Is Independent Learning Really Learning?

A few summers ago, I was very interested in getting FileMaker to convert hex numbers to decimal numbers and vice versa. This was an arcance enough question that I could not find a ready answer either online or in the user’s manual. I was on my own.

What I did was create a solution based on lookup tables…pretty much on my own. The question is – Did I learn anything?

This may sound like a trick question, but consider that modern pedagogical theory places a premium on “human interaction”, “joint activity” and “sociocultural practice.” Consider this definition of learning and knowledge”

  • Knowledge is ability to participate in a community of practice.
  • Learning is becoming a member of a community of practice.

William J. Clancy, A Tutorial on Situated Learning

So according to this, I’ve learned only if I become a member of the community of practice (I’ll call it Filemaker usage). But am I in the FileMaker Community of Practice (CoP)? Most definitions I see assume some sort of collaboration. For instance the “signs” of a CoP (according to Etinne Enger) all involve interpersonal communication – none of which I did. I did not ask for help, only researched it and experimented on my own. The most I may do is read some article and lurk on a Listserv. Otherwise I may be experimenting completely on my own.

So again I ask, according to this theory, am I really “learning” if I don’t collaborate with someone else? Think about it.

P.S. The Standard Workaround

The standard workaround to this “paradox” is that my learning is “culturally” mediated – which in this case means I am using man-made software, learning from books written by humans and building on one Filemaker lecture seminar…but few theorists seem to really regard this as adequately “social.”

By the way, I don’t discount the need to get feedback from other people, especially when you are working to analyze a tough problem. But as a colleague once asked, why does modern pedagogy assume that no learning can happen until two people are in the room?

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