Learning from not really learning

Have you noticed people who speak of learning as a thing to manage and control? Does it bother you the way it does for Mark Oehlert? The word "learning" gets used as a noun. Have you caught yourself thinking that way about learning? Can you switch to another way of thinking when you start making a thing of learning?

There's another way to think about learning. The word "learning" changes into a verb. Learning is not a thing; it's a process that is continually happening, growing and changing. You might be in the process of learning right now as you read this. Learning is different every time and different for each of us all of the time. Unfolding developments and realizing insights are subjective and deeply significant to us personally. Our ongoing process and value from changing is idiosyncratic, contextual and emergent from our previous experiences. This is the PERSONAL Learning that PLE's are really about. PLE's are a big no-thing.

Switching to learning as a verb appears to be difficult. We've been spellbound by delivery systems selling us content. We've internalized the idea that we can be given learning, made to learn, spell out our learning and measured to see how much we've already learned. There's a pervasive consensus trance that it works to make a thing of learning and understand it objectively. We're threatened by learning as no-thing -- that cannot be controlled, sold, packaged or made to happen.

Have you noticed what happens when we make a thing of learning? Do you see any harm being done, learners getting damaged or outcomes appearing bogus? Does it make sense to you that "mistaking learning as a noun" could create problems for learners, educators, instructional designers and managers?

Are you seeing yourself or others who are not really learning? Do you see signs of going through the motions, pretending to get value, faking the a-ha experience? Does it seem to you that people are content with pseudo learning in order to stay out of trouble, avoid criticism or play along with the crowd? Could we products of a system that failed to provide us with a real education?

Why do you suppose it is so difficult to switch to learning as a verb? Does it take letting go of ego, all fear and any sense of separation from all of us? Does the use of learning as a verb mean we're being vastly accepting and inclusive of all experiences? Can we think of learning as an out-of-control process without falling into terrifying chaos, the existential void and overwhelming anxieties? Can learning be a joy and mystery without losing our grip, identity and comfort zone?

Maybe "learning as a process" is simply what comes about from innocence? What-if this blog post is a process, not a thing? What would happen if we identified with our questions instead of our learning? What could come about from approaching the next upsetting thing with curiosity, fascination and wonder? What am I really creating with your Personally by posing all these questions?


  1. I'm not a regular reader so my comment is more like a desire for learning though it may come across as a lack of learning. I think we've made learning a thing and not a process because it has been ingrained in us that learning is the downloading of information from an experience or teacher into the students mind. In embracing this paradigm, we have missed the essence of learning, which is the opening up of a student's mind so that the student can upload content that enlarges his or her thinking. The latter concept is a continous process whereas the former is an instant event. What do you think?

  2. I like your analogies Herman. When we open a learner's mind, a process ensues. When we close a mind, it does seem like an event. When we are downloading information from experts, we are making a thing of what we're getting. When we are uploading what we've realized, we are in the process of giving.

  3. I guess you will have seen this article, but just in case, I thought it seemed relevant.
    All the best

  4. Nick
    Thanks for the link. I had not seen it before, but Anna Sfard's message is certainly valuable. As she says, our choice of metaphor is laden with consequences, and we really need both "acquisition and participation" metaphors in practice. That's another way of saying that any text, like these blog posts, are both a thing to use and a process to experience.