I am amazed at the differences between learning ‘in school’ versus learning ‘out of school’.
Once again, as a result of a post by Graham Attwell ‘How we use technology and the internet for learning‘, I am amazed at the differences between learning ‘in school’ versus learning ‘out of school’. The first time I formally thought of this distinction was when I read an article by Lauren Resnick which was the 1987 Presidential Address – called ‘Learning In School and Out‘. (Full PDF here.) It remains, to this day, one of my favourite articles. Two of the main points Resnick makes are these:
- ‘Individual cognition in school versus shared cognition outside.’ In school, the most prevalent form of learning and performance is individual. Oh yes, group activities and ‘collaborative learning’ are common, but when it comes time for judgment, schools typically evaluate the individual performance. In addition, many of the school activities, such as homework, are individual. Outside of school, tasks and jobs are often socially shared and, as a result, performance of the ‘group’ or ‘team’ is often what is judged. Resnick cites a beautiful example of this ‘social distribution of knowledge’ by the anthropologist Edwin Hutchins. Imagine a ship being piloted into and out of San Diego harbour. There are six people with three different job descriptions. ‘Two people on the deck take visual sightings on predetermined landmarks, using special telescopic devices mounted on gyrocompasses that yield exact readings of direction. They call out their readings to two other individuals, who relay them by telephone to a specialist on the bridge. This individual records the bearings in a book and repeats them aloud for confirmation. Next to the recorder, another individual uses specialized tools to plot the ship’s position on a navigational chart and to project where the ship will be at the next fix and beyond. These projections of position are used to decide what landmarks should be sighted next by those on deck and when a course correction will be required. The entire cycle is repeated every one to three minutes. No individual in the system can pilot the ship alone. The knowledge necessary for successful piloting is distributed throughout the whole system.’
No individual in the system can pilot the ship alone. The knowledge necessary for successful piloting is distributed throughout the whole system.
- ‘Pure mentation in school versus tool manipulation outside.’ In school work, although tools (calculators, spell-checkers, concept-mapping, websites, word-predict, smart phones) are often used during learning, when it comes to assessment and evaluation, these tools are very often not allowed. Schools base the ‘greatest premium’ on solo performance – on a student’s efforts without the use of any tools – books, notes, calculators and all those tools previously mentioned. However, outside of school, people are ‘engaged intimately’ with tools as ‘cognitive partners’, as Gavriel Salomon would say. The ship’s personnel in the previous paragraph clearly used tools to achieve their successes. Schools need to welcome all the tools and look at performance in partnership with those tools. Open-book exams, if you are into exams, make more sense than do exams without such access.
Graham Attwell makes the point in the above mentioned post that young people (in fact, many people) ‘are using social software and Web 2.0 technologies for work, play and learning outside institutions’. This is no surprise to many of us. The major difference that this highlights, however, is in the nature of the learning – the formality, the control, the engagement. Learning in educational institutions is generally ‘system directed’ and ‘formal’. Learning outside of school is generally ‘self-directed’ and ‘informal’.
Learning in educational institutions is generally ‘system directed’ and ‘formal’. Learning outside of school is generally ‘self-directed’ and ‘informal’.
Graham cites a Pew Research study which found that 56 percent of American young people were using computers for ‘creative activities, writing and posting of the internet, mixing and constructing multimedia and developing their own content.’ He goes on to describe the ‘bricolage’ nature of this constructionist learning – a phenomenon which Seymour Papert held close to his heart. The bricoleur tinkered with materials at hand to invent and construct something new.
Schools need to adapt. Administrators and teachers need to accommodate the tools and devices that many students bring to school. We need to value true collaboration – with other people and with the tools that serve as cognitive and social partners.
This is quite a challenge for us as a society. Are we up for it?
- Why Isn’t It About the Pedagogy? (dougpete.wordpress.com)