These last two weeks we have been learning about – among many other things – the concept of four types of presence in learning (and I have here used the concept in a context of higher education). These have been described as the teaching, the social, the cognitive and the emotional presences.  At first, I thought about the concept as useful in particular for the educator, as a tool for self-reflection as well as for course design. With a little more reflection, I´ ve come to think that also the students should be offered this tool for looking at themselves and the whole learning situation, and that one could examine one´ s persona (or avatar!) within each presence. I think that analyzing and understanding the learning situation (or the learning environment, if you will) in this way would help many students transition from an autocentric perception of self as student-and-future-expert to an allocentric state of openness to many types of knowledge and experience.

Without any scientific evidence at all, I suggest that the (in terms of education and studies) autocentric student has a rigid and sterile perception of knowledge: knowledge is static, quantifiable and readily transferred, rather like a blood transfusion. And when the blood bag is empty, i.e., when and if the teachers have done their job, you have earned the right to a diploma (Fig.1).

Figure 1
The “autocentric” student’s view of self and the university

Helping in particular new students to realize that they and their classmates and their teachers – and further on, society and the universe – interact and have meaning as social, cognitive, emotional and even teaching presences might help them develop better study strategies and techniques. This might even include development of life-long learning and a more fruitful perception of knowledge, and what it means to be an “expert” in a field, whether in astrophysics, music or gardening, although reaching such understanding might be easier in gardening, since this area of expertise requires multiple types and means of interaction already from day 1 (Fig.2).

Figure 2
The “allocentric” student and university
T = teacher

Thus, it is worthwhile for students and teachers alike to consider that “university” has links to “universe” and “universal”.

Then there are other learning situations – outside the university but very universal – and I´ ve been thinking in particular of the period of life when we learn more than ever, namely around the age of 1-2, and the years following those. This is when our receptivity and drive to learn are maximal, and when learning is critically dependent on interaction and collaboration with various types of expertise and experience. This period provides the basis for the understanding of one´ s place and opportunities in the universe. It´ s learning-by-doing, it´ s experimentation and feedback – and it should also be a flipped classroom, with blended learning.

As in the classroom, trust and respect are of the essence. It´ s more than sad to witness any abysmal lack of parental respect for a child – ranging from the irritated “oh, stop pestering me with all these questions!” to the range of outright abuse. Consider your persona within the four spaces of presence (Fig. 3). Trust that your child wants to know, and even if you don´ t know the answers to the pesky questions, show trust that somewhere, somehow there is an answer (whether from an expert or from a work of art). Show respect for the questions, show respect for the child´ s own answer or idea. Collaborate.

You might even learn a lot yourself from it.

Figure 3.
Consider the presences in the child´ s learning environment

University and The Universe