Recycling learning

"...making good use of the things that they find, things that the everyday folk leave behind..."

Yep, that's a blast from the past for those who grew up watching the children's programme The Wombles on television. Essentially, the Wombles were furry creatures who lived on Wimbledon Common and tidied up all the litter left behind by the 'everyday folk'. Not only did they tidy up, they also recycled the objects they found, into something useful. We could do with a few Wombles down our street, I can tell you.  

How does this fit into education? I hear you asking.... well, read on. 

A useful concept to aid the understanding of current web based learning practices is Bricolage (Levi-Strauss, 1996). Art students will recognise it as the technique of creating an image from a variety of materials that just happen to be available. In architecture, bricolage can refer to the seemingly chaotic proximity of buildings from various periods and styles. For Levi-Strauss, bricolage described any spontaneous action, espcially those that are steeped in personal meaning. The principal meaning of bricolage however, evokes a 'do it yourself'ethos, where each individual creates personal meaning through seemingly haphazard actions that draw together disparate objects to form new wholes.

In the UK punk movement of the late 1970s, chains, safety pins and dog collars were all appropriated as fashion items, eventually assuming additional meaning as statements of personal identity. In the context of learning, bricolage is a useful analytical lens. It was applied by Seymour Papert (1993) to explain a particular style of problem solving. He suggests that bricoleurs reject traditional, systematic analyses of problem spaces in favour of play, risk taking and testing out.  Younger users of technology tend to rely less on formal instruction or user manuals when they encounter new tools. Instead, they launch into an exploration of the device, to see what it can do. They learn to use it by testing it out, and also observing their peers. These sentiments are echoed by Shelly Turkle (1995) who argues that those working in digital spaces, such as programmers, often work in a bricoleur style, working through a 'step-by-step growth and re-evaluation process', regularly spending time standing back from their work to reflect.

Many of the above traits are desirable, transferable skills for 21st Century working, and can be witnessed in the daily activities of learning on the Web. As students develop their ideas, they create content, often drawn together through a variety of search and research methods that can be disparate and seemingly unconnected. Learners draw on a wide range of content, not only from the web, but also from other media and non-media sources as they construct personal meaning. Their personal learning environments (PLEs) tend to be a bricolage of free tools, handheld devices and a personal network of friends, family and peers. Haphazard their learning might appear, but over a period of time, the various sources of their content crystalise together into accessible, meaningful and personalised learning.

In essence, today's digital learners are finding content, recycling and repurposing it, organising and sharing it. They are creating their own spaces, developing and using their own tools and apps, and generally 'making good use of the things they find'. In so doing, I believe that this current generation of learners are developing into one of the most innovative, literate and knowledgeable generations this planet has ever seen.

Levi-Strauss, C. (1996) The Savage Mind. London: Orion Publishing Group
Papert, S. (1993)  Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas. New York: Basic Books.
Turkle, S. (1995) Life on Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Touchstone.

Photo by David Radcliffe

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Recycling learning by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Anonymous said…
I thnk we'll have to redefine both "knowledgeable" and "literate" to fit into your paradigm. I find too often that ideas are simply recycled, not enhanced. Knowledge resides more on a device and less in the mind as well. Assuming you aren't using literate to mean "able to read and write," then I don't know what literate means today. The size of the "shared canon" of information available today, not to mention the near impossibility of placing that information into a "must know" category means that two literate peole may have very little knowledge in common.

I hope you're right and I'm wrong, but I see less critical thinking every day. The collecting of information you cite seems to me to be more an exercise in piecing together items I don't have to think through and less about taking what's there and doing something new with it.

There are brilliant exceptions of curse, but I think they are exactly that - exceptions.

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