Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Alcoholics Anonymous & Situated Learning

I thought that title might generate a little bit of interest.  But, you'll have to read the posting (or at least scan to the end, to see the connection.

So, I really enjoyed today's discussion in class because I think that I have more leanings towards situated learning than any of the other theories that we have read about or discussed.  My most meaningful learning experiences have occurred in situ as part of authentic activity.  What I like most about this theory is it takes into account the context in which learning takes place, the influence of social interactions, and has an emphasis on transfer/application of knowledge.  

I really liked the metaphor in the Brown, Collins, & Daguid article of learning as a tool.  Essentially, situated learning views learning as a tool and suggests that we only know how to use that tool or knowledge by having an authentic experience with it in context.  I really like the idea that knowledge or learning is linked to the activity and setting in which it is acquired.  This has really interesting implications for the way that our school systems and classrooms are structured.  I would venture a guess that there are only a few classrooms where teachers take the concept of context into consideration.  It makes a huge difference to ask ourselves the question "How and when will this student be using this knowledge?".

Cognitive apprenticeship is an excellent strategy for pursuing learning under the auspices of the theory of situated cognition.  Cognitive apprenticeship takes advantage of the power of social interactions in the learning process.  More specifically, a mentor or expert facilitates the learning of a novice.  The key here isn't just observation, but "making the invisible, visible".  A good mentor helps a protege see or understand the cognitive processes behind expert actions so that the novice can begin to think like an expert.  The mentor then invites the learner to "practice" or participate in the process or task, providing feedback and promoting reflection along the way so that the learner can make meaning from their experiences.  I thought our discussion about failure was pretty interesting today.  Failing is part of the learning process, but it is critical that the "failure" be followed by feedback and reflection so that the novice is left having learned something, not just discouraged.

I read an interesting book over the summer that relates to this idea of cognitive apprenticeship, legitimate peripheral participation , and communities of practice.  In Situated Learning:  Legitimate Peripheral Participation Lave & Wenger use a number of communities of practice to illustrate situated learning.  One of these communities is Alcoholics Anonymous.  I am not familiar with AA, but apparently, it is an excellent example of situated learning.  New members are slowly integrated into the group by participating at the periphery of the group initially (e.g. making simple comments at occasional points during meetings).  Through observation and simple participation these "apprentice alcoholics" become what AA calls "non-drinking alcoholics" taking on more and more of an active and central role as time goes on (culminating with tellling their personal stories in large meetings and mentoring newcomers in their efforts to battle alcoholism).  This example helped me realize that there are communities of practice everywhere and that this sort of learning happens more often than we think.  I also think that the Aaronic Priesthood with its process of integrating young men into the community of the priesthood is an excellent example of a community of practice.  The best priesthood leaders are those that are mentors and help young men learn to think and act like priesthood holders.

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