Monday, June 27, 2005

What is learning?
The question ‘what is metalearning?’ begs the question ‘what is learning?’ For the
purpose of this discussion I am adopting and slightly modifying the definition of learning
provided by Davenport and Prusak (2000) ‘a fluid mixture of experience, values,
contextualised information and that provides a framework for evaluating and
incorporating new experiences and information’ and for imagining new things. I have
added the reference to imagination (causing to come into existence) as it seems
particularly relevant to the idea of metalearning as a means of viewing and anticipating
the future. This conception of learning means that although we may encounter the same
experience or be confronted by the same new knowledge the sense we make of it, the
value we place on it and our capacity to make use of it, will be unique to each individual.
Using this reasoning, metalearning - high level conceptions about learning and how we
acquire new learning, must also be unique to each individual.
How do people learn?
Most of the people who contributed to this discussion on metalearning suggested that it
was about understanding how we learn as individuals. It is therefore worth reflecting on
how we learn. Our knowledge about learning is constructed everyday of our lives but we
rarely think about or discuss the many ways in which we acquire our knowledge about
how people learn. I recently did some research for a teaching session on how
professional’s learn with a group of 15 medical General Practitioners at different stages
of their careers and found that between them they used or recognised 44 different
strategies to develop their own learning. The main ways I think I have acquired my
knowledge about how people learn (primarily in the contexts of higher education
teaching, research, educational development and change agency work in higher
education) is mapped in Figure 3.
Figure 3 How I think I have learned about how other people and I learn
my knowledge about
how people learn has
been acquired in
many ways
experiences that
contribute to my
beliefs and
processed experiences in
which I have deliberately
tried to learn about myself
my own formal
reading ‘explicit
knowledge’ about
sharing of tacit
knowledge through
discussions or
as a bi-product of
collaborative working
scientific knowledge
about how people learn
through collaborative
working that explicitly
tries to reveal how we learn
learning through research
and scholarship connected to
employment eg teacher,
researcher, consultant in a
range of contexts
participation in formal
training, development
activities and events,
conferences, workshops etc..
by observing others
and trying to emulate
what I considered to
be good role models
by engaging in action
research and reflective

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