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Action and Interaction; Learning in the Participatory Age

Is "learning" a noun or verb? Every dictionary tells us it's both. However, more and more, we see the word learning used as a noun. Should we be concerned about this? In a quest to gain a deeper understanding of learning in schools I have been reading samples of school vision and mission statements. Ideally, in a participatory age, learning lives as a verb.



While many school missions omit the word learning entirely, others use learning as a noun paired with some other academic activity related more closely to achievement. Achievement, a term indicating successful performance, is not synonymous with learning. In a recent change.school roundtable discussion, Will Richardson, always quick with a provocative question, asked, "Does school achievement guarantee future success?" My mom says the only guarantees in life are death and taxes, so of course, I answered no. 

The conversation was aimed at defining learning, and the point was the words learning and achievement are often used interchangeably in school contexts even though their meaning is entirely different. Learning, when used as a noun, most often reinforces measures of achievement. Inconsistency in defining learning leads to decisions and efforts aimed at efficiencies of teaching, instead of the more desired learning effectiveness. Remembering the wisdom of Russell Ackoff, our quest for system efficiencies leaves us falling short in effectiveness. 

"The more efficient you are at doing the wrong thing, the wronger you become. It is much better to do the right thing wronger than the wrong thing righter. If you do the right thing wrong and correct it, you get better." - Russel Ackoff

Smartphones, smart TVs, social media, and video games, our engagement on the web is saturated in action and interaction. The learning taking place in informal settings in unquestionably active and interactive. Learning, the kind happening away from school is a verb. Is "learning" being diluted by adjectives?

"... treating the word 'learning' as a noun rather than a verb has the semantic effect of turning a process into a product: the means of coming to know something becomes the end itself." - Michael Fordham

Engaging, empowering, inspiring, collaborating, and creating are appealing verbs which conceptually support learning as action and interaction. It would seem a key to school improvement is defining what we mean by learning and reminding ourselves the most appropriate, most effective, use of the word "learning" is when we use it as a verb. 

"The learning process is one which engenders and reinforces wanting to learn more. Absent wanting to learn, the learning context is unproductive." - Seymour Sarason

Related Reading

Sarason, S. "And What Do You Mean by Learning?" (2004).


photo credit: laszlo-photo water nipple via photopin (license)

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