Behind every theory of learning is a philosophical anthropology.
Yes, it’s going to be one of those blogs that dabbles with the academic. But stay with it, this matters and maybe explains some trends in the learning industry.
Here’s the thesis: Most learning interventions work on the basis that the sought outcome is understanding – either knowing something or knowing how to do something. So, learning is about facts, ideas, and concepts. That’s a pretty Modernist, rationalistic view; you can trace it back to Descartes’ ‘I think therefore I am’. This anthropology thinks of humans primarily as ‘thinking things’.
But alternative views are emerging. Think about Westfield, Bluewater, or whatever your favourite mall is. We know how to behave in malls, and indeed, we’ve come to think of malls as places for leisure. They’ve trained us in how to behave in a consumerist manner. From the window displays we take hints as to how we might dress, spend leisure time, or re-configure our homes. I don’t remember anyone explaining to me, teaching me, that this is how I should approach and use malls, or anyone structuring some learning around how to behave as a consumer. But I can do all that.
This points to a different philosophical anthropology (that phrase kind of grows on you). It speaks of the idea that humans are not so much ‘thinking things’ that (therefore) have to be taught propositions, facts, or ideas. Rather, humans can be considered ‘desiring animals’: creatures who want, and whose wanting is formed and shaped by practices, the things we do. So, the mall, by the practices it sets forth, trains me to be a consumer. And then it’s unconscious – in the same way that I don’t have to think about how to drive home (and may not even remember some bits of the journey).
So what? Well, if this is true, it means that learning based on practices, on doing, may often be a much better approach than learning based on facts, concepts and ideas. And guess what? That’s just what we’re seeing at Afiniti. Our clients are increasingly open to learning that is social – grounded in community interactions not in classrooms. Similarly, we’re seeing clients keen to explore gamification approaches to learning – immersing learners in situations in which they act and do, not just sit and think.
Bottom line – learning is changing, and it’s not just about fads, fashions or technologies. It’s about a different understanding of who we are in a post-modern setting.
* If you want more of this, try Heidegger Being and Time or James K A Smith Desiring The Kingdom – Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation – from which the mall analogy and much else above comes.