The main activity I have been engaged in on Week 3 of H800
is reading a paper by Anna Sfard about metaphors for learning. I have been
quite gratified to see that my reading, reflection and learning thus far have
already led me to similar thoughts as those expressed in the paper albeit with
a different vocabulary.
The two 'metaphors' described as 'Acquisition Metaphor' (AM)
and 'Participatory Metaphor'.
Acquisition metaphor characterizes knowledge as a 'thing'.
growth of knowledge in the process of learning has been analysed in terms of
concept development. Concepts are to be understood as basic units of knowledge
that can be accumulated, gradually refined, and combined to form ever richer
language of "knowledge acquisition" and "concept
development" makes us think about the human
mind as a container to be filled with certain materials and about the
learner as becoming an owner of these materials."
It is easy to identify how this metaphor is used in
education at all levels, and even more broadly within learning. Even the most ‘immersive’
of learning environments such as a young child acquiring language I am reminded
of how life with a young child involves a lot of answering ‘what’s that?’ kind
of questions. Parents usually continually ‘transfer knowledge’ for their
offspring to acquire – “Look at the car. It’s a red car. It’s going fast.” The
child is taught the words and concepts car, red and fast (aside from the
connections and associated grammar).
Schooling seems to be very rooted in the AM. Especially in
the contemporary ‘data driven’ atmosphere of league tables and Ofsted reports.
Children are taught facts, methods and concepts which can be easily quantified
and tested. The test results are compiled and the schools compared to one
another (not to mention the children themselves) based on them. The danger is
that schools will teach children to pass the test to acquire the right data to
be compared favourably. (My personal view is that this has already happened).
Our familiarity with the AM means that we (or maybe it is
just I) gravitate to this kind of education after school as well. When I go
into ‘learning mode’ I seek out experts who can inform me of facts. The expert
may be a person, a book, a journal, a website – but I want the information to
be presented to me in easily digested bite size chunks. My early experience of
the Open University has been slightly alarming in its open approach to learner
initiated learning. Where is the text book? When are the lectures? What ‘facts’
should I be memorising?
I found it harder to identify specific examples of my own
learning by PM. Maybe that is because I have conflated ‘education’ with ‘learning’
and have undervalued the skills and knowledge I have gained outside of a formal
educational environment. In feeding back in the student group forum the example
I gave for this kind of learning is kind of embarrassing! I used the example of
learning to be a parent and housekeeper. So parochial! However – it is well
known that children don’t come with a text book (or at least not one single
text book!) and that cooking for a family is a significant task which requires
skill, knowledge, planning and flexibility. Like almost all parents I felt like
I was making it up as I was going along and certainly I had more coherent
theories and strategies of child rearing before I actually had children to
rear! However – 20 years on the task is in hand and going ok!
Others in the group have suggested areas of PM such as
driving and using a smart phone which I think are good examples. Skills you
simply cannot learn without actually doing them. Skills where trial and error
are a key part of the learning process. I would also add swimming, playing a
musical instrument, dance and sport. There are facts one must know, things to
learn and acquire – but without participating in the activity you cannot master