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2000 AECT National Convention
Long Beach, CA, February 16-20, 2000


Title: In Search of the Meaning of Learning: A Social Process of Raising Questions and Creating Meanings



In today's turbulent world, perspectives on learning and society are in need of fundamental change. The urgency of this need is underscored by the increased sense of crisis in both education and society at large in countries around the world. New visions of the meaning of learning must be developed. These visions must be distinct from the perceptions that have prevailed to date, whose foundations lie on assumptions that no longer have validity or relevance. Despite encouraging signs of change, much of current practice and related discourse is still heavily rooted in the conceptions and metaphors of the past. As a result, much still needs to be done to develop the conditions of effective, sustained, and meaningful learning in settings different from, and going well beyond, those of the traditional schooling and training context. The development of such new visions must be conceived as a process of learning inspired by a reciprocal and symbiotic relationship between research and action.

The proposed session will address the issue of the social construction of the meaning of learning in a transnational perspective, particularly in relation to the questions raised in frameworks such as UNESCO's Learning Without Frontiers <> and the Meaning of Learning project of the Learning Development Institute <>.


The social construction of the meaning of learning

Against the backdrop of the above considerations and the experience of the four authors/facilitators, particularly in an international context, the proposed session will introduce and discuss an Internet-enabled research effort underway to facilitate discourse and learning around the meaning of learning. This research effort is inspired by the recognition that the creation of new meanings is itself a consequence of learning, and that learning is a social process. The proposed long-term research effort thus contemplates processes and conditions that nurture the creation and evolution of a (learning) community of scholars and practitioners who will collaborate on, and contribute to, the social construction of the meaning of learning. Interaction within this community will be facilitated through a web-based distributed learning environment.

Underlying the research effort is the notion that learning is an often poorly defined concept, frequently biased towards what happens in the traditional schooling and training context. Learning is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon, the significance of which is but marginally reflected in what happens in the school. To create more comprehensive visions of learning we must thus broaden the perspective to include a greater diversity of learning spaces, timeframes, and levels of organizational complexity.

Moreover, available knowledge about learning is dispersed across a large variety of fields of disciplinary inquiry and traditions of practice. These fields include - but are not limited to - psychology; cognitive science; linguistics; neuroscience; computer science; the study of complex adaptive systems; anthropology; instructional design; cultural studies; epistemology; economics; communications; and management. The visions that result from these disciplinary insights allow us to develop multiple and complementary views of learning. However, over and beyond those disciplinary insights, there is a need to transcend them. Mechanisms are called for that allow an inquiry into the meaning of learning from a transdisciplinary point of view, focussing on exploring the interconnections between, and the synergy among, the complimentary views represented in the dispersed areas of inquiry and practice.


Nature and format of the session

The session will have the character of a workshop. Its focus is on raising relevant questions for research and discussing ways to undertake the research effort in question, which will involve, as stated above, a community of researchers and practitioners, some of whom may come forward or be identified as a result of the workshop session. It is thus not a session in which research results will be reported. In view of the transdisciplinary nature of the problem area identified for this research, similar opportunities will be sought in contexts different from those of AECT. It is expected that this workshop session, held in the AECT context, will contribute to the shaping of the research from a perspective of the instructional design and educational communication traditions and their critique.

To avoid lengthy presentations during the session, papers will be posted on UNESCO's Learning Without Frontiers web site, and the Learning Development Institute's web site, well before the AECT Convention takes place. Results from the workshop discussion will be published on the web site of the Learning Development Institute. Presentations during the session will be limited to summarizing issues and questions of concern. The audience will be expected to come prepared for active participation in this session. Members of the audience should not exclude the possibility to subsequently become part of the learning community that will contribute to the research effort.

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