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July 13, 2015

Learning: A Process Of Knowledge Construction

Posted by Aruna C. Newton (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:31 AM

Learning: A Process Of Knowledge Construction

Learning, like religion, is a personal process. Often when people say, "I made them learn," or "I taught them," what they actually mean is, "I facilitated the conditions for learning to take place."

Research suggests that this realization is changing our thinking, from simply delivering the curriculum to infusing learning within the multiple contexts of our lives. According to Robert Resnick, an educator who specialized in physics, the cognitive theory of learning emphasizes three interrelated aspects of learning. The first is that learning is a process of knowledge construction, not of knowledge recording or absorption. Secondly, learning is knowledge-dependent - people use current knowledge to construct new knowledge and thirdly, learning is highly attuned to the situation in which it takes place. According to a Stanford University report on learning theories, the learning environment makes a difference, too. The report argues that people learn by making associations and learning takes place in social and cultural contexts. Therefore, teaching is all about creating or organizing the right environment. Knowledge and people form parts of the right conditions for learning.

Many decades ago, Dr. Bernice McCarthy, a kindergarten teacher who went on to become a learning expert, created the 4MAT, a method that helps learners become successful. The method states that "humans learn and develop through continuous, personal adaptations as they construct meaning in their lives." A seemingly simplistic framework for learning, encompassing the 'Why', 'What', 'How' and 'What Else', which directly implies meaning, context, skill and adaptation.

In a research report way back in 2004, Gartner coined the term versatilist to describe the new-age professional. Gartner refers to a versatilists as those "who are able to apply a depth of skill to a progressively widening scope of situations and experiences, equally at ease with technical issues as with business strategy." Thomas Friedman, in his book The World is Flat, adds that versatilists are capable not only of constantly adapting but also of learning and growing. In fact, he compares them to Swiss Army knives, as opposed to specialty tools that do just one thing. In a world where change is the only constant and dynamism the lifeblood, no curriculum, however carefully constructed, can deliver the goods. In short, the world needs an abundant supply of versatilists who can meticulously apply the 'Why' and 'What Else' frames to a situation with ease, thanks to their superior learning experiences.

But stop for a moment and look around you. Pick up a book from your child's curriculum, leaf through your own textbooks from college and the material from the last training program you attended. What do you see? I'm sure you will realize that the 'What' and 'How' frames dominate written literature on subject after subject. There's very little on 'Why' (maybe you simply stopped asking 'stupid' questions and so authors stopped answering them) and of course, almost nothing on 'What Else' altogether (it's just too vague to comprehend). When I think about situations like these, I find myself asking - how are we ever going to create the new age professional, the versatilist?

Clearly, it is time for us to rethink learning to include the word 'versatilist' into our corporate competency dictionaries. It is equally important to build holistic adult learning environments at the workplace that strengthen the 'Why' and 'What Else' learning frames significantly. One way to get there is to include Design Thinking principles in our everyday learnings. Design Thinking, a concept that blends art, craft, science, business sense and an astute and empathetic understanding of customers and markets, is taking shape in many corporate environments. Infosys is one of them. We have already trained over 30,000 employees on Design Thinking principles (as of March, 2015), in partnership with Stanford's d.school. They say that the hallmark of great design thinkers includes empathy, innovation, experimentalism, integrative thinking and of course, optimism. The good news is that those words are the ones with which we want to be associated at Infosys!

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