Continuing Thoughts on Social Learning & Context

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I just read Bart's post and that triggered me to look around the 'net for more info on the notions of Social v. Cartesian Learning. Aside from locating several well-cited academic articles, I gravitated toward Phil LeNir's (2009) blog - [What does doing this, in itself, say? We teach our Millennials to discriminate substantiated findings from opinions and yet, here I am choosing the latter!]. Anyway, it was accessible, quick, easy to read and, well, perhaps that helps me make a point: may I interpret my decision to not use peer-reviewed academic articles as forgoing "Cartesian-esque" learning compared to relying on a blog or opinion piece (which is more "Social" or conversational per se)? LeNir would disagree, as he says:

"...just reading [LeNir's blog] could be called a Cartesian Learning event.... However if you have a discussion with some colleagues, making sense of the concepts in this article and figuring out how they might help solve a current challenge, ...this becomes Social Learning."

OK, so first, I need to really grasp the meanings behind these constructs -  Cartesian v. Social v. Other types of learning.

Define "Cartesian Learning" [this is a new word to me; which makes me somewhat skeptical in that rehashing old constructs with new-age terms, in my opinion, doesn't make the old construct better or more relevant]:

Cartesian represents the traditional - the formal transfer of information - or as Phil LeNir's blog (2009) says: "A Cartesian view assumes that 'knowledge is a kind of substance and that pedagogy concerns the best way to transfer this substance from teachers to students.' Many classroom & e-learning programs are based on a Cartesian view of learning; nuggets of information, sometimes called learning objects, are transferred to learners who then become better at doing whatever it is they need to do."

And, per Phil LeNir (2009): "Social Learning, on the other hand, is 'based on the premise that our understanding of content is socially constructed through conversations about that content and through grounded interactions, especially with others, around problems or actions.'"

LeNir contrasts Cartesian Learning and Social Learning with Informal Learning - "the acquisition of skills, knowledge, and values from daily experience and people around us." To me, this use of the term Informal Learning may be learning from observation, it may represent constructivism, learning by doing, etc. This makes me think of Paiget's work and beliefs.

So, what we have here is a story about different ways, or "how", folks learn:
     * either by reading or being lectured to (Cartesian, right?),
     * or by talking directly with others about a problem or issue at hand (not just idle chat or "shooting the bull", right?),
     * or learning by just watching how others do things, doing them yourself maybe for the first time without prior guidance or formal instruction, or by reflecting in the moment, right?

OK, so either way, we must determine that if the new knowledge we receive:
     * fits with what we want to know, or need to know,
     * matches the situation or can be related to our minds and contexts at hand (via metaphor, analogy, etc.; that the new information can be assimilated into the learner's cognitive schema or "brain tree" or mental framework or map of relationships a they are understood as of today),
     * and does not threaten our existing framework or way of thinking so that it can be accommodated easily by the brain and registers as meaningful right now, that is, immediately, then...

...we have learned! No, we may not have learned... We may have gleaned an insight, but did it change us?

We may not have learned, because we didn't really change. So whether the process of learning is Cartesian or Social, or Informal or whatever, is not as important as the amount of change that has resulted from the new knowledge, in my opinion.

So, just because we think we may have learned something, doesn't mean we learned something significant that makes a real difference to us or to others whom we influence. It doesn't mean that now other people's actions and lives that are affected by our choices (which are based on learning) will be different.

What is the amount of change as a result of what we learned?

If Social Learning, or pedagogically driven "active learning strategies," or Informal Learning, or whatever learning medium is present results in change, then we have something. 

To me, real learning is the amount of change that occurs in one's way of thinking, in one's set of lenses from which to see the world, or in one's extent of understanding and making sense of life, humanity, morality, etc.

If what was learned stretched the learner, made him or her reconsider prior beliefs and caused reflection about attitudes held, behaviors assumed, and/or ways in which information is synthesized, categorized, related, etc. and the stretch was a lot (that is, we can measure how significant the change or the magnitude of the change is), then whether this change happened via Social, Cartesian, or Informal or other ways is not the main consideration. What happened, the change, is what defines learning, to me.

So, is Cartesian Learning bad? I don't think so - not if it results in positive change; change that enables a person to evolve or grow up to a higher level, that is, to develop in a way that helps them to better their being, to be more productive, to think more clearly, and to choose actions that create a just, compassionate, peaceful, creative, intriguing, prudent yet productive planet where respect for the diversity of humans, non-humans, flora, and even natural resources exists.

Did I change? Yes, a little. I read a blog, I learned some new terms for old constructs, I thought about my values, and I repeated a lot of what I already knew here. But I also realized that Cartesian, Social and Informal are terms for how we may be exposed to new information and thoughts. And such exposure is not an either/or debate (that is, good v. bad, per se), but that these terms may be best understood as interactions: Cartesian, Social, Informal, and Other combinations result in outcomes.

What that information to which we are exposed is, exactly, that we are exposed to; what those thoughts are; whether they are new ideas or ones pulled out of memory; and the context to which that information or those thoughts apply; the motivation I have to think about them only within that context or transfer them to other contexts, now and/or in the future; all this is what frames how much change I gained from what just happened. And change that stays with me, in my opinion, equals real learning.

The challenge for teachers is to identify what "real learning" they want to make happen, and not only make it happen, but demonstrate with evidence that it happened. That is, that they created the change they set out to create in people.

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I couldn't agree more that "rehashing old constructs with new-age terms, in my opinion, doesn't make the old construct better or more relevant."

A lot of folks are trying to put their stamp on 3D environments like Second Life for learning now, making up a lot of acronyms to try and describe these spaces. While I don't particularly like the fact that people are now using multiple words/phrases to talk about the same thing, I do find it helpful to keep up-to-date with the lingo. I find it helpful when talking with colleagues, who may have only heard one of the buzzwords, and you can quickly relate it to the other 'buzzwords of the week'.

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