‘Learning by Design’ Knowledge Processes

Following is a narrative description of the knowledge processes in the Learning by Design project.

The focus in the ‘knowledge process’ approach is on knowing as meaning and action. Or, more precisely, ways of meaning and acting in the plural. There are multiple ways knowing. We have identified four: experiencing, conceptualising, analysing and applying:

  • Experiencing

… is a Knowledge Process involving learning through immersion in the real, everyday stuff of the world: personal experience, concrete engagement and exposure to evidence, facts and data. This is one of the primary emphases of authentic education and synthetic pedagogy. Experiencing occurs as an unexceptional matter of course in the lifeworld—and the learning that is its consequence tends to be unconscious, haphazard, tacit, incidental and deeply endogenous to the lifeworld. By comparison, the experiencing that is part of pedagogy (learning by design) in its nature tends to be far more conscious, systematic, explicit, structured and exophoric. It assumes a stance in which the experiencing refers to a place outside of the educational setting—by means of textual, visual or audio representation, by simulation or by excursion, for instance. There are two, quite distinct ways of experiencing:

  • Experiencing the Known
    • … is a Knowledge Process which draws on learner lifeworld experience: building upon the learning resource of the everyday and the familiar, prior knowledge, community background, personal interests and perspectives and individual motivation. Human cognition is situated. It is contextual. Meanings are grounded in real world of patterns of experience, action and subjective interest. Learners bring their own, invariably diverse knowledge, experiences and interests into the learning situation. These are the subjective and deeply felt truths of lived and voiced experience. Cazden and Luke call these pedagogical ‘weavings’, such as between school learning and the practical out-of-school experiences of learners. Another such weaving is between familiar and unfamiliar texts and experiences (Experiencing the New). [See: Cazden on Pedagogical Weaving.]
  • Experiencing the New
    • … is a Knowledge Process in which the learner is immersed in an unfamiliar domain of experience, either real (places, communities, situations) or virtual (texts, images, data and other represented meanings). The ‘new’ is defined from the learner’s perspective: what is unfamiliar to them, given their lifeworld origins. To make sense of the new in a way which is adequate to productive learning, however, the new at least has to have some elements of familiarity; it has to make at last half sense; it must make intuitive overall sense. For learning to occur, it also needs to be scaffolded; there must be means for the parts that are unfamiliar to be made intelligible—with the assistance of peers, teachers, textual cross-references or help menus, for instance. The result is a journey away from the lifeworld along the breadth axis of expanding knowledge, taking a cross-cultural journey of one sort or another. Experiencing the New entails immersion in new information or situations, careful observation, and reading and recording of new facts and data. Learners encounter new information or experiences, but only within zone of intelligibility and safety, of what Vygotsky calls a ‘zone of proximal development’, sufficiently close to the learners’ own lifeworlds to be half familiar but sufficiently new to require new learning. [See: Vygotsky on the Zone of Proximal Development.]
  • Conceptualising

… involves the development of abstract, generalising concepts and theoretical synthesis of these concepts. In this Knowledge Process, the learner moves away from lifeworld experience along a vertical axis of deepening knowledge—examining underlying structures, causes and relationships, many of which may be counter-intuitive and challenge commonsense assumptions. This is one of the primary emphases of didactic teaching and mimetic pedagogy: teaching abstract concept definitions, rules and disciplinary knowledge frameworks. Conceptualising occurs in two ways:

  • Conceptualising by Naming
    • … is a Knowledge Process in which the learner learns to use abstract, generalising terms. A concept not only names the particular; it also abstracts something general from that particular so that other particulars can be given the same name despite visible and situational dissimilarities. In child development, Vygotsky describes the development of concepts in psycholinguistic terms. Sophisticated adult thinking equally involves naming concepts. Conceptualising by Naming entails drawing distinctions, identifying of similarity and difference, and categorising with labels. By these means, learners give abstract names to things and develop concepts. Expert communities of practice typically develop these kinds of vocabularies to describe and explain deep, specialised, disciplinary knowledges based on the finely tuned conceptual distinctions. Conceptualising is not mere a matter of teacherly or textbook telling based on legacy academic disciplines (a tendency of mimetic education), but an Knowledge Process in which learners become active concept-creators, making the tacit explicit and generalising from the particular.
  • Conceptualising with Theory
    • … is a Knowledge Process by means of which concept names are linked into a language of generalisation. Theorising involves explicit, overt, systematic, analytic and conscious understanding, and uncovers implicit or underlying realities which may not be immediately obvious from the perspective of lifeworld experience. Theorising is typically the basis of paradigmatic schemas and mental models which form the underlying, synthesising discourse of academic discipline areas. Conceptualising with Theory means making generalisations and putting the key terms together into theories. Learners build mental models, abstract frameworks and transferable disciplinary schemas. In the same pedagogical territory, mimetic pedagogy would lay out disciplinary schemas for the learners to acquire (the rules of literacy, the laws of physics and the like). In contrast, active Conceptualising with Theory requires that learners be concept and theory-makers. It also requires weaving between the experiential and the conceptual. This kind of weaving is primarily cognitive, between Vygotsky’s world of everyday or spontaneous knowledge and the world of science or systematic concepts, or between the Piaget’s concrete and abstract thinking.
  • Analysing

… is a Knowledge Process involving the examination of constituent and functional elements of something, and an interpretation of the underlying rationale for a particular piece of knowledge, action, object or represented meaning. This may include identifying its purposes, interpreting the perspectives and intentions of those whose interests it serves, and situating these in context. Analysing takes two forms:

  • Analysing Functionally
    • … is a process of involving the examination of the function of a piece of knowledge, action, object or represented meaning. What does it do? How does it do it? What is its structure, function, connections and context? What are its causes and what are its effects? Analysing Functionally includes processes of reasoning, drawing inferential and deductive conclusions, establishing functional relations such as between cause and effect and analysing logical connections. Now learners explore causes and effects, develop chains of reasoning and explain patterns.
  • Analysing Critically
    • … is a process of interrogating human intentions and interests. For any piece of knowledge, action, object or represented meaning we can ask the questions: Whose point of view or perspective does it represent? Who does it affect? Whose interests does it serve? What are its social and environmental consequences? This is the characteristic primary orientation of critique or critical pedagogies. Analysing Critically involves critical evaluation of your own and other people’s perspectives, interests and motives. In this knowledge process, learners interrogate the interests behind a meaning or an action, and their own processes of thinking.
  • Applying

… is a Knowledge Process in which learners actively intervene in the human and natural world, learning by applying experiential, conceptual or critical knowledge—acting in the world on the basis of knowing something of the world, and learning something new from the experience of acting. This is the typical emphasis of the tradition of applied or competency-based learning. Applying occurs in unexceptional ways in the everyday realm of the lifeworld. We are always doing things and learning by doing them. We learn by application in the lifeworld in ways which are more or less unconscious or incidental to the process of application, in ways which, in other words, are endogenous to that lifeworld. Application in pedagogy is always a process of more or less consciously taking knowledge out from an educational setting and making it work beyond that setting. It is exophoric. Applying is about as real as education gets, albeit not as endemically real as the unconscious applications that are of the lifeworld itself. Applying can occur in two ways:

  • Applying Appropriately
    • … is a process by means of which knowledge is acted upon or realised in a predictable or typical way in a specific context. Such action could be taken to meet normal expectations in a particular situation, for instance: objects are used in the way they are supposed to be, or meanings are represented in a way which conforms to the generic conventions of a semiotic or meaning-making setting. Never does Applying Appropriately involve exact replication or precise reproduction. It always involves some measure of transformation, reinventing or revoicing the world in a way which, ever-so-subtly perhaps, has never occurred before. Applying Appropriately entails the application of knowledge and understandings to the complex diversity of real world situations and testing their validity. By these means, learners do something in a predictable and expected way in a ‘real world’ situation or a situation that simulates the ‘real world’. This pedagogical weaving brings learners back to the world of experienced, but a world into which they have transferred understandings developed in other Knowledge Processes.
  • Applying Creatively
    • … is a process which takes knowledge and capabilities from one setting and adapts them to quite a different setting—a place far from the one from which that knowledge or capabilities originated, and perhaps a setting unfamiliar to the learner. In this Knowledge Process, learners take an aspect of knowledge or meaning out of its familiar context and make it work—differently perhaps—somewhere else. This kind of transformation may result in imaginative originality, creative divergence or hybrid recombinations and juxtapositions which generate novel meanings and situations. Applying Creatively involves making an intervention in the world which is truly innovative and creative and which brings to bear the learner’s interests, experiences and aspirations. This is a process of making the world anew with fresh and creative forms of action and perception. Now learners do something that expresses or affects the world in new way, or transfers their newly acquired knowledge into a new setting.

Kalantzis, Mary and Bill Cope. 2005. Learning by Design. Melbourne: Victorian Schools Innovation Commission.