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Learning: community vs. individual perspective

Denham commenting to my community vs. individual perspective for learning post:

To change entreched mental mosels you need the energy supplied in deep dialog, the explication and defense of alternative points of view, you really need ‘community’ help to discover, surface, articulate & examine your personal assumptions. To get to those burried models you have to have external support – they just cannot be reached via personal introspection.

Stephen Downes commenting on Important Learning Must Occur in Groups by Spike Hall (check 17 September 2003 as there is a problem with direct linking):

That fact that there are some irreducibly social elements to learning does not mean that the whole thing is social. You can learn some things, in some ways, on your own, without a social network. Specifically, you need a social network in order to teach others or to learn from others. But that is not the whole of learning.

I agree with both. “Community” or social context is very important for learning. At least, this is true for myself: I always need a conversation for growing my ideas.

I believe that learning comes from recognising differences. This could be done in several ways: confronting your today’s ideas with yesterday’s, confronting mental models with practices or confronting your views with the views of others. The last way is probably most natural for us as it is part of our social life anyway.

But there is a simple question that makes me looking at the individual differences: why not everyone learns from being a part of social interactions even if “creative abrasion” is there?

I think about very simple example. I studied for my Master’s degree in the Netherlands (here). I was part of an international study group, had international social life and many opportunities to observe people from different cultures. When I look back I say that learning about different cultures and their interplay and learning about my own myths and perceptions about other countries probably gave me more than learning for my studies. But I also observed another extreme of this “cultural” learning: getting closed, staying in one’s “own country” club only and almost visible resistance to look what could be learnt from differences.

So, why same conditions provoke learning and change in some people and resistance in others? I can think of many explanations, like personal need to learn about specific things or personal need to belong to your “tried and tested” communities without being open for new experiences, but all of them have to do with something “personal”.

Summarising I would say: social context is vital for learning, but not enough. I wonder what else do we need and I suspect that this “something else” is hidden at individual level (or, better, in interplay between social and individual).

Archived version of this entry is available at http://blog.mathemagenic.com/2003/09/21.html#a759; comments are here.

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