Dissolving the Walls: An Inquiry into Nomadic Agile Learning

Stevens, Matthew
Frielick, Stanley
Gibbons, Andrew
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

Dissolving the Walls is an inquiry into nomadic agile forms of learning beyond the constraints of educational institutions and qualifications. It starts with the tensions I experienced in my own teaching practice when applying an agile learning approach within a graduate diploma of creative technologies. The agile approach—involving individualized curricula, introducing and connecting learners directly to the domain of practice, and action-based learning approaches—stood in tension with dominant models of prescribed curricula and defined learning outcomes.

Underneath this tension is a core contradiction between different worldviews and epistemological beliefs. In order to establish a suitable epistemological frame for the inquiry, the thesis begins with a philosophical discussion of the dichotomy between subjective knowing and objective knowledge. I turn firstly to Deweyan pragmatism—a naturalistic theory of knowing—that is able to dissolve traditional mind-world dualism through its holistic notion of transactional experience. This is followed by a comparative discussion of other similar action-orientated perspectives. These include enactivism and activity theory which, taken together with pragmatism, are able to contribute to a richer pragmatist-enactivist onto-epistemology of situated knowing.

I then return to the practical pedagogical problem of the learning situations themselves and how these might be reconceived from a pragmatist-enactivist perspective. Generally following a Deweyan process of inquiry and using a mixed toolkit of approaches, I begin with a tentative proposition for a nomadic agile learning approach—beyond the constraints of institutions and qualifications. I then set out to collect the perspectives from the main participants in the wider learning activities through a series of semi-structured interviews. Participants included former students, teaching colleagues and employers. The interviews revealed differences in the epistemological beliefs and pedagogical expectations between participant groups and between individuals within the groups. Despite these differences, I found that there is common ground—in relation to what needs to be learned and how it is learned—that can form the basis for new shared understandings and participation in an integrated learning-practice approach.

What emerges is not a learning model that can be applied generally to all situations. Rather, particular learning-practice situations are dynamically co-constituted by the participating learners, teachers, practitioners and workplaces. Traditional boundaries between learning and work activities are dissolved to form a continuum of potential learning situations, within the wider domain of practice. As practice situations are always sociocultural situations, it is not only the individual learner-practitioners who learn—the whole situation itself also learns. This has particular significance for learning for professional practice, especially in creative technologies domains. Rather than privileging workplaces as stable practice situations—for which learners first need to acquire work-ready skills—they are better understood as continuously unfolding learning-practice situations that emerge from the dynamical transactions of the participants. The implication for learning courses is that rather than workplaces being passive beneficiaries of learning that takes place in separate educational contexts, we need to dissolve the walls to create an integrated participatory approach in which learners, institutions, teachers, professional practitioners and workplaces all jointly contribute and learn together.

Agile Learning , Nomadic Agile Learning , Pragmatism , Enactivism , Teaching and Learning , Creative Technologies , Design Education , Vocational Education , Pedagogy , Epistemology
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