Learning metaphors ad infinitum

H800 Notes on metaphors

Hager 1 (p.679) lists four ‘practice points’ in relation to metaphors for learning:

  • Metaphors inform thinking about learning.
  • Metaphors can sometimes mislead thinking.
  • Acquisition and transfer are the most common learning
  • Alternative metaphors offer fresh ways to think about

Hager (p.679) states that ‘acquisition and transfer are easily the most popular metaphors used to understand learning.’ Both of these metaphors are described below, along with the social-participation metaphor and the knowledge-creation metaphor.

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  1. Hager, P. (2008) ‘Learning and metaphors’, Medical Teacher, 30(7), pp. 679-686, (online) Available from: http://libezproxy.open.ac.uk/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=34168110&site=eds-live&scope=site (Accessed 5 April 2011).

Having more, doing more, being more

The OU course H800, moves on from the two metaphors offered by Sfard 1 to introduce a third metaphor: change-as-a-person based on research by Saljö 2 and Marton, Dall’Alba and Beaty 3.

This is explained as:

‘being more’ – or possibly ‘being different’ – in contrast with ‘having more’ (AM) and ‘doing more’ (PM)

and introduces the concept of identity into the learning mix.

My personal experiences with learning would suggest that there is an element of being changed by learning. When I teach equality and diversity I also give the example of how meeting and learning about people from other cultures enriches your own life experience – ie changes you. I know that when I was younger life was much ‘simpler’ … things were either right or wrong. As I gained in experience I learned that this is not always so and there are many perspectives and interpretations of ‘facts’.

  1. Sfard, A. (1998) On Two Metaphors for Learning and the Dangers of Choosing Just One. Educational Researcher, 27 (2), pp.4-13.
  2. Saljö, R. (1979) Learning in the Learner’s Perspective: 1. Some Common-sense Assumptions (Report No. 76), Göteborg, University of Göteborg, Institute of Education.
  3. Marton, F., Dall’Alba, G. and Beaty, E. (1993) ‘Conceptions of learning’, International Journal of Educational Research, vol.19, pp.277–300.

Metaphors in action

The last post briefly looked at two metaphors for learning: acquisition and participation.

Examining these in light of learning I have been involved with that used technology (OU H800 Activity 3b):

PowerPoint/SlideShare – acquisition of knowledge – generally tutor-led dissemination of information to ‘passive’ viewers/listeners. I have used this to pass on or deliver information to learners both offline and online. It is useful for learning that is new to all learners where none can be expected to already have knowledge or understanding. I have also experienced ‘death-by-PowerPoint’ on more than one occasion. Most examples of this that I have used or accessed have been related to formal learning – although I am now using SlideShare as part of an informal learning blog accessed by the general public.

Crochetville: an online group – I use this community of practice to share and develop my crocheting. It is predominantly based on forums and sharing of experience, tips, techniques and commenting on others projects. Definately firmly under the participation metaphor for learning – yet it has stimulated and developed my use of this skill in a way that a formal class never could.

Two Metaphors for Learning

To understand what learning means, we use metaphors – ways of helping us to think.

Sfard 1 describes how two metaphors have come to dominate the field of educational research: the acquisition and participation metaphors.

Acquisition Metaphor (AM) – learning as a gain in knowledge, skill or understanding. Emphasis on ‘what is learned’. Key phrases: schema; knowledge acquisition; concept development; conceptualisation. Theorists that fit this metaphor: Piaget and Vygotski.

Participation Metaphor (PM) – learning as knowing – active, doing rather than having.  Emphasis on ‘how it is learned.’ Key phrases: activities; situated; contextualised; social; cultural; practice; discourse; communication; communities of practice.  Theorists that fit this model: Lave, Wenger, Brown, Foucault, Salomon.

According to Sfard, ‘While the AM stresses the individual mind and
what goes “into it,” the PM shifts the focus to the evolving bonds between the individual and others.’

Sfard also goes onto to conclude that both metaphors have value and should not be used exclusively to examine learning.

Surely common sense would support this – you cannot have a ‘what’ without a ‘how’; are they are not two sides of the same coin.

  1. Sfard, A. (1998) ‘On Two Metaphors for Learning and the Dangers of Choosing Just One’, Educational Researcher, 27(2).