putting the context into learning
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Pedagogy, Culture & SocietyPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rpcs20
Putting the context into learningRichard Edwards a & Kate Miller aa University of Stirling , UKPublished online: 25 Sep 2007.
To cite this article: Richard Edwards & Kate Miller (2007) Putting the context into learning,Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 15:3, 263-274, DOI: 10.1080/14681360701601887
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14681360701601887
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Pedagogy, Culture & SocietyVol. 15, No. 3, October 2007, pp. 263274
ISSN 1468-1366 (print)/ISSN 1747-5104 (online)/07/03026312 2007 Pedagogy, Culture & SocietyDOI: 10.1080/14681360701601887
Putting the context into learningRichard Edwards* and Kate MillerUniversity of Stirling, UKTaylor and FrancisRPCS_A_260040.sgm10.1080/14681360701601887Pedagogy, Culture & Society1468-1366 (print)/1747-5104 (online)Original Article2007Taylor & Francis153000000October 2007RichardEdwardsr.email@example.com
The article explores the conceptualization of learning and context from a number of perspectivesand some of the theoretical and methodological issues raised when context is no longer consideredas a container, but as a relational effect. It provides an introduction for the articles that follow,insofar as they take up lines of flight from the issues raised. Central to the article are the questionsof what makes something specifically a learning context; and what different ways of conceiving therelationship between learning and context might be, and with what implications.
Research on everyday practices typically focuses on the activities of persons acting,although there is agreement that such phenomena cannot be analyzed in isolation from thesocially material world of that activity. But less attention has been given to the difficult taskof conceptualizing relations between persons acting and the social world. Nor has therebeen sufficient attention to rethinking the social world of activity in relational terms.Together, these constitute the problem of context. (Lave, 1996, p. 5, emphasis in original)
This special edition of Pedagogy, Culture and Society arises from a series of seminars(http://crll.gcal.ac.uk/tlrp.php) that took place in the UK in 2005 and 2006, whichaimed to explore pedagogically, conceptually and methodologically the relationshipbetween learning and context and address the question of what specifically consti-tutes a learning context. The seminar series arose from work undertaken within theTeaching and Learning Research Programme (www.tlrp.org). For a number of yearsthis programme has funded projects focusing on teaching and learning in differentdomainsschools, colleges, universities, workplaces, community. From individualprojects a number of cross-cutting themes emerged for more explicit exploration. Thequestion of learning and context was one such theme. These are not new questions.In their edited collection, Chaiklin and Lave (1996) suggest that all social practicesare contextualized and involve learning, but how those practices are conceptualizedis more contentious. Central to many contemporary discussions of learning, drawing
*Corresponding author. Institute of Education, University of Stirling, Stirling, FK9 4LA, UK.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
264 R. Edwards and K. Miller
upon situated learning theory, activity theory, complexity theory and actor-networktheory, are questions about how we frame an understanding of learning and context.
The articles included in this edition of the journal are a selection of those presentedat the various seminars in the series. Authors have updated and extended theiroriginal papers in the light of discussion and feedback and the articles have beensubject to the normal reviewing process for this journal. This article provides a surveyof some of the existing literature and some of the issues it raises as a way of framingwhat follows.
Questions of context are brought into particularly stark relief by developmentspromoted through a discourse of lifelong learning. If learning is lifelong and lifewide,then what specifically is a learning context? Are living and learning collapsed into eachother? Under the sign of lifelong learning and following work on situated learning (e.g.Lave & Wenger, 1991), a great deal of attention is being given to those domainsoutside educational institutions and other structured learning opportunities whereinpeople are held to learn. The workplace, the home and the community are all held tobe domains of learning, within which there are specific sites. In this sense, there arelearning contexts distributed across the social order and embedded in social practicesto such an extent that the social order is itself already a learning context, and poten-tially learning becomes an undifferentiated practice. That this is the case has becomeperhaps most apparent in the development of distributed, blended and online learningthrough the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the useof the Internet as a site and resource for learning and its associated network metaphors.
Insofar as we expand our concept of learning to embrace apparently all domains oflife, we might be said to start to lose the conceptual basis for talking specifically of alearning context. This raises important questions:
What is specific to a learning context, which is not to be found in other contexts? What characterizes a specifically learning context? What is the relationship between learning and context? Who names these contexts as learning contexts?
The latter is important insofar as the discourses of educators and researchers are notnecessarily shared by those who are engaging in practices within the domains identi-fied as contexts of learning. Thus, for instance, researching family history may beconsidered a leisure activity by those who are engaging in it, when for many educatorsthis would be considered a form of learning. The meaning and significance of socialpractices can therefore vary. Insofar as people do not identify themselves as learningin different domains, they may not draw upon the resources and relationships avail-able to them for learning in other domains. Here it is a question of what can beascribed as learning by whom, rather than discovered to be learning.
Insofar as learning is identified as taking place in a range of domains and the learn-ers themselves move in and between these domains, then we raise issues of transfer,
Putting the context into learning 265
the movement of learning and identity from one activity to another. This may be fromtask to task within a single domain or between domains, signifying different distancesbetween contexts. However, even here we have to be cautious, as that notion of learn-ing being transferred from one activity to another already assumes a certain view oflearning and context, where learning is taken from one box and put in another.
The question then emerges about how we understand a learning context, when thelearning is not bounded by a specific set of institutional relationships and structures.Pedagogic approaches may seek to bound the learning and the learner, but there isalso the sense in which there is a desire for learning to be mobile, to be for a purpose.This is exemplified, for instance, in the discourses of transferability and transferableskills and those of the recognition of prior experiential learning. In this sense, acontext may be considered a bounded container within which the learning takesplace, or a more fluid and relational set of practices. In the former, there is a sense inwhic