Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Question of Questions

Response to LCB’s Big Question for February

According to Nyaya, an ancient Indian brahmanical school of philosophy (around 3rd century AD), one should undertake an enquiry based on the following principles:

1. Enquire only if you doubt the validity of what is being enquired into
2. Do not enquire if you are certain of the answers
3. Enquire only if there exist different understandings of the same aspect
4. Enquire only if there is a possibility of a certain outcome to the enquiry

In short, the aim of the enquiry is certain knowledge and with that the conclusion of the enquiry. If it’s impossible to arrive at certain knowledge, it is pointless to start the enquiry in the first place. Of course, this enquiry must contribute to the attaining of the “highest good” or liberation.
Because learning professionals can never be liberated (and could soon be an extinct species), we might need to flip some of these principles.

1. Ask questions whether or not you doubt the validity of the information you are seeking
2. Ask even if you are certain of the answers (you could be in for some surprises!)
3. Ask questions whether or not everyone believes in the same answers
4. Ask even when you are absolutely sure that you won’t have a clear or certain outcome to your enquiry

In short, the aim of your enquiry is uncertain knowledge and with that the further opening up of the enquiry. If it’s possible to arrive at certain knowledge, you are probably asking superficial questions. Of course, this enquiry will not liberate you from all ambiguity, but might provide just enough clarity to form your hypothesis and get cracking on your design.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Game vs. Play

Social scientist Shiv Visvanathan makes an interesting distinction between game and play in his article, Alternative Futures, which appeared in the opinion page in The Times of India (dated Feb 10th):

“A game is a bounded, specific way of problem solving. Play is more cosmic and open-ended. Gods play, but man unfortunately is a gaming individual. A game has a predictable resolution, play may not. It allows for emergence, novelty, surprise.”

How does one create play in learning? To begin with, is it even conceivable to create it? Maybe it’s possible to set the ground for play and shift the power to the learner/user to play. Google (along with G-Talk, G-mail, You Tube, Blogger) is one such ground, Second Life is another.

Play is the way you learn from life while you use Game to learn in an organization or in an institution. (I’m using Play and Game more in a metaphorical sense than in a literal sense.) Why? Because Play is open ended, non-purposive, and endlessly interpretative, whereas Game is purposeful, focussed and driven towards an objective. I’m not saying that Play cannot be purposeful but a game certainly cannot be non-purposive. Maybe I’ll try to expand this line of thinking some other day.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Positions on Learning

Most of us have our “individual” positions on learning. It’s not strictly individual—that is, we don’t necessarily create these positions, but most of them are already available to us from a drop-down list. Here are a few of them:

  • The empirically proven positions (as opposed to “relativist” socio/philosophical positions)
  • The constructivist positions (as opposed to “reductionist” behaviorism)
  • Learning by doing positions (as opposed to “passive” learning by reading and listening)
  • E-learning 2.0 or learner-generated content positions (as opposed to “unidirectional” ID/SME-generated e-learning 1.0)
  • Scientific instructional design positions (as opposed to “faddish” learning theories)
  • Informal learning positions (as opposed to “top-down” formal learning)

It looks as though you cannot take a position without being anti-something. There’s nothing wrong with taking positions as long as we remember that a position is not an inflexible, pre-defined template. (Would anyone consciously want to take a frog-in-the-well position?) A position should be like an adaptive template, constantly adding and removing elements, in a perpetual quest for the ever evading truth. And we should have no shame in discarding this template the moment we realize that it was an inappropriate template to begin with.

* The words in inverted commas are accusatory terms used by the opposite camp.

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