Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Learning as Identity Reconstruction

Interesting way to look at learning; not at cognitive processes and conceptual structures, but rather at what kinds of social engagements provide the proper context for learning to take place. I feel like Lave & Wenger are trying to pull the rug out from under my feet. I’ve been leaning more and more toward social constructivism over the past couple of years; but, reading Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Practice it feels like Lave & Wenger want to push me over a cliff, never to return to the safe, comfortable nest of cognitivism. This discomfort I’m feeling may be a result of reading the book as an argument for using social constructivism exclusively to analyze what have been historically thought of as “individual” processes. Although I don’t recall the authors calling explicitly for the abandonment of cognitivism, I also don’t recall a single nod toward the continuing usefulness of cognitivism.
I don’t disagree that this is a valuable perspective from which to analyze learning; or, that a detailed analysis of context is surely necessary for any real understanding of learning. And so, Sociology does seem to be a more fruitful field than Psychology for understanding the complex that is learning.
The idea of learning as constructing a new identity modeled in the apprenticeship example of nondrinking alcoholics really struck me. I would previously have described that process as a change in behavior rather than as constructing a new identity. But as Lave & Wenger describe the process, it seems evident that the apprentice is impacting the context as well as vice versa, and the end result cannot help but be everyone and everything has changed.
I was particularly interested in the comparison of verbal instruction to legitimate peripheral participation. The authors state:
“Verbal instruction has been assumed to have special, and especially effective properties with respect to the generality and scope of the understanding that learners come away with, while instruction by demonstration – learning by observation and imitation – is supposed to produce the opposite, a literal and narrow effect.”
They go on to describe becoming a legitimate participant in a community as learning how to talk in the manner of full participants. This sounded exactly like what a professor told me was going on in the prospectus-writing process/comprehensives in the Educational Psychology graduate school: the faculty want to know if the students can talk like them. I initially resisted that idea but eventually came to believe it was a fairly accurate description.

3 Comments:

Blogger IB said...

Very elaborate reading response! You verbalized some of the thoughts that also struck me when reading the book. (Maybe because we both have a background in Ed Psych?!? :) I also have trouble with completely leaving behind the branch of cognitivism that focusses on the processes going on in the individual's mind (which I had the impression Lave and Wenger push toward), although I tend more and more to socio-constructivism. However, I do not think that the research that has been done over decades on the processes going on in the individual's mind are incompatible with research on the situatedness of learning. Rather I think that maybe in the future these radical points of view will mingle and maybe new paradigms will arise.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

Greg,
I have two words for you T. Kuhn -it is only after scholars reject mental straight jackets that the most important scientific advances could occur....i.e. breaking disciplinary parameters will produce increased knowledge.

I totally see your point but I don't see cognitivism and situated learning in conflict. As I write this, I realize for me it's like an upside-down pyramid with cognitism at the bottom (what's inside the individuals brain) and situated learning at the top broader end (how does learning occur). They are completely different levels of analysis and to feed different levels of inquiry. Socio-constructivism is some layer in between the two.

What I like about situtated learning is that it takes a grander scale perspective!

9:49 AM  
Blogger Eileen McGinnis said...

A request--for definitions of "cognitivism," "constructivism," and "socio-constructivism." It's amazing to get such a range of disciplinary perspectives and readings in this class, but the terminology also has me reeling a bit. Thanks!

11:03 AM  

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