Through the years it has become increasingly clear to me that learning is a social act. This is easy to see when we observe a toddler learning basic skills during its first years, copying other people and experimenting with what it hears and sees. Similar processes are visible when someone starts a new job and observes how others behave and soon finds their own way around the workplace. This becomes even more interesting when a group of people who share fates in some way find ways to address common challenges in creative ways, learning together through discussion, deliberation and negotiation.

Varied input into the common problem solving process comes from the group members’ different vantage points and distinctive points of view and this has been shown to be one of the success factors of working and learning in groups. But the challenge of creating or enabling an environment which is conducive to collaborative learning, with a group of students who are busy, diverse, cannot all come together at the same place or even the same time can be a daunting one. But this is the challenge we face when we organize learning opportunities for adults today.

IThe social aspect of learning became increasingly evident in the research literature early in the 20th century. Prominent is the example of Vygotsky’s theory of social constructivism, published in English in 1978 (Vygotskiǐ, 1978) where he proposed that people build knowledge together through their interactions. Moreover, this point of view has in the last decades assembled even more proponents (cf. Bandura, 1977; Engeström, 2001; Wenger, 2010).

This is especially interesting in view of how theories of learning that dominated the earlier part of the 20th century were focused on an individual´s learning. Theories under the hat of cognitive psychology which studied perception, attention span, the size of short term memory, forgetting, and other related interesting aspects of learning are a good example of focus on individual learning. Today we see increasing interest in how learning happens in and through community.

I have seen in my teaching that learning in community leads to deeper and more meaningful learning. Additionally a vibrant learning community is something my students consistently mention as an important part of a successful course. This is true whether they participate online or face-to-face. Learning in community calls for, and can also lead to, a learning community which is built on openness and trust. It has thus been an ongoing project for me to find ways to facilitate such a community with the diverse group of students who participate in our courses.

In this topic we will study together various aspects of such social learning and hope to find ways to create a learning community in the courses we lead.


Guest speaker for topic 3

Learning is a social act – Hróbjartur Árnason introduces topic 3

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