This three-part blog series covers three metaphors that aim to answer one important question: What is ‘learning’? You can read the previously published part here: What is learning? Part I: Acquiring knowledge.
Part II – Learning as taking part
Think about coming to a new workplace. You come across new concepts and facts about your surroundings, but you also learn how people act and speak. Bit by bit you become a member of the community. Your education provides a part of the needed expertise, but an important portion is learned by taking part in the workplace and learning the way people tend to speak and act in the community. Slowly your role in the new community grows from an observer to a central figure.
Many of the things that have taken part in this are things that would be hard or even impossible to teach without being there, taking part in the particular workplace. And as such are not just acquired knowledge, but best explained by developing a relationship between you and the people in the workplace. This participation metaphor of learning sees it not as cognitive growth or as receiving something, but as an active involvement in an ongoing process, and tightly tied to a particular context.
“The participation perspective typically has focused on examining how knowledge and practices are passed from one generation to another in traditional cultures or in cultures without substantial and deliberate changes or cultural transformations (see, e.g., Lave & Wenger, 1991). The focus has been on how newcomers become old-timers by participating in cultural practices, not on the radical advancement of knowledge or practices.”
Why do we need this second metaphor?
Apart from not being able to explain things that cover learning with the acquisition metaphor, there is also a practical one. If we can only teach learners in our organization something that has already been assorted, categorized and explicated, our learning programs are doomed to lack behind permanently.
An organization operating in a rapidly developing environment is likely to be under a constant process of developing new ways of responding to new challenges. If we only provide opportunities for learning knowledge, we are only able to see our learners as acquirers of new knowledge, new organizational operations and information has to be processed and managed, a course must be scripted and produced for learners to acquire.
But if we extend our view into learning as taking part in a process of an operating organization. And think that learners learn to operate in the changing environment by taking part in it, we can actually change the way we build learning programs. Rather than being top-down, they can be changed to be created as the organization moves through the change as being part of the process.