I read a quote a while ago, from “Contemporary Perspectives in elearning”. The quote is by Terry Mayes, Ch6, p84.
“Learning theories are often presented as being alternative accounts of the same phenomena, rather than perfectly compatible accounts of very different phenomena. The term ‘learning ’is very broad indeed, covering as it does a range of processes which stretches from acquiring the physical coordination to throw a javelin ,through to the sensitivities involved in marriage guidance.”
That part at the beginning “perfectly compatible accounts of very different phenomena” interested me.
It interested me because some conversations I had had about learning theories were true believer conversations. Either you were converted, or not converted, believer or infidel, ally or enemy, of the one true faith, or condemned to wander, cast out from the healing light of the one true theory.
Pedagogical promiscuity. Sleep around.
I’m a pedagogical pragmatist. I’m interested in what works. I don’t require the resolution of conflict in theory to apply it. I’m interested in what works. And I’m promiscuous. I’ll tarry with any theory that will have me. I flirt outrageously with ideas. I’m rampantly unfaithful, I do the dirt behind the back of every theory I’ve ever spent time with.
I’m promiscuous becasue what the words “learn” and “teach” mean changes with the context. Because there is no one size fits all theory, because there is no one size fits all student. I’m promiscuous because learning is a nexus where student, teacher and variables meet. And the variables are a long, long list of shifting targets.
Mayes describes one variable – the effect on what is being taught and learned on how it is being taught and learned. Heres a pile of others.
What am I teaching? Who am I teaching it to? Why is this person here? Do they want to be here? Is here the right place for them to be?What do they think here is, and how do they think it works? Does this person have an accurate sense of their capacities, abilities, limits, contexts and coping mechanisms? Do they think I need to be perfect, and do I need to undermine that? Do they think this is necessary knowledge? Is there estimation right? What’s their past experience of learning? What are the culktural influences. What resources do they have? What’s their schedule? Will their homelife help or hinder? How thinly are they stretched? What’s their past experience of education and where are they in the process of dealing with that? Are they an expert learner with strategies that need to be left alone, or so they need intervention? Are they driven by goals (grades, certificates, medals and gongs) or by processes ( developing abilities, skills, capacities) or by praise? Are they gaming me, and is that ok, or maybe even better than anything I can do or is it destructive? Do they work better in a competitive environment or a collaborative environment or a mix or alone? How will that play out in the overall dynamic? Do they know what they need? What’s their experience of, and relationshiup to mistake making, goal setting? Can they self assess? How do they cope with challenge? Are they easily bored? Do they need processing time, or do they need immediate practice? Will they perform publically and risk mistakes, or will they polish to perfection, and how strong are those impetuses? Is their culture one where the preservation of face is important? What are their politics? Is that student Catalan, Castilian, Galician, or someone who doesn;t attach importance to that?
This is what rattles through my head when I’m sitting down to design for learning.
I’m promiscuous. Because, rationally, there is no other meaningful response. Contexts shift, change, and the goalposts move. Students are legion, and need as many answers as you can find to describe their learning needs. I flirt with a dozen theories, and I run with a what works rationale. Descripotions of learning are as varied as the learning and the learner.
I’m wary of silver bullet one size fits all teaching answers.
They always seem impossible not to dodge.
Joyful Viciousness. The art of honesty is ruthless.
I’m ruthless and honest because an air of joyful viciousness is an essential element in any pragmatist’s toolbox. You have to be willing to kill your favourite activities and ideas, your most fondly held sense of what it is that you are doing. You have to be able to redraw your philosophy to fit the moment you are describing at short notice, sacrifice your theories, fit your ideas to what happened, and not what happened to your ideas. You have to take a cold hard look at what went wrong and put yourself in the right place of the trainwreck process your lesson may have become. And you have to be disinterested, cold, and unemotional, as detached as a market trader buying and selling the stuff of lives. You have to be able to assasinate something of yourself, murder certainty, and fall ruthlessly out of love with whatever it is that anchors you to an idea or experience and sets you adruft from the context you are in.
The enemy of evolution
The sentence “I’m a ………..ist” is the enemy of good teaching. Sure, I spend time with any theory that will have me, but ruthlessness and honesty, and skepticism about silver bullets means I set the bar high. Evidence is the only protection we have as educators against ideology, and decisions where we cut the cloth of our evidence to fit our theories, and not the cloth of our theories to fit our evidence.
This is my recipe for ongoing education, and progress and process as an educator. They inform my practice, they are a part of my reflective process as an educator. I have butchered the heart from myself several times.
I expect to do so again. I feel as if I am sharpening my knives as we speak. Rhizomatic Learning as a theory is both engaging, and somewhat . Limited and optimistic. Open and awkward. Intuitive and exclusionary. Resource rich and inefficient.
I suspect I will be butchering both myself and an idea in posts to come. Here’s to it.
Mosman Library Ninja, courtesy of Flickr User Mosman Library, http://www.flickr.com/photos/mosmanlibrary/ Under a CC licence.
Flirtation, by Andreotti, Public Domain.
Butcher’s shop, Annibale Carracci, Public Domain