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Initiating practitioner research into self-organising learning


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Paper co-presented with Marieke van Roy to the 16th annual conference of the education, learning, styles, individual differences network (ELSIN) conference, University of Antwerp, Belgium, 29 June to …

Paper co-presented with Marieke van Roy to the 16th annual conference of the education, learning, styles, individual differences network (ELSIN) conference, University of Antwerp, Belgium, 29 June to 1 July 2011.

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  • 1. 1
    Practitioner research into self-organising learning
    Identifying conditions for learning that needs no external authority
    Presentation to the ELSIN conference.
    University of Antwerp (Belgium), 1 July 2011
    Ernst D. Thoutenhoofd & Marieke van Roy
    This slideshow is publicly available at
  • 2. I love to learn but I hate to be taught | Churchill
  • 3. If children have interest, education takes place| Arthur C. Clarke
  • 4. Educational freedom is not about the absence of authority but about authority that carries an orientation towards freedom with it..
    | Gert Biesta
  • 5. 5
    We live in a sociotechnical world.
    Cf. Wiebe Bijker (1995) Of bicyles, bakelites and bulbs, MIT.
  • 6. 6
    Our action research project aims at self-organisation as attributes of learning to learn activities.
  • 7. 7
    Learning to learn is a term we use for those phenomena (including classroom activities) that aim at collective shaping of the process of acquiring competence.
  • 8. 8
    Self-organisation is a term we use for (autopoietic) message-systems that are autonomous, operationally closed and based on non-intentional principles of sociality.
    It presents a postsocial metaphysics to explain learning in contemporary contexts.
    This perspective derives from Bruno Latour’s actor network theory and Niklas Luhmann’s social systems theory.
  • 9. 9
    Central is the theoretical question to what extent learning can persist as socially structured activity that needs no particular external authority—such as national curriculum or formal patterns of schooling.
    This perspective derives from liberal education insights into the future of education, cf. Gert Biesta’s Beyond learning (2006) and Aharon Aviram’s Navigating through the storm (2011).
  • 10. 10
    Curriculum, school and formal teaching are intervening variables in a process of lifelong learning that is itself a self-organising principle of modern-day life.
  • 11. 11
    On the next two slides are references to two examples of self-organising education, located on Youtube:
    Sign language emergence among deaf learners in Nicaragua (1980s)
    Hole in the wall experiments for rural/poor children’s education (1990s)
  • 12.
    View the case of Nicaraguan Sign Language
    Prof. Judy Kegl
  • 13.
    View the hole in the wall experiments
    Prof. Sugatra Mitra
  • 14. 14
    On the next slide is an example of self-organising learning taken from our interview-data, collected in January 2011 among UK teachers participating in the national ‘Learning to Learn’ initiative hosted at the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CfLaT), University of Newcastle upon Tyne.
    The quote is by a 6th form History teacher who introduced learning to learn approaches to his pupils.
  • 15. I was able just to stand there, literally in the middle, and look at them, and listen to them, and know that I didn’t have to do anything. It was all self-starting, I just stood there and the machine rolled through its process.
    It gave me massive freedom, while giving them a big sense of freedom as well. (Hugh)
    Learning to Learn initiative
    CfLaT, University of Newcastle upon Tyne
  • 16. 16
    In our own project, 8 teachers in four schools around the university will voluntarily start introducing learning to learn approaches into their professional environment. They are from:
    1. An SEN school for learning-disabled children (aged 4-20)
    2. A community of primary and secondary schools
    3. A community of professional education colleges
    4. A regional network of 35 primary schools
  • 17. 17
    The teachers involved are conservative about learning to learn findings, but welcoming of practitioner research aimed at making learning skills explicit in their teaching.
  • 18. 18
    In summary, learning to learn is defined concretely as instruments and techniques aimed at collectively shaping the learning process.
    British findings suggest that learning to learn includes initialling conditions for more autonomous learning.
    We hypothesise such findings connect learning to learn to self-organisation.
    Teachers who volunteered for research in this area are conservative about learning to learn findings, but supportive of its goals.
  • 19. 19
    EndFurther reading on the next slide.
  • 20. 20
    Further reading
    Aviram, Aharon (2011) Navigating through the storm: Reinventing education for postmodern democracies. Sense Publishers.
    Biesta, Gert (2008) Beyond learning: Democratic education for a human future. Paradigm Publishers.
    Bijker, Wiebe (1995) Of bicyles, bakelites and bulbs. MIT Press
    Dangwal, Ritu (2009) Learning through teaching: Peer-mediated instruction in minimally invasive education. British Journal of Educational Technology 40(1)5-22.
    Kegl, Judy and Ann Senghas (2001) Creation through contact: Sign language emergence and sign language change in Nicaragua, in DeGraff, Michel (ed.) Language creation and language change: Creolization, diachrony and development. MIT Press.
    Latour, Bruno (2006) Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network theory. Oxford University Press.
    Luhmann, Niklas (1996) Social systems. Standford University Press.
    Mitra, Sugata (2001) Children and the internet: Experiments with minimally invasive education in India. British Journal of Educational Technology 32(2)221-232.