TEL2-3 Social Practice Theory – Jean Lave

This time, a paper by Jean Lave. A lot harder to read, but also revealed very interesting insights on learning. Lave talks about Social Practice Theory: “Learning is to be an aspect of participation in socially situated practices”. She starts differentiating formal and informal learning. Formal learning, “out-of-context” learning, abstraction and generalization being characteristics, resulting usually in broad learning transfer. Informal learning is embedded in everyday practices via demonstration, observation,…

In both apprenticeship examples she studied (tailoring in Liberia and law practitioners in Egypt), learning was seen as being a part of day-to-day activity (context-embedded).  The social context in which learning occurred was primordial. In spite of the fact that they were poor but also able and respected made the “masters” very effective in their “teaching”. As Lave, I too think the distinct practices can not be transferred into our western form of education. It is socially and historically set in the local ways of life. However, it does raises questions about our ways of teaching/learning, these not being the same thing at all.

Lave says learning theories consist of three kinds of stipulations:

  • Telos: a direction of movement or change of learning
  • Subject-world relation: relations between subjects and the social world
  • Learning mechanisms: ways by which learning occurs

Central in her theory, for me, is the social aspect of learning. “Crafting identities is a social process and becoming more knowledgeably skilled is an aspect of participation in social practice”, Lave says. She goes on telling us that “teaching is neither necessary nor sufficient to produce learning but it is a cross-context, facilitative effort to make high quality educational resources truly available for communities of learners”. It induces identity change and the only way to achieve this change is to learn socially. By changing your role in your own social context, you learn or demonstrate learning.

Identity-changing lives are found in spaces where students get to co-design (cfr. Gee – gamification) the environment they learn in, breaking the lines between teaching and learning but instead let all learners become tutors. Learning from each other, instead of the top-down approach.

I see a lot of connections with connectivism. The theory by Siemens & Downes, which I have discussed more than once on this blog. Lave too speaks of an environment where learning occurs in a social construct (a network? cfr. connectivism), a place where we learn from others, gaining new insights, sharing them and again learn from people commenting on it. This kind of learning, which enabled higher learning, creates the identity-change of which Lave speaks. Also the similarities of creating an environment as described by Gee where students co-create, go through cycles of expertise, use skills as strategies,… make this paper one that I like a lot. In a way they all point in the same direction: social, equal, together.

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