I direct a masters degree that is delivered primarily in an online format. It’s hard for me to say the word “online” aloud when explaining the degree. The word online carries so much baggage. It’s almost like your saying you have a JC masters degree. To say “online” is to confess to some sub-academic realm.
I’ve got two students who have done grad degrees in ministry from other very reputable academic institutions in traditional format. They certainly don’t feel that they are in a sub-standard degree. In fact, one told me that she has learned so much more in this degree than in her previous experience. This is because, I think, that the genius of our degree lies in our overall philosophy of learning and online is one element that allows us to embody this philosophy. So, I’m looking for a new way to describe our degree. Here’s one I like. We offer a situated learning degree.
There’s a whole literature about situated learning (thanks to my buddy, Stephen Johnson for the heads up here). They distinguish situated learning from “learning as internalization,”or conventional learning process “by which a learner internalizes knowledge, whether ‘discovered,’ ‘transmitted’ from others, or ‘experienced in interaction’ with others. This focus on internalization does not just leave the nature of the learner, of the world, and of their relations unexplored…It establishes a sharp dichotomy between inside and outside, suggests that knowledge is largely cerebral, and takes the individual as the nonproblematic unit of analysis.” (Lave and Wegner, Situated Learning, 47)
Been there, done that.
In contrast, situated learning proceeds from the conviction that “learners inevitably participate in communities of practitioners and that the mastery of knowledge and skill requires newcomers to move toward full participation in the sociocultural practices of a community” (LW, 29). So, situated learning takes more fully into account the participatory nature of all learning in “communities of practice.” “Conceiving of learning in terms of participation focuses attention on ways in which it is an evolving, continuously renewed set of relations.”
Situated learning, therefore, takes more fully into account the nature of the learner, the world, and of their relations. As LW state it, situated learning “emphasizes the relational interdependency of agent and world, activity, meaning, cognition, learning, and knowing. It emphasizes the inherently socially negotiated character of meaning and the interested, concerned character of the thought and action of persons-in-activity. This view also claims that learning, thinking, and knowing are relations among people in activity, in, with, and arising from the socially and culturally structured world” (LW, 50-51).
Among other things, this means that persons learn in communities connected to a world of actions and motivations. We learn while we act with others.
I think we have a situated learning degree. By keeping our students in their world, in their network of relations, and by situating their learning in a cohort or community of practice, we greatly enrich the kind of learning possible.
We’re still learning how to deliver this to its full potential. I think we need to strengthen the apprentice aspects of it; better deliver coaching to students in their various situations. But this is definitely the track we are pursuing.
I’m hoping to learn more from the situated learning folks. I’m wondering what this sounds like to you.