Sunday, 31 January 2016

Creating economic capital through knowledge building

‘If you think education is expensive, you should try ignorance’

It has been argued that all human learning was an ‘epistemic’ or ‘knowledge building’ activity and definitely social, so learning is not only for the individual but also creates economic growth for the community. This social dimension cannot account for all learning, as some ‘knowledge building’ cannot be achieved through experience alone, such as the development of concepts, which can take learners beyond their own experiences, cannot be developed in a ‘hands on manner’.  Bandura argues that learning is a cognitive process that takes place in a social context and can occur purely through observation or direct instruction. If human knowledge is not recognised as a knowledge building activity which involves epistemic and social knowledge then we create the false dichotomy of the skills and knowledge debate. In this debate, knowledge is often equated with facts rather than concepts which confuses the issue. If the skills versus knowledge debate is rephrased as ‘knowing how’ and ‘knowing that’ then it becomes apparent that they are interdependent. This ties in with educators such as Dewey and Piaget who through looking at how we learn, came to understand that knowledge building and experiential learning are strongly linked and thus their emphasis on experience-based learning.

UNSECO (1996) defines the four pillars of learning to be ‘learning to know’, learning to do’, ‘learning to be’ and ‘learning to live together’. These pillars now need to be re-integrated taking account of the new social dynamics created by the use of the internet, as a source of information and as a community builder. Social networks tends to be built by people with similar values and in these social networks ‘groupthink’ can become prevalent, thus increasing intolerance to those with different value systems and beliefs. It is easy to avoid those with differing values in the virtual world and thus society is splitting into ‘incompatible public spaces’ where it is easy to excommunicate an individual with the click of an ‘unfriend’ button. Not only is the digital age changing our social dynamics but also the way we learn. As information has become more available to society and everyone is encouraged to be creators of knowledge, we have moved from transmission of knowledge to being more about sharing and creating knowledge. Thus ‘learning to know’ has changed to accommodate the use of technology and we need to work harder on ‘learning to be’ and ‘learning to live together’ in a rapid paced and changing society.

So what do this mean for schools and learning?

The launch in 2014 of the Developing the Young Workforce Scotland’s Youth Employment Strategy signposted the investment of the Scottish government, in growing the number of opportunities for young people to be involved in “work-based learning which is valued by both employers and young people” (p5). This context dependent (vocational) learning serves a different purpose from context-independent (academic) learning, and is also different in structure by being more spontaneous by the learning within the work place, rather than a more prescribed curriculum. Context dependent learning has over time proved itself more successful to support skills development. The opportunities to develop skills on-the-job are valued but in the digital age, less apprenticeships were available for school leavers, thus a key performance indicator of Developing the Young Workforce is to increase the number of modern apprenticeships available for students transitioning from secondary school.

Context dependent learning as part of an apprenticeship could be considered a form of collaborative enquiry. The apprentice immerses themselves in an active learning environment and within this they experience learning and methodology to achieve relevant outcomes. Learners then explore and undertake critical reflection of their experiences so they can apply this learning in new contexts. This process can be described in the following questions;
·         What do I want to ask?
·         What am I going to do?
·         What happened?
·         What’s important?
·         What work for me?
In contrast to context-dependent learning, in creating context-independent (academic) learning opportunities which allows learners to move beyond their everyday context and helps them to think conceptually, could be described as one of the purpose of schools.
A second purpose of school could lie within the transmission of knowledge through organisation of knowledge (curriculum) and giving knowledge context so it builds on schema (pedagogy).

‘Learning to do’ is no longer about acquisition and internalisation of practical knowledge; instead, it is about the ability to create and invent practically relevant knowledge. Epistemic literacy and critical thinking requires active knowledge creation and innovation. Knowledge can be contemplated in two domains. New knowledge; which could be considered as research and transmission of knowledge, which can be thought of as acquisition of specialised knowledge, and epistemic literacy; which is using both new knowledge and specialist knowledge to understand, integrate and create meaning which allows us to make sense of the world. Contexts for knowing i.e. the systems and structures that support learning, will become reconstructed but in the absence of epistemic literacy, i.e. critical reflective, we can be held hostage to ‘dogmas, orthodoxies and fashions’ of the time.

So if human learning requires both context-dependent and context-independent learning then schools must evolve to accommodate both. In the foreword of Developing the Young Workforce, then Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills & Training, Roseanna Cunningham MSP states that Scotland needs “a fundamental examination of how we provide, promote, and value a range of learning which leads to a wide variety of jobs.” Supporting students to build economic capital through a variety of learning opportunities, whether that is vocational or academic learning is crucial to developing successful learners who can become effective contributors in Scotland.

Bandura – Social Learning Theory
Biesta, G. (2015) what is education for? On Good Education, Teacher Judgement and Educational Professionalism; European Journal of Education, Vol 50, No 1

Developing the Young Workforce: Scotland’s Youth Employment Strategy; Implementing the Recommendations of the Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce

Monne, X.P. (2015) What is learning for? The Promise of a Better Future; European Journal of Education, Vol 50, No 1

Tuomi, I (2015) Epistemic Literacy or a Clash of Clans? A capability-bsed Veiw on the Furture of learning and Education; European Journal of Education, Vol 50, No 1

UNSECO (1996) Learning: The treasure within (Paris, UNSECO)

Young, M. (2015) what is learning and Why Does it matter? ; European Journal of Education, Vol 50, No 1

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