Learning Processes

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Meaning-making and Learning Processes – Poul Goldschadt 1998
What does it really mean to be human?
Humans live in profound ignorance of their own existence while constantly changing. It cannot speak the truth about itself. It is not about being but about learning, becoming. The truth as enlightenment, as a process. We are language users who communicate, assuming the existence of a reality independent of ourselves and language – which, in turn, only appears as a fact because we are language users. Language and reality cover each other, although not adequately, and it presupposes a mutual relationship between language and reality. It presupposes necessary conditions for language use (necessary logical relations between words and concepts – without these relations, there are no words and concepts) – language use refers to logical facts without which reality does not exist, something we can talk about.Experience: That a person, for example, is something that has consciousness and a body is not just something we know from experience; it is a necessary logical fact that we have no possibility of denying. Experiences, considered as logical facts, are something we cannot deny without abolishing language and what we talk about. But our cultural background prevents us from assuming that something can be fundamentally true. This means that as long as something is not in contradiction with the most formal logic or concrete facts, anyone can say anything about anything – nothing can be truer than anything else. But the reverse is true: something is actually truer than something else.

Some believe that it is possible to attain secure knowledge, that we live in an ordered existence – that language expresses the true meaning of things. Language produces reality based on our own illusions to avoid ending up in the absurd.

On the one hand, humans are experienced as eternal, ideal, abstractly universal, and on the other hand, as the concrete individual. We only experience the concrete individual – situated.

Meaning-making and learning are seen in this context as a situated activity, where new (kin) participants acquire knowledge and skills to later participate fully and maturely in socio-cultural activities, traditions, i.e., pass on. A kind of “learning by doing,” but with emphasis on the situated (ethnomethodological). The individual’s individuation process, the learning process from child to adult, towards a mature individual, is of a social nature, emerging – first as peripheral participation, later with a greater degree of engagement and complexity in social and societal development. The “socialization” of children and young people can be seen as a movement from peripheral to mature/full participation in adult life through a series of situated learning processes and developmental paths.

Development, socialization, learning, and social adaptation: the establishment and maintenance of environmental control occur through the creation and maintenance of equilibrium (homeostasis). The driving force for the adaptation process is always a need. A need or interest exists when something outside or inside ourselves (physically or psychologically) changes, and behavior must be adjusted in accordance with this change. The equilibrium process occurs through adaptation, which has two aspects: assimilation, where the environment is incorporated into, adapted to the individual’s own activity, the formed structures, and accommodation, where the already formed structures are adjusted to external objects.

Situated learning is obviously dependent on the meaning context that the social situation opens up. There is no activity that is not situated. We are like monads placed, inserted into a social network located in time and space. A network that involves other individuals and their networks (home, school, administration, society as such, etc.) These are individual fields or domains that partly constitute and describe/limit the individual’s resources and at the same time constitute the societal structures that set necessary limits for the individual’s possibilities for development and changes in interpersonal interaction. This means that the individual can evolve, change, become a new person, a different person in terms of the possibilities that this system of relationships offers. The person’s changed relationships gradually make them a “fully” social member and thereby acquire autonomy and identity.

This means that identity, knowledge, and social membership condition each other. The formation of self, personal identity, occurs from this perspective through “cloning,” meaning that the person involves/lets themselves be involved in new actions, new functions, new understandings that do not exist in a vacuum but as situated parts of larger systems of relationships between networks that emerge within the social context.

Situated learning is used here in the sense of a process where individuals in a group, through the group’s practice, develop together under given conditions. The conditions must change under the given circumstances. Activity, meaning, and concept formation occur in situated contexts. What we know, can, and believe constitutes a “cognitive structure” embedded in the brain, and teaching is about collectively changing the brain’s construction system. The object is awareness of emotions and their emergence in social interaction.

The process can be described through three types of learning processes:

  1. Mechanical (cumulative) learning typically occurs when the person does not have or use essential prerequisites (typically in the first years of life). What is learned is isolated from mental processes (learning to ride a bike).
  2. Adaptive (assimilative) learning typically occurs in connection with the further development of existing structures. Most of what we learn happens as additional learning processes. Traditional learning through experiences and situations that fit prerequisites and needs – learning something more! One approaches things as if they were identical (similarity) to already added constructions.
  3. Confrontational (accommodative) learning: One approaches things as differences and must restructure already added constructions. Typically occurs when what is learned in a situation is no longer sufficient. One must exceed previous limitations, create new connections that can overcome the challenge, threat, violation. The individual must change themselves, change thinking and understanding through realistic confrontation with the surroundings. That is, there is opposition and conflict between assumptions, actions, and opinions and the experiences we have or tasks we face.

Not assimilation, a successive additive learning process, but extinction, freezing of no longer appropriate constructions. Erroneous knowledge is replaced by correct (the moon is not made of cheese) – idiosyncrasies are uncovered, and sympathies are redirected (all foreign workers are not necessarily social parasites). Is there coherence between thought and action, or are there contradictions and resistance to new knowledge and the experience of change? This applies to the development of relationships between individuals and their changes.

This means that the individual must change themselves, and it may involve rejection, consciously or unconsciously avoiding, distorting reality to fit assumptions, preconceived opinions. It happens through consideration, reflection, or trial and error. One gains greater understanding, insight, can accommodate more emotionally. But at the same time, accommodation entails unrest and discomfort at the affective level. Defense mechanisms come into play to bring order to chaos.

The three learning processes occur simultaneously. The ego can be considered the organizing entity that systematizes, integrates, brings coherence to the learning process structures that shape our experiences. The ego is “intentional,” in the sense of a fundamentally related action through which consciousness reaches out, unfolds in the surroundings to bring them back to the self, interpreted as things with meaning. Intentionality and Piaget’s “adaptation” correspond somewhat to each other. The consciousness of the ego and the surroundings is simultaneous and indivisible.

So, we only know the world through our conscious relations, assimilation and accommodation, intentionality. If the world presents me with something new, I can identify the thing through similarities and differences. In this way, my new interpretation folds into my previous one, and vice versa, my previous interpretations unfold, fit into the new thing, and thus undergo reconstruction in the light of the new thing.

The learning processes are interpersonal, to be noted. Meanings are constructed together with others. We are mirroringly dependent on others’ perceptions of the world and must divide the world into “how it appears to me” and “how it appears to others.” So, we can only approximate reality; we do not get it “pure,” but through our own veils and constructions. This means that we also distort reality at the same time! We fit experiences into our own images, diagrams, and metaphors. We are judgmental and prejudiced. There is a possibility of fixation, freezing, self-deception, where deception is a “natural” reaction to prevent the subject from fragmenting, breaking down.

The learning processes are not always pleasurable but are accompanied by feelings of anxiety. On the one hand, students can easily learn and understand a lot of psychological concepts and descriptions of pathological behavior, but “dissociatively” chosen: it does not concern me! There are things that consciousness “knows are true,” but in the moment of interpretation, trigger affective responses in the self, and emotions and intellect become disconnected. Active and deep engagement is required from the participants in these learning processes. Participants must learn to formulate their attitudes toward other people, cooperation, conflict resolution, and learn to consider their views and opinions as their “own personal views” about the world, learn ambivalence, and learn to subject their own prejudices to “scientific” investigation. Concepts such as participant control and problem orientation, empiricism. Situation and mood, cognition, and affect are drawn upon.

The drawing below can illustrate what happens when assimilation turns into accommodation. If one is in point A), challenges and abilities match. If challenges increase to point B) without abilities matching, dissatisfaction arises, immature defense mechanisms dominate, freezing occurs. If abilities increase in relation to challenges, for example, at point C), harmony is restored. In point D), a situation is seen where the challenge is too low, and abilities are too high, and again dissatisfaction, boredom, a new stress threshold arises.

  • Learning to learn
  • Learning to collaborate with others
  • Learning knowledge about the goal of learning
  • Gaining confidence
  • Utilizing one’s own creativity
  • How do we become
  • Who are we, and how do we relate to each other
  • How is the self formed, personality, individual identity?
  • How and why do groups arise?
  • How do hierarchical structures arise within and between social networks?
  • Where and why do problems arise in the individual’s individuation and interaction process, as we see them described classificatorily, in the form of personality disorders (cf. DSM-IV and ICD-10)?
  • How does violence between groups and society arise?
  • What triggers aggression?
  • What is “self-imposed immaturity,” and what situated enlightenment practices are needed to clarify the phenomenon?
  • What relationships and operations are involved in social activities?
  • How do people perceive the appearance and behavior of others?
  • What does it mean to take responsibility for one’s own learning?
  • How can I avoid the societal constraints so that I can experience, express, and develop my true self, including my emotions?
  • How do I get a proper placement in the race of life?
  • What is perceived as tolerable or disturbing in identity development?
  • How much concrete interaction with “self-regulating others” is necessary to maintain an undisturbed self-experience?