Thursday, February 7, 2013

Learning Metaphors and MOOCs


The use of metaphors is an intriguing concept. Metaphors have the power to transform the way we think and the way we respond. As a part of our week 2 reading for Coursera's Elearning and Digital Cultures Course (#edcmooc), we were to reflect on the metaphors of the future in digital culture and in online education.
I recently read an article titled, "On two metaphors of learning and the dangers of choosing just one" by Anna Sfard. Anna shares that there are predominantly two metaphors that are used to describe learning: The Acquisition Metaphor (AM) and the Participation Metaphor (PM).
While the names are quite indicative of the type of learning process being highlighted, to clarify, AM describes the model that believes knowledge is a commodity that can be acquired and therefore applied. This ties in very well to all the cognitive theories of learning led by Pieget, Vygotsky etc.
PM indicates that learner participates in the process of learning instead of acquiring knowledge. So, learning is seen as a process of becoming a part of the 'whole. In this case, the 'whole' is the community in which the learner participates in.
While AM focuses on 'knowing', PM focuses on 'doing'. Perhaps, I am over simplifying the article, but I think these metaphors are a great way to look at the past and the future of all learning. While our past focused on AM, our future learning decisions are more PM. These metaphors resonated well with my own frameworks for learning design as I have seen them evolve over the last 14 years.
However, as the author correctly points out, you can't choose one over the other since all learning environments will have both the components - acquisition and participation. I believe that design for learning can begin with one metaphor as a core guiding principle.
In this context, for me, MOOCs fit well with the participation metaphor. The MOOC platform reflects a more democratic way of learning, open, scalable and where essentially the learner is a participant in the creation of knowledge. MOOCs allow for collaboration and social connections in the context of learning. However, I don’t deny that the ‘structure’ and ‘instruction’ in the acquisition metaphor is an essential component of the MOOC environment specially as a critical factor for success. But more about MOOCs in another thread.
You can read the complete article here:
http://www.colorado.edu/physics/phys4810/phys4810_fa08/4810_readings/Sfard.pdf This article is an extended version of an invited lecture given at the Eighth International Congress of Mathematics Education in Seville, Spain, in Iuly 1996.

6 comments:

  1. Taruna, these two metaphors are great to think on. It makes me think about ways in which the two might be blended as well.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Felicia. I agree with you. When thinking about these two metaphors, I wouldn't like to be at either end of this continuum. But would very much like to design a training training that blends both these approaches.

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  2. Hi Taruna - yes I find it always fascinating to ponder on the metaphors we live by, to quote Lakoff... and I really don't see how anyone can ever actually be thinking of one! I don't think it's possible to NOT use metaphor - but it is interesting to consider which we use and why :)

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    1. Thanks Emily for your comment on the post. It is indeed fascinating to learn more about metaphors. Thanks to the #edcmooc course, I got to reflect a bit on the use of metaphors from a cultural perspective. As an instructional designer, I have often used metaphors to teach certain concepts. Infact, just the other day I mentioned to someone how "knowledge was like an iceberg, you can only see a small part at the top - this is explicit knowledge, the rest of the iceberg is implicit or tacit knowledge that is hidden from our view. (not created by me)" So I know that as an instructional designer, I have thought about making learning easy for my learners and consciously thought about using metaphors. However, it was interesting to reflect on the use of metaphors from a technological/cultural/social perspective and realize the true importance of metaphors and how they can impact a society so significantly.

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  3. Hi Taruna -Your comment were thought provoking.

    My MOOC experience so far has been on a journey as a learner participating in my "own creation of knowledge" drawing on and connecting to who or what resonates with me.
    I will think some more on your thoughts on the AM and PM metaphors to describe learning.

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    1. Hello Bambi, Thanks for your comment. You are correct in saying that MOOC is all about our own creation of knowledge. I have felt the same. But I have also felt that by reading other students views on the same 'stimuli', I have been able to reflect far more on a subject than I would have been able to do just by myself. That's what I am enjoying the most in this experience.

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