Not Just Learners

Whether it is behavioral perspective (stimuli and response), cognitive ideology (organization or reorganization of concepts), or situative perspective (getting adjusted to the ‘constraints’ and ‘affordances’ of social systems), learning primarily involves a constant interplay between the individual and the environment the individual is part of. Individual is always within a context and learns out of or because of it. We are not talking of the needs that trigger learning, which might be entirely personal, but of the resources that facilitate learning. Brigid Barron, an Asst. Prof. of Education at Stanford, while providing a learning ecology framework, graphically explains how technological development in learners is influenced by different contexts. The following image is inspired by (to be candid, drives a lot of content from) her presentation. However, the image below is not constrained only to learning  new technology. People learn from different sources irrespective of the subject. Though most of the contexts presented in the image are self-explanatory, ‘distributed resources’ refer to books, articles, on-line communities, etc. And, these contexts are dynamic. Borders of each of the context might get blurred quite often and they might intersect with the others. However, the point here is that an individual interacts with these different resources when there is a need for knowledge.

Fig. 1. Contexts of Learning

It is more than seven years now since the wise, likes of Stephen Downs and Jay Cross, observed and enlightened us to the changing shapes of learning that is triggered specifically by the advancements of technology. In these scenarios, the contexts shown above become even more prominent as individual have access to innumerable resources. Despite need, despite methodology, despite means, individuals set out to discover learning from multiple resources. On a positive note, this provides the individual with quicker, multi-faceted, and effective knowledge compared to what they get from individual interactions with a single teacher.

Now, look at the image again and focus on the double-headed arrows. They signify that individual not only ‘learns’ from different contexts, but also can ‘inform’ or ‘teach’ one context inspired by the knowledge derived from the interactions with other settings. For example, an individual who learnt how to fix a motorcycle clutch while experimenting with it is able to share this experience in an online forum and thus ‘educate’ the other forum members. A call-center executive who is attending a formal behavioral e-learning training might be able to add a point or two, or even contradict what the course has summed up, on the best practices of dealing with irate customers. Learners, mostly in workplace learning environments, always have the potential to transfer and enrich they are part of with their own individual knowledge. In this “social act” of learning, as echoed by Etienne Wenger‘s communities of practice, everything is mutual. No one is just learner or teacher. Each plays both the roles.

While describing certain ‘mashups that influence how people learn socially’, Marcia Conner and Tony Bingham refer to Alvin Toffler’s neologism “prosumers”: people who produce and consume simultaneously. In the similar lines, they further explain, heightened by the advent of the Internet and social networks, everyone acts as both learner and teacher. This “role-mashup”, as they call, and being conscious of the two-folded capacities of individuals, that they can teach as well when they are learning, is imperative in times that change fast and quick. It is not just the leadership, but each individual should be conscious of this dual-duty. It puts them in the driving seat and necessitates them to act in terms of sharing their knowledge with other and be active about it. Each employee should know their duty to acknowledge and share their personal experiences and day-to-day learning events with wider community for larger good.

Here, I am not saying to conduct each learning event on a networked platform, which might be good, but learning designers should be conscious of this new paradigm and invite participation from their individual learners. They should be aware that the learning should be informed by the individual experiences and facilitate the exchange of these individual experiences with others. How to do that in a traditional e-learning course that has Previous and Next arrows and assessments at the end, and how eventually an organization’s DNA looks like when this ideology is adapted, are the topics of future posts. The focal point here is that an individual is not mere a learner or a teacher. An individual is both, in each single learning event. This consciousness has innumerable advantages. Firstly, it will bring up the much needed “interactivity” in learning events. When we talk of interactivity, we think of recalling previous information, drag-and-drop functionality, humorous language, using second-person, etc. Interaction actually means mutual conversation. This will thus help in learning more active and long lasting. Secondly, when the learner starts to teach as well, there forms a “group knowledge” that is better and stronger than that of the individual’s.

These advantages and the necessity of being cognizant of the changing roles warrant a new term for the individual worker. As they are not just “learners” or “teachers”, but a combination of both, let’s now start calling them “learchers”. Ludicrous it may sound, but the neologism is a combination of both these roles. Look at a worker and start addressing them as learcher, you can feel that you are starting to expect some input from the individual from their own previous learning and the weight of knowledge formation and sharing is shared equally by the earlier (just) learner who has been passively clicking the Next button.

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2 thoughts on “Not Just Learners

  1. After reading this post, I was thinking ‘so how do we replicate the way we truly learn in a traditional e-learning course’? One idea is to include a forum wherein learners can discuss their experiences. Another idea is to make the learners work together as a team on a common assignment, online. For instance, ask all the learners to compile a wiki on a particular topic. That way they will learn from each other’s experiences. of course implementing these ideas would mean facing constraints related to time, budget and technology…will look forward to what you have to say your future posts.

    1. Hi, Deepti — I really like your second idea. Yes, it has it’s challenges as most of the executives look at ROI, metrics, etc., in a wrong way and the time, budget, and technological constrains, as you aptly mentioned, get in our way. It is ideal, and necessary, to implement every course in a collaborative environment, but considering the constraints, I think of a two-fold approach that can better the existing e-Learning courses. I would write clearly about this in the next post.

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