Books; People; Ideas : These are few of my favourite things. As I live between day-to-day compromises and change-the-world aspirations, this is the chronicle of my journey, full of moments of occasional despair and opportune discoveries, of connections and creations, and, most of all, my quest of knowledge as conversations.
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Learning from Experience and Experiential Learning
Experiential Learning is the old hot thing. Not only everyone likes the idea - that learning should happen from practical life - it has a great pedigree in education theory. The new formula of competency-based learning, that learning should focus on useful competencies required at work, takes this idea further, and tightly weave all learning around experience, making all else superfluous. However, while this has become the new orthodoxy, one limitation of this conception is how to fit this into a rapidly changing world. When everything changes, and today's competencies may not translate into any future advantage, one would wonder whether experiential learning is enough. Besides, one ought to ask how to approach learning when change happens in our life and work so rapidly.
The answer may lie in learning from experience. I use the term in the classical sense, as used by Dewey, and as opposed to the idea of experiential learning. Dewey himself contrasted his idea of 'experience' with the conventional use of the term later in his life, and pointed out five important differences. It is worth revisiting them in the context of our very real problem whether experience can be a guide to our future action when the realities are ever-changing.
First, Dewey used the term 'experience' as a way of being (living one's life) rather than as an event which produces knowledge, which is how we see experience. So, learning from experience, in this sense, includes looking, feeling, sensing, being - not only knowing! It does not also mean to have to choose experiences which teach something and rejecting others which don't, but rather engaging with the world with an open mind and a spirit of inquiry. The pragmatists' project, which Dewey was advancing, was not to submit to any grand theories (as fashionable then - Marxism etc - or as we do it now, seeing the world through our religious denominations) but to treat experience of life and being as the origin of all knowing. It is the spirit of inquiry and openness in Dewey's project that turns lived life as a source of learning, with emotions confronting experiences and turning them into memorable events and a source of reflection and reference at a future time. In that sense, a sense of engagement with one's world is absolutely essential in this project, rather than looking out first whether there is any learning in it.
Second, experience is conventionally understood as an inner mental process, subjective and private, whereas Dewey, and for that matter all pragmatists, wouldn't draw a distinction between the objective world and action and the subjective experience. When we treat experience as engagement, experience is a deeply a social process, indistinguishable from action and very much part of it. Experiencing is not just about reflection (and writing reflective pieces for academic credit) but participating and acting, because only by acting one could gain the 'experience', that of living and being.
Third, this follows from the two preceding ideas of experience as a way of being and as indistinguishable from action, that Dewey's conception of experience is not the something that happened in the past. Engagement and action rather than recollection is at the root of this scheme - as 'we live forward' - and experience is about being a sentient and sensitive being, fully engaged in social world and being committed to action and change.
Fourth, 'experience' in conventional sense is conceptualised as isolated and special events, whereas Dewey would see experience as connected and continuous, as a way of being should be. It is the continuous nature of experience - made possible by the subject, the person, as the central and engaged part of the experience - that allows one to 'be' rather than just to 'learn'.
Finally, experience in the conventional sense, an event outside our minds, is seen as beyond reasoning, whereas in Dewey's scheme, where experience is not outside one's being, no experience happens without reasoning and engagement. It is the forward-thinking all pervasive reasoning that turns life into a source of learning and knowledge, and human beings into engaged, sentient, alert beings.
This stands in contrast with the conventional uses of 'experiential learning' which projects experience as discreet, specially designated events, which must end with 'what did you learn' discussions. The implicit idea is that such past events, analysed with reasoning as existed in the past, can remain frozen in a person's mind, objectively and disconnected from all emotions and ways of being, as a source of reference for future situations. This, in many ways, imply a different sense of learning - 'a bucket to be filled' - rather than Dewey's project of making engaged individuals - 'a fire to be lit'. And, this difference perhaps become central as we approach, if the claims are to be believed, a discontinuous point in our history, an age of unprecedented globalisation and automation, when we enter a new age of the machines and have to rediscover our 'competencies to live' all over again.
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation."
The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which appeared …
Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper etal, 1991). Arunthanesetal (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something).
The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive season, is …
Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’ However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female guest…
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch.
But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do.
Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
In an earlier post, I pointed out that the application of 'platform thinking' in education misses the mark, as it fails to understand how value is created in education. Since this apparently contradicts my earlier enthusiasm for the university as a 'user network', this statement needs further explanation.
To start with, Clayton Christiansen's idea that the universities of the Twentieth Century needs to evolve from its current 'value chain' model - wherein its value lies in its processes - to a form of User Network, where its value emanates from its community, still resonates with me. The Value Chain model, with departments, examinations, textbooks and degrees, that we know the university for, is very much a late Nineteenth/ early Twentieth century formulation. And, indeed, one can claim that the universities were always communities, and its value came from being a member of that community rather than its end product - the degrees - for much of history. It …
India's unemployment rate has reached a historical high and the government is panicking. It has rejected and suppressed the report and committed itself to inventing a new set of numbers. Members of the national statistical body have resigned, and the bad job numbers have become one of the worst kept secrets in its modern history.
As the government went down the road of obfuscation, it had also fooled itself believing that everything was fine. Once the statistical reports were questioned, the best explanation that the Head of the apex economic policy-making body could come up with was that Uber and other taxi-hailing companies have created millions of jobs in India. But then, the crisis is anything but hidden - walk on any street in any neighbourhood in any Indian city, and it is likely that you will see a few working-age people loitering, waiting or playing cards or carom in the middle of the day. IMF has recently warned that youth inactivity in India is highest among all develo…
Smart presentations don't mean valuable insights. So it is with the current fad of presenting the vision of an all-new 21st-century education - through presentations, conferences and infographics - style trumps substance all the way through.
For, despite the claims of revolutionary changes in society and the workplace, the neat charts that lay down 21st-century skills next to the 20th-century one's show do not how different they would be, but rather how similar these are projected to be.
We are told that we have arrived at a fundamentally disruptive moment in history and we need new skills. So, we need, for example, communication and critical thinking, learning to learn and a host of other cool things. Indeed, many of those terms are very familiar to the educator: Many of those were around for more than two centuries, ever since the dreams of liberal education were spelt out.
When these slides were presented, I often wondered whether the point about critical thinking meant …
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind, which echo the pessimism somewhat.
I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope.
However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right inside …
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago.
Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so.
Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself.
Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was, as I …
The story of British influence on Indian Education, to which Macaulay's Minutes of 1835 belong, has been told in six distinct phases. Syed Nurullah and J P Naik's very popular and influential History of Indian Education calls these 'six acts' of the drama: From the beginning of Eighteenth Century to 1813
The British East India Company received its charter in 1600 but its activities did not include any Educational engagement till the Charter Act of 1698, which required the Company to maintain priests and schools, for its own staff and their children. And, so it was until the renewal of its charter in 1813, when the evangelical influence led to insistence of expansion of educational activities and allowing priests back into company territory. From 1813 to Wood's Education Despatch of 1854
The renewal of Charter in 1813 re-opened the debate, which seemed to have been settled in the early years of the company administration, between the Orientalists, who believed the E…