Posted by: Gillian | July 7, 2011

Real learning

Steve Wheeler and David Wiley have both recently queried what constitutes learning and knowledge in adults. Both writers have considerable experience but I am not sure I fully agree with either.  Steve rightly points out that modern education systems [also some old fashioned Dewey ones?] allow children as well as adults to engage in problem-based learning and that ‘learning is learning’. So, by inference, learning has to be in a context, additional. David allows the learning of someone’s name (‘perjoratively’ memorising) to be classified as learning and that will be contextual but is not necessarily problem-solving – or ‘sexy’ learning as he puts it.

My view is that learning can be simply additional and that version of learning can be trained-in.  It is the underpinning belief of 1980s-style competence assessments. However, in order to recognise and foster creativity, on which our socio-economic survival depends, the maths analogy gets more complicated. New nuggets of information get near-simultaneously attached to all sorts of previous learning. The greater the prior experience (sometimes, but by no means always, the older the learner), the more complex the web. Marton and Säljö, Biggs and others – it matters not so much who came up with a theory as the fairly widely observed fact that individuals have different backgrounds and different experiences –  if one can assume that new information does indeed get tacked onto prior learning,  adults are likely to affix it in a greater variety of ways than children.

In response to David, Keith Hamon (tongue in cheek) says you can ask the time and get an answer and count that as learning. True; but adults may ask, ‘London or Beijing?’, ‘Morning or afternoon?’ Without context, the answer is meaningless.  The more the contexts, the greater the understanding.  The greater the understanding, the easier it is to reject options and then add new dimensions for new ends. London -no. Beijing -yes. OK: breakfast tomorrow?

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