Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The nonlinearity of development

I appreciated the variety of topics, authors and approaches in this book. Among the chapters, I found several that illustrated two particular themes of interest to me:
1) the influence of non-physical elements of context (social dynamics, relationships, sense of self in community); and
2) the nonlinearity of development (of mechanical skills, intellect, social personality)

Reading Hutchins' chapter, I thought about the different ways in which organizations respond to employee turnover. Many organizations resent it when employees move to other positions or leave the system; they try to create dependency by restricting knowledge or information sharing. In contrast, the Navy seems to accept high turnover of the quartermasters as natural and even desireable since their training system (developmental trajectory) couples with turnover to effectively distribute knowledge and skills among "employees." I was surprised at the transparency of the system and the apparant support given by more senior quartermasters to the novices; I had assumed all military training was like Top Gun--lots of yelling and strong emphasis on the individual's impact on the system.

Hutchins' description seems to fit with Engestrom's statement that a context is an activity system and "an activity system integrates the subject, the object and the instruments (material tools as well as signs and symbols) into a unified whole" (p. 67). Engstrom's descriptions of the nonlinearity of intelletual development and the complexity of activity systems are further illustrated by McDermott's reports about Adam's different attitudes and levels of performance depending on the task and social complexity surrounding him.

I agree with McDermott's assertion that "learning is not in heads, but in relations, conditions that lead to a point of contact which leads to assignment of relevance to pieces of information" (p. 292). Even at the highest level of graduate study, we look to our professors, professional organizations and journal editors to help us assign relevance to pieces of information, (and sometimes to our own instincts). This is appropriate when the social context of academia is new to us and known to our professors, but it seems to me that finding a sense of self in the midst of any activity system is very important--it's what enables us to most fully enjoy and contribute our own voices.


Blogger Alison said...

I think what you mention about sense of self in the system is interesting. To me much of "understanding practice" is about interaction of the self with "other" - the environment, social & physical, as well as the people. It's the self in engagement that seems to promote learning. It's so true though that in some learning context the learner is not allowed to have a voice...

4:55 PM  

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