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Essay: Understanding Education: Theories, experiences and arguments

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To accomplish this assignment on Understanding education: theories, experiences and arguments, I have chosen the following topics as literatures from the theme of learning.
A. Cognitive development through social interaction by Bandura.
B. A social theory of learning by Etienne Wenger.
C. The social learning theory by Vygotsky
D. A Ph.D. thesis by Jane Bozarth (2008) entitled “The usefulness of Wenger’s frame work in understanding a Community of Practice submitted to North Carolina State University’.
In addition to above, I have tried to use the concepts of multiple intelligence by Howard Gardner to social learning as I understood; it can be related in this context too.
My research question: how does social interaction impact on learning process?
I have tried to answer this research question based on the above selected four literatures along with my experiences. The research question is selected on the basis of my experience and interest as I found students have tendency of learning faster during group work and collaboration while I used to put some mathematical problems in the class. During the discourse of this assignment, I have also focussed to reflect my own feeling while I was a student. How did the social interaction impact on my own learning? What were the strengths and weaknesses from the social context and environment in my learning process? Were those favourable condition to learn are reflected in this assignment?
This assignment is divided into three parts with some subdivisions part I.
1. Part I
This first part focuses on the literature review having relevant concepts and ideas taken from different theories of social learning. The major concepts and ideas are dealt as follows:
1.1 Cognitive development through social interaction:
In this subdivision, concepts and theories established in the initial time of research in social learning theories are presented.
Bandura (1977, as mentioned in McLeod, 2011) summarizes that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling. The theory has often been called a bridge between behaviorist and cognitive learning theories because it encompasses attention, memory, and motivation.
According to Barbara (1986), he comes with an interesting point to be discussed as “like genes, social interaction and social arrangement are an essential aspect of child development, without which it would be impossible to conceive of a child developing. Even the process of conception is inherently social”(p.70). It demonstrates that right from the conception, there is need of social process and social interaction. It is focussed that development makes on the internalization by the novice of the shared cognitive process, appropriating what was carried out in collaboration to expose contemporary knowledge and skills. (Vygotsky, 1984). Here, the term collaboration I think indicates a social phenomenon that needs a social interaction. This emphasizes that more sharing of skills and knowledge to group members develops the horizon of knowledge and skills.
Hence, the Vygotskian perspective seeks social construction of meaning in a shared culture which indicates social interaction process.
1.2 Vygotsky ‘s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).
This concept of ZPD focuses on the gap between what a child can learn without instruction and what a child can learn with the help of parents or teacher. This demonstrates the interactional support of the knowledgeable person and hence social interaction is needed for learning (Vygotsky, 1984).
For example, while I was in class five, I had difficulties in solving puzzle. As I got the ideas from my teacher where I was confused, then, I advanced up even up to making puzzle problems myself. Here I reflect ZPD and social interaction concepts were involved.
After I learnt Vygotsky’s model of social learning, it is found that more learning is possible when pre-requisite knowledge is combined with ZPD having met with social interaction. He suggested that the social interaction develops cognition of human beings.
Similarly, Albert Bandura concluded after his Bobo Doll experiment as “children learn and imitate behaviours they have observed in other people” (Baudura, 1977, P.49). Here people are the components of social interaction that makes children learn new behaviours. The social environment, interaction with each other and socio-cultural contexts determine the learning process (Bandura, 1977).
Bandura (1977) emphasizes as “people follow and model other behaviours through the observation” (P.48). He has also given an example in this context that when a well-dressed person crosses a road when the traffic light was red, other people also imitated to follow him.
1.3 Wenger’s a social theory of learning:
In 1998, Etienne Wenger wrote a book named Communities of practice, meaning and identity. This book has focussed on the social theory of learning.
Wenger (1998) gives a strong theory regarding the social membership, identity and community of practice. He analyses that there are different communities of practice with different discipline of knowledge to learn their knowledge, one needs to be a member of that community.
Wenger (1998) mentions learning is fundamentally a social process in which we engage. According to Wenger “human are social kings and this fact is the central aspect of learning’. Knowing is a matter of participating with active engagement with in the community of practice (COP) (Wenger, 1998).
Wenger (1998) points out “learning as a social interaction between four components: community, identity, meaning and practice”(p.211).He focuses on the membership getting and active engagement in the community of practice as necessary components for learning process.
Wenger has strong concepts about social learning as learning can’t be deduced only by the simple process of knowledge transmission. He views learning is the inheriting dimensions of everyday life helps to reform this as a fundamentally social process in which we engage in everyday of our life (Wenger, 1998).
Wenger has put attempts to build the theory of social learning as a revolting concept at present. It is found that he has been framing and using this theory not only in education but also in society where learning of any community is to be practiced i.e. this theory had been used by Barak Obama and for raising European social fund.
As a learnt this theory, I realized that doing academic research itself is a community of practice and I am participated and make an identity by my active involvement to learn different ideas of research as well as to give a contribution of new knowledge to this community. During this discourse (trajectory in the language of Wenger), I am involved with research members as a part of groups. This may be my friends, professors and participants in professional seminars of research.
Wenger (2010) focussed on the pulling of experiences from practicing communities and pushing of own experiences to the community of practice as well to contribute the knowledge. Learning in embedded in practice and a part of practice was useful way of thinking. He claimed that the society is complex with different communities of practices and each member of community struggle to learn and produce new knowledge.
I agree with Wenger’s theory because learning in a group activity where participants share an area of interest, practice and engagement and discussion and activities they carry out. This really helps the teachers to form such communities in the classroom too.
The theory of Wenger helps to find the meaning and ideas of social interaction for learning process. More the shared participations and discussion, more acquiring of knowledge occurs and participants learn (Wenger, 2010).
In extension of Wenger’s theory , Bozarth (2008) mentioned in his research ‘Scholars and practitioners now have research findings that support a shift in focus from managing a community of practice, to nurturing and understanding the significant internal dynamics of learning, meaning, and identity’. This is the research done on the usefulness of communities of practice by Jane Bozarth.
Wenger’s theory enabled me to understand that we need to become a regular practitioner of a community if we want to learn. I am learning literature review as a practice of RSUC community. As I go on practicing the trends and make a discussion among the group members by a reciprocal process of giving and taking experience regarding the research, I myself learn and contribute to RSUC community too. This hence shows the relevancy of social interaction for learning and will be a good theory to compare/conceptualize my research question.
1.4 Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligence
The last literature that I have chosen to describe my research question is Howard Gardner’s theory of intelligences. After he originally listed the intelligences in the famous book ‘frames of mind’ in 1983 and later put forward nine theories of multiple intelligences.
In the context of my research question, I believe that social interaction belongs to Howard Gardner’s two theories on multiple intelligences they are as follows:
1.4.1 Inter personal intelligence:
Gardner (1999) defines interpersonal intelligence as “the capacity to understand the intentions, motivation and desire of the people. It allows people to work effectively with others’ (P.45)
The above definition supports us to stand on that this theory deals with group culture and collaboration among the group members as a part of social interaction and inclusion. This expresses the social experience as a part of learning and hence it is the theory that conceptualizes my research question as each group member share and learn from the designed practice.
1.4.2 Intra personal intelligence
As just it is to be meant, it shows the intelligence within self. But this is also another concept that I can link with my research question.
Gardener (1999) defines as “intrapersonal intelligence entails the capacity to understand oneself to appreciate one’s feeling, fears and motivation”(p.45)
Here, I want to describe that this intrapersonal intelligence gives rise to one’s feeling and whenever it is expressed among group members as a practice of a regular reflection contributes learning. Everyone learns from reflections and experience of other. There are life changing learning situation in a community because of contribution of an individual’s reflections and experience.
2. Part II
Whenever it is to talk about my own experience regarding the concepts of theory I discussed above and my own research question, I describe it in two parts. The first is during of school years of education and second is after schooling to till now as a practitioner of education and learning theory.
2.1 During my schooling
During schooling phase, we learnt my skills and new knowledge in a group with peers. As a friend, I used to interact with the classmates and share many ideas as well as learn behaviours and manners.
I used to imitate as that of my mathematics teacher. I liked the way he presented the topic and share his personal experience with students. In different gathering of school functions, we used to learn good disciplines and perform our task punctually. I was better in the subjects in which the teachers used to be more friendly and interactive.
I still remember that I used to walk similar to that of a teacher (say Krishna here) as I got it from direct observation and was interested for it.
In English class while I was in grade 10, we were learning article. I was confused in some question though I knew most of the question, when teacher supported me to solve that article’s problem; I was able to compose a good paragraph with correct use of articles. Here, now, I feel I had the ZPD and I got support as the English teacher interacted with me which was also a part of social interaction that enabled me learn.
I was aware on the social norms and values of my society because of I used to participate in the social celebrations, festivals. During this, my interaction, observation with other seniors and peers made me do so. Occasionally, we used to have confrontation and again have a consensus to make a common decision is also an example of learning from social interaction.
While I was studying intermediate of Science, I could observe the practices that were existing in Muslim Communities in the place called Rajbiraj and I learnt about their cultures and even compared the Muslim Community with Hindu Community. This comparison made me understand and appraise the practices that were going on in the Community which I think is a part of learning from social interaction as I used to participate in the function of Muslim Community. In addition to this, I feel now we Hindu students and Muslim students used to discuss about bad trends and traditions occurring in both the communities and learn what is good by drawing appropriate meaning of every events.
2.2 During my teaching profession
I used to follow different teaching learning methods. Among the methods I applied in most of the cases I found the methods of group making fieldtrips and mini research on different social phenomena made students learn better. Their engagement, exploration and active participation in the interaction with people, environment and socio-cultural contexts too gave a basis to reflect the usefulness of social interaction for better learning. I have found social learning in one situation helps to another situation. It helped students to be confident, make argue, accept and contrast, but again to come to a better solution as a result of shared vision and collaboration.
I felt group interaction and presentation in teaching learning situation developed unexposed competition and co-operation where power sharing I can say is in equilibrium among the group members.
To connect he theme to my one experience, I have another example to present here. It is a feeling of mine what I learn during the interaction with students. They sometimes come up with outstanding and critical contents related matter that makes me learn new concepts about the contents I deliver. This is another example of social interaction.
Similarly, my university education itself is from two different continents, i.e. Asia and Europe. In Asia, in university, we had more lecturing on the contents, but in Europe, we have more exercise to do. Here, I find two distinct communities of practice in their own norms and standard and I learnt to get the meaning of both the practices, newness when I myself became a member of both the communities. I practice, share and get active involvement and interact with different socio-cultural contents and people (members) of communities, this matches with Wegner’s theory of community of practice. During my university education, I interacted with many professionals and got new insights even occasionally I imitated to be as them when I was impressed with them. My imitation is when I am motivated and interested to behave similarly to my role models that still I copy especially the ones who has an interest in academic research.
A part from it, when I joined to RSUC, I realized myself involved in socio-cultural environment and social interaction with my friends, teachers and classroom while we were doing learning activities such as presentations, exercises, mini research on cows, trees and others. This has impressed me to find such unique designing of learning based on the social interaction theories.
Hence, every day we gain new knowledge, skills and behaviours because we interact with the world (environment) where we live in, practice by involvement and give and take the experiences of community and self. This process of social interaction has made me learn better and acquire new knowledge as well as contribute some newness in the field wherever I am in. This way I have got experience of social theories of learning that is closely linked to my research question.
3. Part III
Most of the theoretical texts I mentioned are linked to my experiences directly or indirectly. In some of the cases, because of context, my interest and social factors have also brought deviation on the usefulness of these theories in my life experiences.
Bandura’s theory of modelling made me a teacher as I was highly impressed with my mathematics teacher and I acted to become a teacher. Learning from society and environment, I changed, modified and transferred many behavioural skills.
Whenever I participated in the community’s practice, I learnt and contributed better if that was the community of my interest and when I felt I participate and therefore I am which is linked to Wenger’s theory of community of practice. Most of the times, I developed my own meaning to the community but when I engage to it, interact, I find and realize that there is a contrasting meaning that makes me analyse the situation and reality and bring to a conclusion. In this case, many ideas and people interact to have new meaning as Wenger got when he was asked to taste a wine when I was a student, teacher and researcher. I involved in their own communities and got different experiences from practice. I even have felt that sometimes I was excluded from the group that I was interested in gave me a bitter and disappointed experiences. In this case occasionally, I kept an ego to perform/learn better and even was highly stressed.
In my experience, the theory of multiple intelligence especially inter and intrapersonal intelligence also play a vital role to have social interaction and hence a better learning. The tasks performed by students in a group by the process of mutual engagement and shared goals have demonstrated good learning. It is a matter of fact how we stimulate and form the groups, what is the culture within the classroom that plays an important role. Thinking self on the contents and demonstrating it with other, sharing vision enable both the intelligences and promote learning.
During I studied the literature; there were some questions that were not answered by the theories. For example, in imitation/modelling, if learners develop/demonstrate opposite behaviours than that of the role model as they analyse that the behaviours exhibited by the role model are not positive. In this case is it again a modelling or opposite of modelling? This is yet to be answered.
Similarly, despite of many usefulness of social theory of learning, it has been misused and misguided to being unfair and strange competition from the information developed by social media as a means of learning. Learning occurs in both the cases, but whether that is ethical enough or not? Does it guide or misguide, check and balance is necessary as this theory has been in practiced by some political leaders and other organization to fulfil their goals, for example the model designed by Wenger for raising the European Social Fund (ESF). For this, a clear vision and shared goals is needed. How to make the learners accountable is my another issue that is not discussed in the theories.
3.1 Conclusion
To sum up, social interaction promotes a better learning. It also demonstrates a concept of democracy and inclusion to participate and to make the decision favourable to majority of the group. In social interaction, children learn from each other from their own active participation and co-operation. Children learn both positive and negative behaviour, so, the teachers and parents must be role models for their children.
In addition to this, children while in social interaction, learn from observation, motivation and their own interest. Children’s learning is also determined by the community of practice they are member in and the identification they get to share their own experience in the communities and to get the meaningful insight this experience sharing as a common and reciprocal communication involved in the group members of community. It is suggestive that while making group for learning in the classroom, mixed ability grouping and clear vision are the necessary matters to be considered. Also, during the social interaction, a more knowledgeable other (mentor) has a high responsibility to observe and give positive reinforcement to the learner. In this context, the mentor him/herself performs the role of a member in the social interaction.
Hence during the social interaction, the learners learn by scaffolding and getting a support as a part of interaction in Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Sharing culture, co-ordination, collaboration, modelling, motivation and interest make the learners learn better in social interaction process.
4. Reference lists
Bozarth, J.(2008). The Usefulness of Wenger’s Framework in Understanding a Community of Practice. (Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation ). North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Gardner, Howard (1999) . Intelligence Reframed. Multiple intelligences for the 21st century, New York: Basic Books.
McLeod, S. A. (2011). Bandura – Social Learning Theory. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/bandura.htm
Piaget, J. (1977). Les operations logiques et la vie sociale. In Etudes sociologiques, Geneva, Librarie Droz.
Rogoff, B. (1986). Adult assistance in children’s learning. In T.E. Raphael (Ed.), The context of school based literacy. New York: Random House.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1984). Mind in society. The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge,MA: Harvard University Press.
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge,MA:Harvard University Press.

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