The discussion around whether learning grows or is built has been terrific. I can definitely sympathize with Sarah Stewart’s comment about enjoying the conversation even if I’m not sure I understand it all. I’ve got a nice collection of metaphors for learning now:
- Building: This is the classic constructivist language, constructing and building your own learning.
- Growing: From Stephen Downes’ What Connectivism Is
- “Learning As Advancement Of Ideas”: George Siemens’ suggestion to find a middle ground and avoid the conflict between building and growing
- River or Stream: Virginia Yonkers’ metaphor, shared by Ken Allen, is about the process of change as well as learning. Her idea is that we have a “river path” where the river of learning flows. The paths generated are the connections in the brain. One a path is made, it’s hard to redirect the river.
- Connections: At the chemical-physical level, learning is the connections between neurons in our brains. This is a literal description rather than a metaphor, but is we think of connections as the essential element of learning, it might affect us differently than if we think of learning like bricks in a building.
- Browser Plug-Ins: This isn’t so much a metaphor for learning as a whole, but for what the idea of neural connections actually tells us. As long as the plug-in is working, we don’t need to actually understand how it works to be able to use it. By the same token, we don’t need to necessarily understand the brain at a chemical-physical level in order to learn or help others learn.
Virginia made this observation related to my tag clouds:
It appears to me that you are expanding your “words” to use through the connectivism course.
This really resonated with me. It does seem like I’m looking for a different set of vocabulary to talk about learning.
And I think that’s why the metaphors matter–the metaphor we use to understand learning influences the language with which we talk about learning, teaching, and education.
Build implies structure and order. Ken suggested it seems linear, although Diego Leal disagreed, saying structure isn’t necessarily linear. Virginia pointed out that “building” carries the image of a systemic, external plan. In her comment, Gina Minks used the words “scaffold” and “bridge,” both “building” words. Her language choices reflect the metaphor that makes sense to her.
So what language would we use if our central metaphor for learning was “growing” rather than “building”? Would we say we nurture instead of scaffold? Connect instead of bridge? Feed instead of support? Deeper roots instead of a solid foundation?
What metaphor for learning makes the most sense to you? How does it affect the language you use when you talk about learning?
Image: ‘Oak Tree Seedling‘