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Statements and questions for discussion at the AECT 2000 Workshop

In preparation of the AECT 2000 workshop on In Search of the Meaning of Learning: A Social Process of Raising Questions and Creating Meanings, we received the contributions listed hereafter in alphabetical order by author name. We continue to solicit further contributions.

David Berg (Babbage Company, The Netherlands)

Ron Burnett (Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design)

Carlo Fabricatore (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)

Manish, Vidhi and Shilpa Jain (Shikshantar: People's Institute for Rethinking Education and Development, Rajahstan, India)

David Jonassen (Pennsylvania State University, PA, USA)

Basarab Nicolescu (Physicien théoricien au Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Université Paris 6; Président du Centre International de Recherches et d'Etudes Transdisciplinaires, Paris, France)

Paul David Nussbaum (Neurobehavioral Services, Lutheran Affiliated Services, St. John Center, Mars, PA, USA)

Jan Plass (University of New Mexico, NM, USA)

John Shotter (Horton Social Science Center, Department of Communication, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, USA)

Alan Tait (Open University, UK)

Jan Visser (UNESCO, France, and Learning Development Institute)

Yusra Laila Visser (Florida State University, FL, USA)

In addition, we include a compilation of statements selected from existing sources by Manish Jain (see above).

The facilitator team prepared, on the eve of the workshop, a set of ten statements, partly based on the contributions received, to serve as a framework for discussion during the plenary debate.

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David Berg writes (partly in response to Carlo Fabricatore):

Triggered by the ‘Doors of Perception’ festival in the Netherlands
(December 1998):
Around us we could distinguish basically two kinds of games: 'click and see what happens' on the one side, and the 'very much cognitively involved' games on the other side. Looking at those two types of games from the perspective of learning, one could ask: “Is one 'better' in terms of learning?”

The former format of games often triggers the wildest imagination, makes you smile, promotes associative thinking, surprises, while the latter format of games often makes you think, get involved, learn, and understand. We do not want to make a judgement as to which of the formats would be 'better' (any research?). The question reveals a predisposition on the issue of what learning is: grown up in the cognitive tradition, we nearly intuitively feel that the latter types of games are ‘better,’ however, we should maybe start wondering how for example the power of 'storytelling' could trigger learning, more in the realm of emotional intelligence, creativity, social intelligence, etc. than in the area of cognitive achievement.

Another issue that came to mind:
In my current work at the teacher training college we are working at changing student's attitudes from passive consumers to active learners. This is a rather difficult undertaking, and based on this experience I would like to state the following proposition:

Attitudes towards learning are much more defined by learner's upbringing (their 'educational career') than by the conditions of learning that we provide as instructional designers. Therefor, in case our objective is to change those student's attitudes, we need to address their personal experience in the past, we may need to make them aware of their cultural baggage which they are carrying with them, rather than trying to make things fun.

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Ron Burnett writes (partly in response to David Berg):

The experience of learning needs to incorporate pleasure and difficulty. Classrooms cannot be places in which one invokes a psychoanalytic model to come to grips with the past of our students. The baggage needs to be dealt with and that was one of the aims of Summerhill. (created by A.S. Neill), but the complexities of dealing with family history are so great that even the best of experiments have had to find other strategies. I believe that storytelling is one of the possible routes that can be travelled. Simulations allow for even more and that is why the Internet has become so important. I think that cognitive growth can be generated through the process of playing games...although much needs to be researched in this area. Even more work needs to be done with simulation and what we mean by simulated spaces.

Simulation has always been a crucial part of learning.A classroom is essentially a simulated environment. Simulations allow students to envision the world that they live in differently. The question is, what kind of simulations and what kind of content? I take it as a given that in Western countries learners are deeply involved with the media and with the cognitive changes that result from the daily experience of image-based worlds. It is therefore necessary for teachers to join students in understanding the informal and yet powerful role played by images in the construction of meaning and experience. To somehow see the classroom as outside of this cultural framework is to deprive learners of the chance to engage in a critical experience of their daily lives and needs.

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Carlo Fabricatore contributes with the following statements:

In the effort to achieve a social definition of learning, it is indispensable to analyze all the social phenomena that involve and/or facilitate learning. Among them, it is impossible to neglect the phenomenon of play, whose social relevance is and has been through the centuries fundamental for human (and even animal) communities.

Facing the individual to the change and allowing her to explore, experiment, and act free of any kind of functional pressure (i.e., allowing her to act without risking to incur in negative consequences that transcend the gaming environment), play certainly represents a phenomenon that naturally favors learning processes, independent of whether it is part of a schooling and/or training context or not.

Since the stimuli the player is exposed to during the game-playing are usually very heterogeneous, the learning processes that occur during the game-playing contribute to a very broad development of the player, affecting an ample set of skills/abilities (for instance psychomotor skills and other intellectual skills and abilities such as insight, analytical capabilities and strategic thinking) and widening her knowledge base allowing her to incorporate new information regarding known and unknown issues (for instance regarding matters implied in the rules and the purposes of the game, and the instruments used in order to play - i.e., the toys).

Among all the possible forms of play, videogaming deserves a special attention because of:
a) Its importance in our society.
b) Its capability of going beyond the learning possibilities offered by many other forms of play, thanks to the high level of interactivity allowed and to the use of complex virtual worlds.
c) The way videogames are unexploited and often misused by instructional design tendencies which: forget the difference between play and simple entertainment, often fostering the creation of products which are not quite comparable with successful non-educational videogames; and fail to recognize the power of videogames as learning contexts that transcend schooling and training contexts as well as limited instructional purposes.

These statements are backed up by an article on Learning and Videogames: An Unexploited Synergy, which can be located by going back to "AECT 2000 Workshop" or by exploring "Papers and Presentations" on this site.

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Statements received from Manish, Vidhi and Shilpa Jain at Shikshantar: People's Institute for Rethinking Education and Development, Rajasthan, India:

Questioning is at the heart of real learning.

You can't teach someone to learn but you can learn how to learn.

The larger your ego, the smaller your learning capacity. OR The smaller your ego, the larger your learning capacity.

Learning is greatly dependent on our capacity to unlearn.

Meaningful learning only emerges from intrinsic motivation.

The more you learn, the more you want to learn.

Even if you don't want to learn, you are still learning.

You can't learn without making mistakes.

Learning and dreaming both emerge from Hope.

The more you learn, the more you realize that there is no one Truth.

Learning is the deepest way to connect with Nature.

You actualize yourself through learning.

Connecting with one's soul is at the heart of learning.

One doesn't have to be literate to learn.

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Propositions/questions received from David Jonassen at Penn State:

Based on an extensive literature in everyday cognition, why is it that virtually everything we do in formal educational enterprises is diametrically opposed to the ways that people naturally tend to be learning in informal, everyday situations?

Based on a distributed cognitions and situated cognitions perspective, it is a waste of human effort to learn anything by memorization. Recall or retention are meaningless arbiters of human learning. It is not even necessary, as Bob Gagne argued, that we need to remember something before we can understand it. In fact, I would argue that when you teach and learn by memorization, you are precluding the likelihood that learners will ever understand whatever it is they are learning.

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Basarab Nicolescu contributes with the following statements:

How to learn to unlearn is the key problem of people more than 30 years old.

The equilibrium between mind, body and feelings in the process of learning should be included in the modern definition of learning.

The disciplinary learning is an in-vitro learning, while transdisciplinary learning is an in-vivo learning.

The oxymoron as the key method of the early process of learning, the gate towards both joy and difficulty.

Poetry and science should be the axiom of the new learning.

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Paul Nussbaum, of Neurobehavioral Services at St. John Center in Mars, Pennsylvania, provides the following statements:

Given the explosion in new research on brain function and brain plasticity, learning and education must be reconceptualized within the context of health and wellbeing.

Education and lifelong learning represents a pure "wellness" initiative for the 21st century. Indeed, the schools and libraries across the world may replace the doctor's office and gymnasium as the wellness center.

For the past 50 years, the United States and many parts of the world have focused tremendous energy and money on maintaining the health of the heart. For the next fifty years, this energy and money will begin to be directed to maintaining the health of the brain. Our most direct road to brain integrity is information via learning.

We must reconceputalize our school systems from places to earn a degree, to places where we can build a foundation of neural health that will prevent neurodegeneration in later life.

There is emerging evidence that learning in first three to twelve years is most critical to providing trillions of neural connections. Maintenance of these connections must be maintained in adulthood through mental stimulation. Learning can occur at all ages and should be encouraged in order to maintain skills and overall health and prevent neurological disease. In time, we may learn that neurogenesis can occur at all ages further supporting the need for lifelong learning.

Health care payers must begin to rethink what they compensate in terms of medical care and preventative care. Education provides a new health intervention which can be paid for by dollars which are presently spent in foolish ways. Redesigning education and learning integrates with more enlightened health care initiatives at all ages.

These statements are backed up by an article on Lifelong Learning and Wellness: One Component to the Enlightened Gerosphere, which can be located by going back to "AECT 2000 Workshop" or by exploring "Papers and Presentations" on this site.

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Jan Plass, University of New Mexico, contributes with the following statements:

The most successful learning is very rarely a conscious process.

Learning, as a social process, cannot successfully take place when the learner is at a distance from instructor/facilitator and students/peers.

The meaning of learning equals the meaning of life.

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John Shotter, University of New Hampshire, contributes with the following statements:

Two forms of social constructionism:

1) That form influenced by Vico, Wittgenstein, and Bakhtin, embodies leaning toward the primary or originary importance of our spontaneous, pre- or non-cognitive, bodily responsiveness. We can call it a relationally-responsive version. All our self-conscious, deliberately conducted mental activities are refinements of the [given] background flow of spontaneous, relationally-responsive activity within which we all are already embedded. It is a version of social constructionism that is crucially concerned, not with patterns or repetitions, with rules or conventions, frames or systems, but with singular events, with "once-occurrent events of Being" (Bakhtin, 1993), or with events which are occurring for yet "another first time" (Garfinkel, 1967, p.9).

2) Post-modernist and post-structuralist versions of social constructionism still take something of a cognitive, Cartesian, referential-representational stance toward the events they study. Rather than studying words-in-their-speaking, they are oriented toward patterns-of-already-spoken-words. In other words, while the first version focuses on the moment-by-moment unfolding of relationally-responsive events occurring in "the interactive moment" (Shotter, 1993a, p.3), they see the issue as to do with interpreting the meaning or meanings of such events once completed.

Two different stances - modernist and primordial

Modernist 1) As academics, as intellectuals, we are much more used to talking in representational terms ‘about' objective entities we suppose to be already in existence somewhere - even if it is only in a Platonic, theoretical realm in the heads of theoreticians. It is as if with all our scholarly training, we arrive on the scene much too late and then look in the wrong direction. What we can see with all our intellectual telescopes and microscopes, with all the special framing devices we devise for ourselves - the logics and theories with their systematic, single orders of connectedness - are only the finished products, regularities, repetitions. We see a finalized and static picture of reality "over there," a dead actuality as it is just at this moment "now," and we wonder if it is an accurate or true picture.

Primordial 2) Situations of a relationally-responsive kind, in which novel realities gradually come into existence for a first time, are very unfamiliar to us. We lack an appropriate vocabulary in terms of which to characterize them. It is difficult for us to think of things from within our own ongoing living relations to them. Instead of thinking of things as related to each other internally (as philosophers put it), we think of them as existing independently of any of our involvements with them. They can thus only be related to each other externally - as independently existing entities, something else must be brought in to join them. Participants in a living unity, however, like two lovers in love or two dancers dancing, in their responsive relations to each other, mutually influence the emergence of each other's character, identity, or way of being in the relationship. In being internally related to each other in this way, they do not require any third things to join them together.

The nature of the primordial aspect of our daily social reality:

What people produce in the flow of spontaneous, relationally responsive activity between them, is a very complex mixture of not wholly reconcilable influences - as Bakhtin (1981) remarks, at work within it are both ‘centripetal' tendencies (inward toward order and unity), as well as ‘centrifugal' ones (outward toward diversity and difference). This makes it very difficult for us to characterize its nature: it has neither a fully orderly nor a fully disorderly structure, a neither completely stable nor an easily changed organization, a neither fully subjective nor fully objective character. Indeed, we could say that it is its very lack of specificity, its lack of any pre-determined human order, and thus its openness to being specified or determined yet further by those involved in it, in practice, that is its central defining feature.

Descending into chaos:

Always standing at a distance from the situations we study, it is difficult for us to appreciate this. We need a new way of relating ourselves to our circumstances, of engaging with them in a more primitive or primordial way. As Wittgenstein (1980) put it: "When you are philosophizing you have to descend into primeval chaos and feel at home there" (p.65). To think of ourselves as nicely self-contained, self-conscious Cartesian "subjects," set over against a well-ordered external reality full of "objective" things, whose hidden order awaits our discovery, is to focus on our late relations to our surroundings. We need to come on the scene much earlier and to regard it differently, to take what we will call a more primordial (poetic) relation to our circumstances.

The task of the poet-practitioner:

Unlike an everyday action that merely touches on an entity and then moves on, in an artistic presentation or performance, the existence of a certain, not-yet-visible unitary whole is dramatized. Where, what is done in a dramatization is to foreground and make sensibly graspable the shape and character of what, nonetheless, still remains invisible - its presence as a unitary whole is portrayed or displayed in the performance. If one is primordial enough and if one is original enough, then one can use words (or other means) to express the fleeting presence of new possibilities merely glimpsed, such that others might glimpse it too.

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Alan Tait, Open University, UK, raises the following questions:

How do we help teachers to feel confident in re-thinking professional roles?

How do we protect time for learning in a labour environment of
increasingly extended hours of work?

How do we balance priorities for learning in a world where power is increasingly concentrated?

How do we build partnerships for learners with hardware and software providers, in order diminish consumerism and enhance participation?

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Jan Visser contributes with the following statements:

Learning should be redefined as follows: Human learning is the disposition of human beings, and of the social entities to which they pertain, to engage in continuous dialogue with the human, social, biological and physical environment, so as to generate intelligent behavior to interact constructively with change. Key notions about learning in this definition are: its characterization as a disposition; its dialogic nature; its attribution to both individuals and social entities; and its essential importance for how we, as individuals and as a species, co-evolve with the world around us through constructive interaction with change.

Learning behavior - in the sense of the above definition - is demonstrated at different levels of organizational complexity, ranging from the individual to social entities of varying levels of self-organization, such as the family, the school, the market place, the work place, oganizations and corporations, religious communities, political movements, scientific communities, entire cities, nations, and humanity as a whole. Much can be gained from looking at the learning engaged in by organized social entities through lenses that are commensurate with their particular degree of organizational complexity.

On the other hand, it is important to recognize that the world of learning is one. The quality of learning at higher levels of organizational complexity is dependent on how well learning works at lower levels of organizational complexity, and vice versa. The traditional emphasis on learning as something engaged in by individuals is contrary to this recognition. Simply shifting the emphasis to the community, rather than the individual, would be another fallacy. Learning must be developed from the perspective of nested levels of organizational complexity at which it takes place - in other words, from an ecological perspective. From this perspective, societies need to rethink how they create the conditions of learning in a comprehensive fashion, rather than by focusing almost exclusively on the issue of schooling of the young.

The significance of change has changed significantly over the timespan of the past two generations. Learning as a requirement to prepare for life has become an obsolete notion. It must now be replaced by learning as an essential dimension of life. The need to reconceptualize the learning landscape accordingly stands out. Within that context a serious re-analysis is required regarding the ways in which new generations get prepared for a life of lifelong learning. The school as we know it may not be the ideal environment for this preparation. If the school is to be retained as a facilitator for learning at an early age, then it is in for a complete overhaul. Such an overhaul must focus on the school as well as on its connections with other segments of the learning ecology.

The learning effects of the increasingly prominent media environment in many parts of the world are real. They are potentially both good and bad. It may be hypothesized that these effects are strongest in the area of incidental learning. Both the risk that some very bad things may be learned through interaction with the media environment and the chance that important opportunities are missed as regards the many positive influences it may have, call for urgent attention by researchers and developers to the area of incidental learning.

These statements are backed up by an article on Integrity, Completeness and Comprehensiveness of the Learning Environment: Meeting the Basic Learning Needs of All throughout Life, which can be located by going back to "AECT 2000 Workshop" or by exploring "Papers and Presentations" on this site.

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Yusra Visser adds the following observations to the discussion:
As noted in Jan Visser's definition of learning, a key aspect of the 'disposition to learn' is the interaction of the learning group or individual with a complex and changing external environment. In this context, the learner's ability to operate at the highest levels of cognitive functioning is of critical importance. In spite of this, the design of planned learning experiences is typically characterized by an emphasis on support in the acquisition of lower-level thinking skills, leaving the application of higher order thinking skills as something that may or may not accidentally result from the learner's acquisition of related lower-level thinking skills.
Problem solving is a critical generative skill in learning, providing the learner with the tools to synthesize lower level rules and concepts into higher order thinking skills. If learning is acknowledged as essentially a problem solving process, the learner's experience is one of constant adaptation to changing conditions through reflection and response to feedback from the components of the learning environment.
The research approaches used to study learning as a disposition and as an outcome must be fundamentally reconceptualized if we wish to break away from the limitations in our present understanding of the scope and breadth of learning. As we adopt a more integrated, holistic and transdisciplinary understanding of the meaning of learning, the research methods used to study learning should be adapted accordingly.
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The following compilation of statements selected from existing sources was contributed by Manish Jain:
"Given the trend toward more open societies and global economies, we must emphasize the forms of learning and critical thinking that enable individuals to understand changing environments, create new knowledge and shape their own destinies. We must respond to new challenges by promoting learning in all aspects of life, through all institutions of society, in effect, creating environments in which living is learning."
The Amman Affirmation, 1996
"Real learning gets to the heart of what it means to be human. Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we were never able to do. Through learning, we re-perceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life."
Peter Senge, 1990
"To encourage innovative societal learning, true participation must enable people to open and inspect the "black boxes" of knowledge, to question their relevance and meaning, and to re-design, re-combine, and re-order them where necessary."
James Botkin, 1979
"What science about learning tells us is that human abilities are diverse in their form range and development and are intensely individual--they do not match the mass production standards of schooling."
Howard Gardner, 1991
"The illiterates of the future are not those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn."
Alvin and Heidi Toeffler
"In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists." Eric Hoffer, 1995
"Learning is the process of personal transformation which increases one's ability to participate in the world, in society" Etienne Wenger, 1996.
"Learning is a consequence of thinking"
David Perkins (1992)
"Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Let me do it and I understand."
Ancient Chinese proverb
"The artist is not a special kind of man but there is a special kind of artist in every human."
Ananda Coomaraswamy, 1956
"I would develop in the child his hands, his brain, and his soul. The hands have almost atrophied. The soul has altogether been ignored."
Mahatma Gandhi.
"I would develop in the child his hands, his brain, and his soul. The hands have almost atrophied. The soul has altogether been ignored."
Mahatma Gandhi.
"Education is not just to pass examinations, take a degree and a job, get married and settle down, but also to be able to listen to the birds, to see the sky, to see the extraordinary beauty of a tree, and the shape of the hills, and to feel with them, to be really, directly in touch with them."
"For true education is to realize at every stage how our learning and knowledge have an organic connection with our surroundings."
Rabindranath Tagore
"Education as it is consists of finding answers rather than asking questions. An education which consists in asking question is the only education which is creative and capable of people's capacity to experience surprise, to respond to their surprise and to solve their real fundamental existential problems."
Paolo Freire
"The very nature of the language, the potency of its field, and the meaning it constructs pre-empt its capacity to generate living patterns; only a living
language can create living patterns and only living patterns can create living environments. We have excelled in the language of schooling. We must now become fluent in the language of learning and life."
Stephanie Pace Marshall 1997
"By design, we constructed and operated our Newtonian schools as we understood this world, and this produced iatrogenic and learning-disabled institutions that have suppressed reflective thought, creativity, and the innate and inexhaustible human capacity for lifelong growth."
Stephanie Pace Marshall, 1997
"Get rid of that damn machine model. It's wrong. The brain is a biological system, not a machine. Currently we are putting children with biologically shaped brains into machine oriented schools. The two just don't mix. We bog the school down in a curriculum that is not biologically feasible."
Robert Sylvester, 1995
"We must escape from the 19th century assumption that learning and schooling are synonymous. Good schools alone will never be good enough - we need communities that think differently, work differently, and are even designed and built differently."
John Abbott, 1997
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The facilitator team prepared the following set of ten statements as a framework for discussion during the plenary debate:

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