Critical reading: Teaching, as Learning, in Practice. Jean Lave #2

When reading the paper I was wondering about the concept "learning" some more, and about some of the learning theories she is criticizing. If they indeed see learning as a merely individual mental process.

Some definitions of learning

* Definition of learning on Wikipedia: “Learning is acquiring new, or modifying and reinforcing existing knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences”. I agree with Lave that this impoverishes and misrecognizes the importance of relatedness in the learning process…
“Learning is not compulsory; it is contextual. It does not happen all at once, but builds upon and is shaped by what we already know. To that end, learning may be viewed as a process, rather than a collection of factual and procedural knowledge. Learning produces changes in the organism and the changes produced are relatively permanent.” (1)

Conclusion: the relatedness and social character is not really present. Perhaps one could think of “contextual” as “in relation to the other” but that is my interpretation.

* In a previous blogpost I wrote about Twitter as a learning environment. In that post, I also thought about the process of learning, and I came across another article (also pretty difficult) that gives following definition of learning:

“Learning can be defined as ‘changes in the behavior of an organism that result from regularities in the environment of the organism.” (2)

Conclusion: this explicitly mentions the relation to the environment.

Which seems correct to me.

* Burns (1995, p99) "conceives of learning as a relatively permanent change  in behaviour with behaviour including both observable activity and internal processes such as thinking, attitudes and emotions." (3)

Conclusion: interesting definition of learning with both activities and internal processes, but no mentioning of the relation. So, indeed individual process according to him.

Learning theories

An overview:

* Sensory Stimulation Theory > no mentioning of social, collective character

* Reinforcement Theory (Skinner)  > no mentioning of social, collective character

* Cognitive gestallt approaches (importance of experience) > no mentioning of social, collective character

* Holistic Learning > no mentioning of social, collective character

* Humanist approach (Rogers) > mentions the relation teacher-learner. But this relationship is more seen as one of creating the right conditions for the learner. So no meaningful, reciprocal relations.

* Experiental learning (Kolb) > no mentioning of social, collective character.

* Adult learning > no mentioning of social, collective character

* Social Constructivism (Vygotsky)

> more emphasis on the social context and on culture. Explicit mentioning of the “others” involved, but still a relation that is not entirely on equal level.

Lave p. 150 “... learning is an aspect of changing participation in changing “communities of practice” everywhere. Wherever people engage for substantial periods of time, day by day, in doing things in which their ongoing activities are interdependent, learning is part of their changing participation in changing practices.”

p. 153 “ is not difficult to imagine them (i.e. the law masters) as changing learners themselves … both are participants in a larger, varied constellation of participants.”

--> This goes further than Vygotsky.


Considering some general definitions and most of the learning theories, Lave is correct in her dualistic view on learning theories. They do underestimate the reciprocal, meaningful and equal relations.

Critical reading: Teaching, as Learning, in Practice. Jean Lave #1

Download the paper here.

The main purpose of the paper (to me) is challenging a number of theories that see learning as merely an ‘individual’ mental process. These theories marginalize people for being ‘not so good at learning’. Secondly, these dualistic theories create divisions: successful in learning <-> not successful, normal <-> subnormal, good results <-> bad results, ideal <-> not ideal.

Therefore she (and Wenger) reconsider learning as a social and collective phenomenon.  Her understanding of learning as a social practice is developed on two major researches: one on tailor’s apprenticeships in Liberia, and one on learning in 19th-century mosque schools in Egypt.

Lave doesn’t suggest that the entire system should turn towards an education of apprenticeship, but it is valuable to look deeper into learning as a social practice so that education can benefit from these new insights on learning in practice.

Both perspectives on learning have effect on teaching in schools. “Learning, taken to be first and principally the identity-making life projects of participants in communities of practice, has a crucial implication for the teaching in schools.”

Mere classroom instruction versus a process of facilitating the circulation of school knowledgeable skill into the changing identities of students. In this second viewpoint, teachers should be intensely involved in communities of practice in which their identities are changing as well. Teachers should be ‘premium’ learners themselves. It made me think of this video:

Great Teachers Are Great Learners - AITSL from Innovation Unit on Vimeo.

Juliun and I are putting together our thoughts in this Google Doc.

We will again collaborate on a Prezi as a digital artefact.