Sunday, September 11, 2005

Fleck and 'Situated Learning'

I read Lave and Wenger almost immediately after I read Fleck, and the juxtaposition of the two was interesting. First, as the class pointed out last Thursday, the sense that Fleck was far ahead of his time is only reinforced by ‘Situated Learning’. The ideas about cognition and what “learning” is in the two books are remarkably identical for works separated so far apart in time.

The chief difference between the two, I think, is that Lave and Wenger place more of their theoretical focus on the individual as a part of a community and the way in which learning takes place as part of the individual psyche. For them, knowledge is created in Fleck’s thought communities (someone could probably help me out here; I’m almost certain L&W did not use Fleck’s terminology, but I do not remember what term they did use for this concept). Learning, however, occurs in the individual; it is legitimate peripheral participation that explains how learning occurs.

The focus on the individual is an important addition to the concepts of Fleck. Not only does it begin to explain one possible process by which learning and progress can occur (Fleck merely indicates how a particular advancement occurs; the closest thing to an idea of reproducing that kind of success is his suggestion that the early mistakes of scientists are not purely accidental, but the process of directed thought aimed at a particular problem), it also, as Lave and Wenger indicate, can serve as a checkup for learning situations, whereby the achievement/accomplishment of individual participants can be monitored. I do not see how a similar focus on individual progress can be possible in Fleck’s theory, mainly because he places almost all of his emphasis on the social/historical aspects of knowledge making. By closing this gap in the theory, Lave and Wenger make a major step forward in allowing the ideas of social cognition to be put to practical uses.

I’ve always thought of myself as kind of a theory-head, that I am interested in ideas and their relationships to each other more than their execution, but in reading these books, I’ve noticed that the more abstract the theory, the more I am both excited by it and interested in practical applications. In regard to the latter, Lave and Wenger are a little maddening. Though they provide the examples of five apprentice-like situations and give a fairly complete explanation of what they think constitutes legitimate peripheral participation in each, they leave a lot of ground uncovered. I will be interested to read everyone else’s comments to see how L&W’s ideas are worked out in relation to the many different fields represented in our class.


Blogger Alison said...

What a stimulating topic – what is learning and how does it occur? I love L&W’s concept of legitimate peripheral participation (LPP) although the phrase is rather cumbersome. LPP is the interaction between individual, activity, and the social world. It is so simple, yet incredibly complex and completely in alignment with socio-constructivist thought. L & W push our unit of analysis to a grand scale in understanding how learning occurs.

It’s interesting that little “teaching” is observable in apprenticeships. I would argue that it is because “teaching” is typically defined as explicit instruction. When newcomers “absorb” and “be absorbed,” they are learning implicitly. I think this idea is repeated in how productive activity and understanding are not separate. The idea, to me, draws on the conceptualization that declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge are not separate. It’s the age old question of the difference between know about versus knowing how to do something. To me the problem with traditional views on learning was not only the unit of analysis but also the emphasis that “knowledge” was equivalent to declarative knowledge. The apprenticeship model seems promotes and validate procedural knowledge learned implicitly. This is appealing because implicit learning is more resistant to psychological stress, less prone to forgetting, and non-attention demanding which are great is you are say, delivering a baby, sewing a suit or any other skill you truly want to master!

L&W write that “engagement” is the condition for effective learning (p. 93). Carmean & Haefner (2002) argue that learning needs to be engaged, social, active, student owned, and contextual in order for “deep learning” to occur. I think L&W would argue that social, active, student owned and contextual are inherent when engagement occurs in a community of practice. What do you think?

7:07 PM  

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