#PLENK2010 Knowledge is for Acting; Schooling is for Development

Premise: Knowledge Enables Acting, While Schooling Leads Development

  1. The ability to act in specific contexts is limited by one’s capabilities and by one’s ability to acquire knowledge that is an appropriate fit to that context.
  2. Schooling is not about acting in specific situations, but is about developing capabilities along a specified developmental trajectory as a foundation for future action.

In light of this weeks discussion of PLE in the classroom I will restate my view that we should make a distinction between learning and knowledge on one hand and development and capabilities on the other and the differing purpose served by each.

Learning and knowledge are for acting in specific contexts. Useful knowledge is highly linked to the situations for which it is devised and it makes no sense to attempt to acquire that knowledge before you are in the situation.  Inevitably, the knowledge gained in this way will not be a good fit for the situation.  Learning and knowledge is therefore inherently tied to acting and is a lifelong need.  Knowledge, to be useful, must be fit to the contexts where it is used.

Schooling is for the development of human capabilities. Using language, calculating, participating in debates, discussing important cultural topics, engaging in scientific experimentation, etc. . . .; these are all capabilities that schooling should develop in students.  We know what they look like beforehand, we know of processes to build these capabilities and we can assess successfully acquired capabilities.  Yes, studens will need to acquire specific knowledge to complete the actions specified by our assessments and classroom activities, but that knowledge will be incidental to the assessment or activity.  Using the capability in new situations will require different knowledge (even if it is only slightly different) every time.  My point is that assessing a students capability and developmental trajectory makes sense.  Assessing the knowledge he/she has acquired does not, because that knowledge will not be relevant to the student’s future; although their developmental trajectory will be highly relevant.

Knowledge is important for acting and PLEs are needed.  From birth, until we take our final breath, we need to acquire knowledge in an ongoing manner.  PLEs should be part of schooling because their development is an important capability. Likewise George’s (4) student centered items in this list are (I believe) about capabilities not knowledges.  The problems come when we mistakenly take knowledge as the reason for schooling instead of capability development.  It is usually not particularly hard to acquire the knowledge we need in any given circumstance if we already posses the requisite capabilities.  Unfortunately, most educational assessments are oriented toward measuring knowledge when they should measure capabilities and the developmental trajectory the student is following.  If they would do that, they would be a much better guide for teacher’s practices.

Learning Needs Social Innovation, not just Technical Innovation

Reading about e-learning and social media, I get the feeling that people are trying to solve learning issues with technical applications.  While I believe that technology is a key enabler, learning is social at its core.  That means social innovation should come first.  Social media can be a great enabler, if its application is designed to facilitate interaction where social change has already taken place or at least where the ground is fertile for social change.

Here’s an example:

An individualistic idea of schooling led to a university model where people went to school to get knowledge into their heads and then went out into the world to practice and use that knowledge.  But not only is learning not anywhere near finished when you leave school, to be successful in practice many people need to learn everyday.  In short, the learning is never done!

Yes, we need knowledge from schools, but even more important we need a learning network.  This was my take-away from last falls connectivism course (CCK08).  Providing students with a network of knowers is more important than providing them with knowledge.  While many professors may maintain contact with graduates, what is needed is more.  It’s the expectation that graduates will leave school with a strong learning and practice network that includes strong bond to ties graduates back to their original contexts of learning and to ties schools to rich fields of practice and practitioners.  It’s a two way street.  Now in this type of context, social media can be a real enabler because it is focused on facilitating dynamic social innovation.