3 types of Learning: Acquisition, Participation, and Construction

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 3 types of Learning: Acquisition, Participation, and Construction

In my masters studies, some ideas are good. Here's one:

Learning is a conceptual and linguistic construction.
In other words, there is no single concept that covers the entire spectrum of what learning actually is.

Why? Because learning does not have a clear physical or identity in the world.
It is a concept constructed and developed by people to label and explain some complex processes.

So, depending on the paradigm you find yourself in, or what kind of methods you decide to choose in educational research, your view on what learning is and what it covers changes.

According to Hodkinson and Macleod (2010), there are three different conceptual frameworks of learning that can be described by a metaphor. Although I would argue there are others outside of these three:

1) Learning as Acquisition
2) Learning as Participation
3) Learning as Construction

Some details on each:

1) Learning as Acquisition:

Bereiter (2002) talks of the folk theory of learning:

- putting stuff (what is learned) into vessels (the human mind).
- intentional and in more formal settings
- related to the positivist paradigm -> ontology (the world is external, and separate to people's agency. There is a single, objective reality); epistemology (possible to achieve hard, secure, objective knowledge; focused on generalization and abstraction)
- related to quantitative methods, such as longitudinal deign frame (methods: surveys) or cross-sectional questionnaire surveys.
















































2) Learning as Participation:

 - Participation entails seeing learning as the undertaking of activities within a social context, sometimes conceptualized as an activity system (Engestrom, 2001, 2004); sometimes as a community of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998; Wenger et al., 2002).
- Much learning is informal - simply an integral part of everyday activity.
- focus on socio-cultural practices of living in particular situations, and not on the cognitive processes within a person.
- Outcomes are an integral part of complex learning processes, not as an important end-point to achieve.

Why this conceptual view arise?
Problems with cognitive view of learning:

1) Many people learned effectively outside of formal setting
2) There were socio-cultural reasons why some students failed to learn.

- related to critical studies paradigm frame
- how people can participate or not in learning setting, e.g. the whole thing about emancipatory views of disabilitiy.

-  related to mini-ethnographic design frame; the whole thing about participation, etc.
- related factors:
-> the positions, dispositions and actions of students
-> the positions, dispositions and actions of tutors
-> the location and resources of the learning site, which are not neutral, but enable some approaches and attitudes and constrain or prevent others

 - using research to search for a cultural way of seeing, centred on place.
- method: longitudinal study
- the main tutor in each site was an active partner in the research, who kept a diary.
- there was repeated observations of the site and repeated interviews with the tutor and a small sample of students
- collected questionaire data from a wider sample of students within the case study sites.

"Participation because it is through doing knowledge that they acquire it. Knowledge is situated within the practices of the community of practice, rather than something which exists “out there” in books.

General images:

Participation as "Communities of Practice":


Keyword: Community of Practice
Student Name: Kevin C.What is a Community of Practice?

The term ‘community of practice’ is a noun that can be defined as, “a set of relations among persons, activity, and world, over time and in relation with other tangential and overlapping communities of practice” (Lave & Wenger, 98 emphasis mine).  This is a complex term that is worth understanding; implications of identity development and finding meaningful experience in life are tied to the relational nature of communities of practice.  The sharing of knowledge and its interpretation and re-interpretation is made possible through self-manifesting communities of practice.  Central to comprehending this term and its potential utility in a discussion of literacy theory are four premises (I condensed these from Wenger’s list) which form the foundation for the learning theory from which the term developed:

1)      We are social beings.
2)      Knowledge is a matter of competence with respect to valued enterprises.
3)      Knowing is a matter of active engagement in the world.
4)      Our ability to experience the world is ultimately what learning is to produce.

Some examples of communities of practice include: families, workplace teams/departments, pickup basketball groups, alcoholics anonymous chapters, religious groups etc.  These communities are everywhere and anybody at a given time in their lives is part of many different communities of practice.  As mentioned above, these communities often overlap.  Not only are these sets of relations dynamic within themselves, but they are informed and influenced by overlapping sets of relations and allow for new identities to be gained within the respective contexts of different groups and their practices.

3. Learning as Construction:

 - First, the intellectual movement that is often termed constructivism, which focuses mainly on the ways individuals learners engage with new knowledge, scaffolding it onto what is already known.
- Also, Hager (2005) arguing that workplace learning is embodied construction - both acquisition and participation imply learning static, rather then as a process.

- Life history -> methods
- life histories are also case studies, like mini-ethnograhies; but unlike mini-ethnographies put the individual at the centre of the investigation.
- Learning Lives research project -> an ongoing four-year investigation of the realtionships between learning, agency, and identity in people's lives.

- constructing the life histories of over 100 adults
- the prime unit of analysis is the individual stories of people's lives.
- interviews.
- informal and formal learning
- learning over very long time frames, whereas mini-ethnographies are like a snapshot.

- puts the subject in a social, economic and historical context;
- whereas, mini-ethnographies is able to unpick and understand the significance of practices in particular locations for a person's learning.

- For ethnographies, the lives of individuals outside the site tend to disappear, or be backgrounded.
- For life histories, the significance of particular situations and their learning cultures tends to disappear or be backgrounded.

- Therefore, there is a disjuncture between a life history approach and understanding learning as participation.
- Why????

-> because the lens of the methodology is focused on the individual (and their life histories) and not on the setting in which learning takes place.
-> Instead, there is a strong affinity between life history approach and understanding learning as construction.


1) The construction metaphor centres upon the ways in which people make sense of any learning experiences they have - the ways in which they construct their own versions of what is being learned and/or construct themselves through that learning.
2) Because Life Histories are themselves constructed from the subjective perceptions of the subjects, as revealed in the ways they tell stories about their live and learning.

-> As a direct consequence the method is very good at revealing ways in which people learn through the process of narrative construction and through reflection upon their own narrative accounts of their lives.

-> related to constructionism paradigm
-> life histories methodology - what is the design frame????????
-> interviews - structured/semi-structured??????


Chapter Outline, Learning Objectives, and Summary

Chapter Outline

What Is Constructivism?
  • Cognitive Constructivism
  • Social Constructivism
Characteristics of Constructivism
  • Learners Construct Knowledge That Makes Sense to Them
  • New Learning Depends on Current Understanding
  • Social Interaction Facilitates Learning
  • Meaningful Learning Occurs Within Real-World Tasks
Outcomes of Knowledge Construction
  • Concepts
  • Schemas
  • Misconceptions and Conceptual Change
Implications of Constructivism for Teaching
  • The Teacher's Role in Constructivist Classrooms
  • Suggestions for Classroom Practice
  • Assessment and Learning: The Role of Assessment in Constructivist Classrooms
  • Putting Constructivism into Perspective
Constructivism in Classrooms: Instructional Principles
  • Learning Contexts: Constructing Knowledge in Urban Environments

Learning Objectives

After you have completed your study of this chapter, you should be able to
  1. Describe the primary difference between cognitive and social constructivism, and identify examples of each in descriptions of learning activities.
  2. Identify characteristics and applications of constructivism in events in and outside of classrooms.
  3. Analyze applications of concept learning, including teaching for conceptual change.
  4. Identify suggestions for classroom practice in descriptions of learning activities.
  5. Analyze applications of constructivist learning theory in classroom activities.


  1. Describe the primary difference between cognitive and social constructivism, and identify examples of each in descriptions of learning activities.
    • Constructivism is a theory of learning suggesting that learners construct their own knowledge of the topics they study rather than having that understanding delivered to them in already organized form.
    • Cognitive constructivism focuses on individual construction of understanding. When an experience disrupts an individual's equilibrium, cognitive constructivists believe that the individual reconstructs understanding that reestablishes equilibrium. Social constructivism emphasizes that knowledge is first constructed in a social environment and is then appropriated by individuals. According to social constructivists, knowledge grows directly out of the interaction.
    • Emphasis on sociocultural theory, communities of learners, cognitive apprenticeships, and situated cognition are all outcomes of the influence of social constructivism on instruction.

  2. Identify characteristics and applications of constructivism in events in and outside of classrooms.
    • That learners construct, rather than record, knowledge is the basic principle of constructivism.
    • Constructivists also emphasize the importance of prior knowledge, the role of social interaction, and the value of real-world tasks in the process of constructing understanding.

  3. Analyze applications of concept learning, including teaching for conceptual change.
    • Some concepts are constructed on the basis of a rule that specifies a number of well-defined characteristics.
    • When concepts don't have well-defined characteristics, a prototype—the best representative of the category or class—is often constructed.
    • Instead of being stored as a single prototype, some concepts are stored as sets of exemplars, the most highly typical examples of a concept.
    • Schemas—cognitive constructs that organize information into a meaningful system—represent the way constructed knowledge is stored in memory. Schemas include facts, concepts, and the relationships among them.
    • In their efforts to make sense of the world, and because of prior experiences, ambiguous language, and societal factors, learners often develop misconceptions. Once formed and embedded in schemas, misconceptions are resistant to change.

  4. Identify suggestions for classroom practice in descriptions of learning activities.
    • Instruction based on constructivism emphasizes high quality examples and representations of content, student interaction, and content connected to the real world.
    • Teachers who ground their instruction in constructivism realize that lecturing and explaining often fail to promote deep understanding in learners.
    • Basing instruction on constructivist learning theory requires teachers to use ongoing assessment as an integral part of the teaching–learning process.

  5. Analyze applications of constructivist learning theory in classroom activities.
    • Instruction that applies constructivism in classrooms emphasizes both students' answers and how students arrived at those answers. Effective instruction makes students' thinking open and visible.
    • The suggestions from constructivism for teaching are the principles that guide teachers as they attempt to base their instruction on constructivist views of learning."



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