In the past decade, there’s been a great deal of talk about how the education industry is going to be revolutionized, and that we can do away with classrooms and universities altogether. There is nothing new about this. However, the revolution that has been predicted some many times has never really come. People learn efficiently because they are together, because they can have a discussion about their ideas, because they are with a professor who can adapt to their learning style. This book gives some background ideas to this debate and to why the bricks and mortar university is not quite dead yet.
Psychology, education, social/cultural patterns, situated learning, behavioral learning, cognitive learning.
If you go back to the 1920s, it was said that correspondence courses would also get rid of universities, because people could simply send off the assignments they had to do, and receive the books and further work in the post. In the 1960s, it was said that the cassette recorder and recorded lectures would also do away with bricks and mortar university. In the last decade, the Internet, and now with massive open online courses, or MOOCs, it is said that this will similarly seal the demise of the old university. In the midst of all this, it is nice to have a reminder of one thing, that learning is fundamentally a social process.
This book by sets out just why learning is; fundamentally based on the social context. Learning, according to the authors, an anthropologist and a Computer Scientist, has a central characteristic. This is a process they call “legitimate peripheral participation.” As part of a group, learners participate in communities of practice. They share ideas, they have debates, they exchange opinions and it is this discourse that leads to them efficient active learning. Of course, this does not have to be in a classroom. In fact, the ideas they discuss deal with a variety of different situations. They talk about midwives and how they exchange practices of delivering babies. They talk about butchers exchanging ideas about their professions, and also non-drinking alcoholics and their day-to-day battle with giving up drink. Learners, they say, will inevitably participate in communities of practice and becoming a master requires that a newcomer will move towards full participation in the social/cultural practices of a community. By having such a debate, abstract notions can then become meaningful in real situations.
Etienne Wenger: What is situated learning?
When the authors deal with schools, they equally have a critical analysis. In fact, they don’t see that knowledge is decontextualized as people often claim. Rather, they say that schools themselves are social institutions and places of learning, and have specific contexts. This means that a certain part of learning that is done is relevant. Others may be less so.
The book also deals with Vygotsky’s concept of zone of proximal development. A very basic summary of this would be that, at certain stages, we are ready to actually learn certain things because they are close to what we have already understood. If we go too far, then we simply can’t do it. Without knowing such concepts, most practiced teachers will actually understand that. You simply can’t make jumps in the educational development of your students and expect them to understand.
What the book also shows quite clearly is that, in the different cases that they bring up, there is a very little, observable teacher, the most basic phenomenon of, in fact, learning. A practice community, therefore, creates a curriculum in the very broad sense of the word, where a general set of ideas are exchanged but not in any particular order. As the authors say, a learning curriculum enfolds an opportunity for engagement of practice. We also construct a new identity. Thus, engaging in practice is probably a condition for the effectiveness of learning.
If you are in something like a business school, you will also understand this. It’s one of the reasons students are made to do internships, because they simply need to not only construct their identities as future graduates, but also practice a certain number of things they didn’t learn in the classroom. Professors of HR management, in particular, will tell you it is very difficult to teach the subject until the student has been confronted with real problems within a company.
The book shows quite clearly that learning is not a commodity; it’s not just a series of facts, but something that has to be learned as a process-driven, situation-based skill. It’s reassuring to know that practice is still needed, and that universities or business schools cannot teach students everything. Similarly, by actually having some kind of formal structured education, participants will develop their skills in a particular domain far more efficiently.
Interesting quotes from the book:
General knowledge only has power in specific circumstances.
Learning is an integral part of generative social practice in the lived-in world.
The organization of schooling as an educational form is predicated on claims that knowledge can be decontextualized, and yet schools themselves as social institutions and as places of learning constitute very specific contexts.
A theory of social practice emphasizes the relational interdependency of agent and world, activity, meaning, cognition, learning, and knowing. It emphasizes the inherently socially negotiated character of meaning and the interested, concerned character of the thought and action of persons-inactivity. Participation is always based on situated negotiation and renegotiation of meaning in the world.
Learning involves the construction of identities.
Any given attempt to analyze a form of learning through legitimate peripheral participation must involve analysis of the political and social organization of that form, its historical development, and the effects of both of these on sustained possibilities for learning.
The importance of language should not, however, be overlooked. Language is part of practice, and it is in practice that people learn. The important point concerning learning is one of access to practice as resource for learning, rather than to instruction.
A learning curriculum consists of situated opportunities (thus including exemplars of various sorts often thought of as ‘goals’) for the improvisational development of new practice (Lave 1989). A learning curriculum is a field of learning resources in everyday practice viewed from the perspective of learners.
As Jordan (1989) argues, learning to become a legitimate participant in a community involves learning how to talk (and be silent) in the manner of full participants. The notion of ‘proper speech’ is so clearly crystallized in the collective expectations of the community.
To account for the complexity of participation in social practice, it is essential to give learning and teaching independent status as analytic concepts. Most analyses of schooling assume, whether intentionally or not, the uniform motivation of teacher and pupils, because they assume, sometimes quite explicitly, that teacher and pupils share the goal of the main activity (e.g., Davydov and Markova 1983)
Other Book Reviews
Infed: “Rather than looking to learning as the acquisition of certain forms of knowledge, Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger have tried to place it in social relationships – situations of co-participation. As William F. Hanks puts it in his introduction to their book: ‘Rather than asking what kind of cognitive processes and conceptual structures are involved, they ask what kinds of social engagements provide the proper context for learning to take place’.”
Learning with Technology: “This is an incredibly difficult book to read and even more difficult to understand, so good luck! However, after cogitating on the book awhile and reading what others wrote, I wrote “Cold, so cold!” as a synopsis of what I saw as the key idea.”
Rebecca West Burns: “In contrast to learning as internalization, learning as increasing participation in communities of practice concerns the whole person acting in the world (p. 49).” Learning is therefore not simply a cognitive act but rather a way of being”.”
Related Blog Articles
I want to use this post to publicize a blog that is being written by some 25 students from my school, who are currently studying finance in New York. The students have gone up there for one semester to study a program that we jointly set up with Pace University to give them the ins and outs of finance in the USA, and also to show them some of the best practices of working in the United States.
This week, Philip Warwick, Senior Teaching Fellow at Durham University Business School, UK, writes at guest blog on the state of internationalisation in British universities. Professor Warwick has been studying the international strategies of a number of universities in the UK and in other countries. He has found that approaches vary across countries. Within the UK he has identified four specific strategies to international development within the group of universities he studied.
It was a great pleasure to welcome Bertrand Guillotin, International Programs Director at the Fuqua School of Management, Duke University to Grenoble EM in November. During his time at the school we were able to make a short video in which Bertrand talked about life at Duke. Having studied and worked in both France and the USA, he was also able to share his insights into and the differences between French and American styles of teaching and learning.
At the AACSB Associate Deans Conference in Houston, Texas, Andrea Hershatter, Senior Associate Dean at the Goizueta Business School, Emory University gave a wonderful presentation about the Millennial Generation. It was such a rich, entertaining and well researched talk, that it really would be difficult to do it justice in a short blog. (And no, I’m not her agent!) This short article sets out some of the main ideas, but if you get the chance I highly recommend that you go and see her speak.
AACSB Associate Deans Conference: Executive Education: Developing Non-Degree Education for the Future (Brent Smith)
Standard 14 of the proposed new criteria for AASCB Accreditation deals with the provision of Executive Education. Given the importance of this activity in many business schools today, it is useful to look at some of the best practices in the industry.
At the AACSB Associate Deans Conference, Brent Smith, Associate Dean, Executive Education and Associate Professor, Management and Psychology, Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business, Rice University, set out some of the issues at his own university.
According to Mr. Smith the market is increasingly crowded and it is therefore vital that business schools fully understand their competitive positioning as well as the role of executive education as vehicle to advance the overall strategy of the school.
Inspirational video by Rick Mereki.
Learning. Change. Design: “We can see value from knowledge sharing (using social technology) to address specific, performance challenge – leveraging the network to get an answer to a question, for example. But how do we also make sure we leverage the same technology for deeper learning? What practices or tactics have emerged as useful in this case?”
Student Achievement Program: “The same rule holds when you memorize information for a test. Trust that your brain will reason its way to the right answer by connecting the dots. Understand that all that information is not stored in one place in your brain – it really, physically is not. Rather, information is scattered acros your cortex, much like the stars are scattered across the universe.”
Student Achievement Program: “We know (for a fact) that positive reinforcement of behavior is a key driver in developing habits. This means that positively rewarding behavior which leads to substandard academic performance, in the long run leads to impoverished academic development. And this is exactly what is happening to most students today.”
Higher Education Management: “Unlike disruptive innovations, the OESP model does not seek to displace the traditional model of higher education. It’s not a direct challenge, but an extension of the existing model through the addition of services, skills and capital that are otherwise unavailable to the client university.”
Higher Education Management: “Digital higher education is now a strategic issue for colleges and universities. Online enrolment continues to experience double-digit growth. Investors are once again lining up to fund new companies in educational technology and media.”
|Learn about The IKEA Effect, The Baby Jessica Effect and why large bonuses make CEOS less effective.||A fun book that show why humans don’t always behave in a rational manner.||One of the most charismatic leaders of the 1980s. Still worth reading.|