Monday, January 18, 2016

Learning by Loosely Joining Pieces

Sometimes representations of how learning happens show different aspects of the phenomena of learning in concentric shapes with a strong emphasis on iteration and connections among aspects. In the photograph above, I illustrated learning by building on the metaphor of loosely joining pieces to represent an idea of learning that is makeshift, precarious, and highly idiosyncratic. Makeshift means that this idea of learning highlights flexibility to move things around. Precarious suggests that pieces are just holding together tight enough. Idiosyncratic refers to learning being unique for each person at a particular time, in a particular environment, and with particular people. This does not limit learning to happen within one person. Rather, the limited connections presented here, are intended to show that the flexible combination of pieces may bring about learning as distributed across people, materials, and contexts. More concretely, the photograph shows eight abstracted drawings that represent eight different pieces that I feel are important for learning. This is not an exhaustive list. Instead, I intended to provide examples of the kinds of pieces that may come together at once or through chained iteration to make learning happen. Here is a description of the illustrated pieces:

  • Diving In refers to stepping outside of one’s comfort zone, taking the risk and engaging with a material, a subject, a person etc. despite it being (a little or a lot) challenging. 
  • Feeling Out represents the idea of being there with or within the matter and sensing the objective, subjective, and normative circumstances.
  • Responding To is the act of engaging in dialogue and reacting to the context, mixing and appropriating ideas.
  • Untangling is the idea of making it possible to backtrack, to fix things, or making something undone. This is an important aspect, as it can help clarify what went wrong or what to do better next time, but it not always easily possible. 
  • Adapting To is a possibility for changing perspectives by staying open to possible other ways of doing and being. This gives the opportunity to see the word from a new point of view.
  • Playing With stands for the idea of messing around and engaging with materials, people, subjects and so on in humorous, joyous, and imaginative ways.
  • Doing It Again refers to repeating something that was learned in one context in the same of in a different context.
It is possible that in any given learning situation only some of these pieces may apply, or that learning is initiated by a combination of the pieces at the same time. For example, while untangling the fiber threads of an electronic circuit, Laura adapted to the way the thread required pulling and repetition in order to make tight connections and light an LED. The pieces may also happen one after the other. For example after taking a chance by diving into dancing, Jebari listened to and responded to his partners’ movements. While these examples could be much improved through observations of learning happening in practice, what is important to me in the representation above is that the connections between pieces can be drawn by the learner or learners themselves. For me, it is important that learning always happens within a physical and social environment, and I consider the example pieces in relation to materials and people or other sentient beings.

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