Last week’s theory and philosophy in education and social research was delivered by Yvette Solomon, with emphasis on how sociocultural theory is used to understand learning. The session looks at the Marxist theory connections with social anthropology traditions of situated learning developed by Lave and Wenger (1991). They argue that learning is not simply situated in practice, that learning is an essential component of social practice in the lived world. In other words knowledge comes about through engagement in social practices rather than individual acquisition of skill and knowledge.
Vygotsky sociocultural theory also looked at how society contributes to an individual development. He based his theory upon analysis of apprenticeship models through guided interactions with the more experienced members of society. In addition, children acquire knowledge and problem solving skills which they in turn pass on to younger generation in the society. Lave and Wenger (1991) put this succinctly that mastery resides not in the master but in the organisation of the community of practice of which the master is a part. Although new comers have less knowledge and skill at the beginning they are important assets to the continuity and transformation of the community.
It could be said that learning is a way of social participation that includes meaning and Wenger (1998, p. 58) sees this as a reification by which practices are given congealed form. These refers to symbolic artifacts like signs, stories, concepts and beliefs which gives new meaning to the individuals and when internalised helped them master their own natural psychological functions of perception, memory and attention.
The session also looked at learning as a community of practice which is about developing forms of joint engagement – what helps and what does not. Knowledge in this context of community of practice ceases to be a homogenous being related to a student’s ability to interpret and comprehend standard written texts but rather as a diverse and heterogeneous phenomenon.
With reference to my research experience, the Education and Social Research Institute (ESRI) programme for example, is based around sociocultural way of learning – dialectical adaptation. Research students (apprenticeship) are assigned to supervisors who helped students with the required skills/knowledge in writing the final thesis. The acquisition of knowledge is intimately related to the appropriation of different tools and interaction with the immediate environment. This theory disagrees with Piaget’s earlier cognitive development theory of learning where learners are expected to be independent agents of acquisition. Finally, for my research interest, sociocultural theory will be used to look at multicuturalism in schools. The issues of culture and learning are interwoven and protected characteristics like gender, ethnicity, equality and diversity will be tested against this theory in our present day education system.
Lave, J. & Wenger, E (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Solomon, Y. (2012) Finding a voice? Narrating the female self in mathematics, Edu Stud Math, Vol. 80, pp. 171-183.
Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice: learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.