Abstract / Generalizable is just another context

Abstract / Generalizable is just another context

I wrote this reflection a couple of years ago, but never published it. I think it is still interesting, so I’m publishing it now …

I’m (re)reading Lave and Wenger’s (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation (Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive and Computational Perspectives). At first I was resistant to it as a theory that might be useful for my research – in part because of the “learning by doing” subtitle. I didn’t think that it would apply to what I was studying. In my first PhD project, it didn’t apply. So now I find myself (re)reading it with a whole new lens – I say (re)reading in part because I have read some it if before, but I don’t think I read all of it, having previously dismissed it as not useful for what I was trying to do.

Now that I’m back at it, some of the ideas are really making sense to me. The first is the idea that learning occurs in context, and as a result, stories help place knowledge in a context. Providing multiple contexts helps learners see the ideas from different perspectives, which will further help them adapt the information to the concept that they need. In addition (and this is where I find it particularly interesting/useful), abstract or generalizable are both just contexts. So creating a abstract/generalizable model to explain a concept, is just putting that concept into a special “context” that is abstract/generalizable. This is why learners usually need not just the “theory” but also need to see multiple example to really get the theory, because the theory itself is just a context. When we see something from multiple contexts, we are more likely to be able to take that and apply it to a new/unknown context.

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