Content and metaphors. From the Agorà.

The #OLDSMOOC-W2 is ending.

I have tried hard this week to reach my own learning goal: to increase my level of engagement not only reading and reflecting, but collaborting. I’m in the middle of that battle, trying to develop ideas on adults education and open education, but this requires time…which is not that easy to find. My strategy is in any case to link my professional practices to the exchanges and the project I should develop…I guess this is an authentic approach to learning, but in my case, I would nominate the strategy, the desperate postmodern approach. Two many worlds, to many identities to manage, and the fight against my precarious way of working (and I like it). Searching for inner convergence, I have to force all outside there, my many worlds bundled in one dimension…oldsmooc…

After today’s interesting convergence session, I posted some reflections to our open discussion.

Josh provoked us, as usual, with these ideas:

Some thoughts from Jeff Waistell on useful metaphors for thinking about learning and context here and pasted below.

Here I summarise my thoughts about context for learning design, drawing on this resource –

My research mostly focuses on metaphors and so was particularly interested in this resource, which applies metaphors to understanding socio-cultural human dynamics through technologies. Firstly, I reflect that old language (e.g. lecture theatre, seminars, etc.) does not do justice to our new experience of virtual presence, which is complex, distributed and fragmented (perhaps metaphor use breaks down here, simply because we have no known analogies for this new phenomenon – the nearest I can get to is ‘the brain’ – but then brains are connected – which takes us back to the internet – we can only describe it, not metaphorise it). Beyond the lecture and seminar room analogies, things have changed with online learning – particularly when it is massive and online – namely, the size of the network, the scale, and the speed of interaction possible. Furthermore, there is the new viral nature of communication  (the spreading of a virus is a useful metaphor here).
Even closer to my current research is the application of metaphors derived from ecology, e.g. ‘evolution’ of networks, digital ‘landscapes’, ‘colonised’, ‘survival of the fittest’ technologies that meet particular needs and of users who co-evolve by adapting their practice to those technologies.
I particularly like the use of metaphors for learning: campfires as a place for teaching through storytelling; and the watering hole as a gathering place for sharing information (the English pub is known as a watering hole). I can think of other useful metaphors, such as the forest clearing (referred to by Heidegger), as a place to be and to gather with previously scattered others; and the ant colony as a site for massive interaction. We have even transferred human metaphors to the natural world, e.g. the school (in which humans learn) is applied to the gathering of a school of fish.

There is a quick reaction, that I follow from my mobile:

The frequent use of spatial metaphors is something which resonates quite naturally with those who teach using virtual worlds and, indeed, frequently invoke some of those settings in a literal if virtual sense. That said, this approach certainly doesn’t work for everybody (as per my chat elsewhere about alternatives to mindmaps).

My mind started to travel to the pass. These words connected me with a reflection I had done previously. Too long to be written in my mobile, I had to wait till today, and the convergence session was an excellent moment to focus this.

I found interesting this discussion, since I consider the context is something dynamic and has a “semantic” nature, where an initial learning situation, pushed from outside’s context, is recontextualized through the symbols, metaphors and images adopted by the learners. By dialoguing and negotiating meaning they generate a new “context” . This is not a new idea. Just take a look:


Sharples, Taylor & Valvoula (2007:231):

 “[…] learning  not only occurs in a context, it also creates context through continual interaction. The context can be temporarily solidified, by deploying or modifying objects to create supportive work space, or forming an ad hoc social network out of people with shared interests, or arriving at a shared understanding of a problem […].” 

This is convergent with the concept of “Learning Cultures” by  Goodfellow and Lamy (2009). In their book (here’s a review from IRRODL), they suggest viewing culture as inseparable from educational, linguistic, and technologies. To them, culture is something that is not outside a human group, but it is the thing they create; this is particularly applicable to a group of collaborative, interconnected learners. Can we equate culture to context?

I did my try, working with teens in sort of eTwinning, coming from very different cultural contexts. I called that “enlarged cultural context”, in the sense that I saw how this kids, using metaphors, images, idols, invented words and intertextuality, created a new in-between culture. The own context on the net.

I wrote this in another place, but I like and I share with you. Another metaphor to explain my idea:

 It is worth remembering, at this point, the classical concept of agorá. The Greek word agorá comes from the verb ageirein meaning “to gather” and, initially, it designated the assembly of the whole people, as opposed to the council of chiefs (boulé). Subsequently, it came to designate the location of that assembly and what occurred there, hence its later meaning of “market-place”. In Greek society the agorá became an important place which represented mainly democracy. Moreover, it was the place which offered the possibility of communicating, learning, and exchanging not only goods but also ideas. In fact, in Aristotle’s ideal city, the agorá represents the life of the city as it is separated into two domains: the vulgar, for business and commerce, and the free agorá for more serious political, intellectual and religious activities (Politics, 13331a31). Thus, it seems clear that the agorá is what people build through intense participation, rather than, a simple localized, architectonic place.

  I could conclude that meeting people from several cultural backgrounds and experiences on the Net is possible through the re-contextualization of interaction in the symbolic place provided by virtual learning environments and networks. 

The very interesting tools (1) that were discussed this week helping to contextualize Learning Design are, according to me, forms to start thinking about the learning culture. They are the ground to explore the possible metaphors. While discussing with the colleagues the Scenario, or the Force Map for example, I discovered that this was the seed to start building words, meanings, images to represent our new context of learning.

We come from different local contexts, but the cloudwork is already generating a new space, where a new (symbolic) context will emerge.

Who knows?


We will demonstrate the use of personas (see Nielsen, 2007) and force maps in scenarios (see Mor, 2012), and the ecology of resources design framework (Luckin, 2010) as ways of understanding and designing for learner context


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