Tonight’s Reading: Contexts for Learning

Mary has just blogged about this abstract, so it can be my reading for this evening:-

Edwards, Richard; Biesta, Gert and Thorpe, Mary eds. (2009). Rethinking contexts for learning and teaching: Communities, activities and networks. London, UK: Routledge.  – Mary’s the link is just to the abstract.   However, a preview of the book – the Introduction – can be read in Google Books, here:-

Richard Edwards’ Introduction begins by defining contexts for learning and teaching, explaining that we can imagine “context” as soup in a bowl – where the text (the soup) is confined within the bowl.  Thus, we extrapolate that learning takes place in different formal and informal contexts, particularly in the present emphasis on lifelong learning.  We can imagine the learning context as being various strata, or levels, and it follows that learning can be formal or informal (along a continuum), personal or in an educational system, and perhaps situated in communities of practice.  The boundaries can be fuzzy, of course.  When my mother hosts a gardening club or attends a patchwork club, it’s not a strictly educational setting, but learning (and teaching) certainly take place – the passing on of information between individuals or small groups.  Members of such groups may also learn at home, whether by books and magazines, broadcasts or internet searching.   If one of these individuals then chooses to attend evening classes or a college course, then obviously the context will have changed again, as indeed will the homework or self-directed learning taking place between formal classes.

Reading on, I am introduced to the notion of purification (separating out practices), translation (‘relating together’) and naturalization (both purification and translation:-

Purification, Translation, Naturalizing Contexts

I have to confess that this is getting a little complicated!  For my practice, I’m inclined to think that I don’t really need to know about the metaphors of purification, translation and naturalization.

Let’s think about Mary’s questions to us, then:-

  1. What constitutes a context for learning?  Very many different situations can be perceived as a context for learning, as I’ve suggested above.  It follows that our learners will probably be learning in many of these contexts, and as lifelong learners in particular may be learning in a variety of less formal situations in addition to, or in place of, the classroom environment.
  2. How do we engage the full resources of learners for learning? This is dealt with in Part 2 of the book (as we find on p.10 – still the Introduction).  Google books doesn’t allow me to find Part 2, so I am left asking myself whether by ‘resources’, we mean learning resources, or mental capacities and learned educational skills.  Amazon also offers previews, so I move across to Amazon at this point:-  I deduce that the resources alluded to are texts in all their variety and differing presentations, whether a book, article, web-based resource or whatever.  My instinct tells me that we need to engage learners with a variety of different resources, since we know that different learners prefer different learning resources.
  3. What are the relationships between different learning contexts?  I wasn’t able to find the part of the book dealing with this area.  I imagine the relationships between them can be many and varied, and that boundaries are perforce blurred.  If I am studying at home for a course like this, then the relationship between my “home, internet” context and the classroom physical context is fairly clear-cut.  However, if I were studying at home but with no formal learning structure, then this would be a different context.
  4. What forms of teaching can most effectively mobilise learning across contexts?  A multimodal approach involving different kinds of texts and activities would, I imagine, offer the widest opportunities for the learner to make the connections between different resources, but it behoves the teacher to ensure that texts and resources are chosen specifically to allow these connections to be discerned.  (Eg, it would make no sense to offer a music student a book about Wagner, and a CD of music by Debussy, expecting them to make the comparisons between these composers, if no comparisons were made by the author of the book, and the CD was of Debussy’s piano music – a genre not generally favoured by Wagner.  Conversely, a selection of books and audiovisual resources about orchestral music by both composers would afford the learner opportunities to detect or make connections for themselves.)
  5. How do we methodologically and theoretically conceptualise contexts for learning?  I cannot read the initial chapters which seem to cover this topic, but I have glanced at the contents pages in Part 1 of the book, and the answers to these questions would appear to lie in ‘theorizing learning by looking at genre and activity’ (David R. Russell); ‘taking an actor-network view of the classroom’ (Steve Fox); ‘looking at learning and context from the perspective of complexity theory’ (Tamsin Haggis); whilst Gert Biesta writes about the value of pragmatism in understanding ‘learning in context’.    However, I feel handicapped here by my lack of knowledge of the psychological and philosphical vocabulary employed in educational theory.  Perhaps, in a course of this length, it suffices to get an overview; clearly I can’t absorb and assimilate this theory to the same depth as I have studied within my own subject speciality.

5 thoughts on “Tonight’s Reading: Contexts for Learning”

  1. Karen, you are thorough in researching the source material and reflecting on possible responses to the questions in the abstract from a generic perspective. To take your reflections to a deeper level, try now to use the questions to offer a critical analysis of your own contexts for teaching (and learning). Can you reflect on the opportunities and challenges that you perceive in your own teaching context/s? How are you embracing these opportunities and challenges in your attempt to create a stimulating environment for your learners, to motivate and inspire them? As you reflect on insights emerging from your Teaching Artist studies to date, can you identify ways in which you might introduce positive changes / developments to enhance the learning opportunities for your students?


  2. Hi Karen,

    I’ve left a couple of comments on your blog – they are awaiting moderation (see the instructions sent by Marius to implement this!) I hope at least that you will be able to view them ok. If not, let me know.

    Best wishes as ever




    1. As I understand it, I just had to approve one comment then after that, approval should be automatic. I’m about to nip out, but when I get a chance I’ll double-check that my settings are right.


    2. I have checked my settings to ensure they’re in accordance with Marius’ advice. Because it’s a public blog, my understanding is that I only tick the second box, but I have to moderate all comments? The only thing I was able to change was from “strict” to “safe” where there were links. So I changed it, but it may not make any difference. I’m on annual leave this week and next but I’ll double check with Marius in due course. K


  3. I sent Marius a “snip” of my settings page, and he’s confirmed it’s ok.

    As to Mary’s initial comments, I think I see where the problem lies. I’ve spent so many years depersonalizing my scholarly writing (WE see, ONE can tell, but never *I* think, or *I* did), that I need to adjust to this different approach. I’m working on it …


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