to excellence and identify the kinds of individuals (by no means all) who should arrive; the absence of movement away from some putatively common starting point becomes grounds for labeling others sub-normal. The logic that makes success exceptional but nonetheless characterizes lack of success as not normal won’t do.
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