26 March 2011

#H800 The IALC, Connectivism and Sfard's Learning Metaphors

The Interpersonal Action & Learning Cycle (IALC) assumes that the only knowledge we have is our own perceptions and what sense we can make of them. In this way, all knowledge is constructed.  According to Zimmer, collaborative discussion makes knowledge jointly constructed within the discussion. In my view, learning as construction is a more accurate metaphor than learning as acquiring.  

For example, when a physics teacher explains heat transfer to students with experiments and exercises, students will build for themselves an understanding of heat transfer based on the what the teacher says, prior knowledge, intuition or experiences in daily life.  The likely outcome is that the understanding of heat transfer that the student has built will be very different from the understanding that the teacher has.  They may both be scientifically correct, but the student may link heat transfer with other examples, or may not make the link between heat transfer and atom structure of materials.  

Learning as transfer assumes that the object of learning is fixed and is passed from teacher to student.  Learning as construction accounts for the individual building of understanding.  Learners engaging in collaborative discussion are building an understanding together, whereas in a competitive debate learners want to imposes their perception of the learning object on each other.  I found this idea of joint construction of knowledge very similar to the learning theory of Connectivism, where knowledge is also regarded as a network phenomenon.  Knowing something in Connectivism means that that something is connected to other concepts and ideas, so it gets a meaning.  This network can be individually constructed or in a community.

Applying the metaphor to my own learning of the IALC, I didn’t learn by acquiring it from a teacher, but I constructed my idea of the IALC by reading the manual and article, linking it with forum discussion and relating it to my own experience in online and offline learning.  In this way, my understanding will be very different, but not necessarily less correct, than those of other learners, who made sense of the theory by linking it to their own environment.
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  1. Very well-stated post.. one of the best explanations of the constructivist approach to learning. I generally agree with this approach, especially as it describes HOW we learn. I would, however, like to lay down a challenge, not to be contrary, but just because it has been a challenge for me as well.

    Could we say that some constructions are just wrong? You yourself mention the fact that your believe the constructivist approach is "more accurate" than the "learning as acquired" notion of learning. If it is more accurate, then it must be measured against some "body of knowledge" that is independent of and external to your perceptions.. right? If not, the how could you possibly say that it is "more accurate" if it's not measured against a standard?

    I was sitting in an airplane once awaiting departure when suddenly I had the terrifying sense that the plane was rolling forward and was going to crash into the terminal. In fact, what was happening was that the plane next to us was backing out and it created the illusion that we were moving forward.

    So, facts external my our perceptions exists and can be imparted.. right?

    Just thinking with you out loud.


  2. I find the constructivist metaphor of building knowledge more accurate than the metaphor of acquiring knowledge, based on my personal experience of learning, feeling that knowledge is individually built rather than passed on unchanged between persons.


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