Reflections on thinking, learning and the message

Learning as a process or a phenomenon is something I sometimes try to escape in my reasonings, as some days I can not even stand the topic because of the too mixed up discourses around it. But for some reason it comes back to thoughts, often with new flavours. Call it passion, call it whatever.

When I moved to Australia, I had to choose just a couple of “real” paper books with me. What I left behind was almost a roomful. Although some consider it after his golden era, I had grown fond of Heidegger’s ‘What is called thinking?’ (Was Heisst Denken?, 1954) and brought it with me. I do not consider myself as Heideggerian, although a certain person (you know who you are) have suggested that. Still, I cannot deny that introduction to his thinking has indeed provided new venues for my own.

As the name of the book implies, it discusses thinking, and simply summarized, with an assertion that we are still not thinking.

Most thought-provoking in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking. (p. 6)

My reason to write this is not to try to explain what Heidegger possibly meant with the series of lectures of which the book builds on. What interests me here is examining the arguments with higher education learning as the focus.

Heidegger suggests that

Teaching is even more difficult than learning. (…) because what teaching calls for is this: to let learn. The real teacher, in fact, lets nothing else be learned than – learning. (…) The teacher is ahead of his apprentices in this alone, that he has still far more to learn than they – he has to learn to let them learn. The teacher must be capable of being more teachable than the apprentices. (p. 15)

I have to resist quoting the whole paragraph, because that is most likely too much. Some of the words in this argument make me think if he really used these terms or has something been lost in the translation. However, this particular part, coming all of a sudden in the book, in conjunction with thinking as the focus, is interesting to me.

Heidegger suggest we are still not thinking. What does this mean? When we are on our paths in the so called formal education, are we not thinking? We “cover a lot of content” and write essays about them in culturally accepted forms. Does this not constitute as thinking? Dears he suggest that this is not what thinking is about? What am I not thinking when I am writing this blog post? What “withdraws” from me, from us?

I feel a connection could be found from Finland, from Yrjö Engeström’s thinking (the use of word intended), and his theory of Expansive Learning. In one of his books, Kehittävä työntutkimus: perusteita, tuloksia ja haasteita [in Finnish, sorry folks], he refers to Bateson’s levels of learning [in English].

These matters connect with Heidegger and his thinking. For us to learn, we very often think about the content and not with it or how it affects our own thinking and frames of reference. I have not followed this idea through, but for me this sounds something to be also connected with Jonassen’s “learning with technology“. We need to ponder what terms such as “medium” and “technology” mean to us. Information and communications technology. Technologies, weather digital or for example processes, are to support humans to achieve something easier. [How] is information and communications technology helping us learn thinking?

We are fond of consuming and examining content, but we do not pause and reflect upon it, or ourselves in the event of learning.

Reflection is also one of those troublesome terms. With reflection, I mean thinking about our own thinking, and thinking about ourselves in the middle of the event of learning; Do we just try to hack the game of learning, how to beat the system (Bateson’s level 2 learning), or do we actively inquiry into how the learning events and stimuli affect our thinking, questioning our very being and thus really try to learn and think? In general we are too fond of following the routes that please us, that make us feel good, rarely asking could something else that does not seem to please us in the beginning to be more important for our understanding.

To think, is to think and reflect the world and ourselves in it, the stimuli we receive and how they affect us. Great deal of evidence shows that we are very picky in our personal theory making, too often we assimilate new information to our existing patterns of thought. I feel that to truly be in the world, is to question the stimuli, processes, our own thinking and how we are in the events we are thrown to. To look beyond those in a larger systemic context.

So what is the message of learning? As I’ve been attending to a media convergence course conserning myself both as tutor (a role assigned to me) and a learner (a role assigned by me), I feel obliged to refer to McLuhan and his “Media is the message”. What are the messages of higher education as a medium [of learning]? The message is written in the processes, in how we act our roles during the play, on what we spend our time in the university and what we try to achieve, and how. The message is quite easily there to be noticed if one reads the world and the word (thanks to Joan Wink and of course to Freire for this nice thinking tool).

Heideggers suggests that the most thought provoking in our thought provoking time is that we are still not thinking. If we are not thinking in the events of learning, what are we doing?

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7 thoughts on “Reflections on thinking, learning and the message

  1. Answering your last question ‘ what are we doing?’ It looks like , unfortunately ‘ the blind is trying to guide the blind’ but fortunately ‘ in a dark room

  2. Well, I think human brain is still too slow for thinking… mostly learning is not thinking but repeating until we can produce it without thinking. Then, we think we are thinking, but in reality we are just recalling what we have been repeating N times. It is a bit sad, but there is nothing we can do about it unless we get some hardware update to our brain. The best teachers are usually the one’s with most practice on the matter – thus the fast learners may not be best teachers, since their N is rather small compared to more slower ones.

    • Thank you for the contribution Tero! Might I then ask what interests me in this view: if the situation indeed is as you describe, from where does all the new come to the closed system of learning through repetition?

      • As I see it, the default is that everything is chaotic and new – when you start wondering about the world – in the beginning there is no such thing as “old”. After repeated observations you can start calling this “old” as something “new” – you figure it out, Heureka! funnily you get it inside your own closed system and start making assumptions of the world based on this information. But you can’t do it if it doesn’t resonate with your existing assumptions, at least partially. Sometimes observations can erase old assumptions, sometimes they do not. I like the idea that teaching is much harder than learning in the sense that teacher must be able to see why learning is so hard – it is not enough to see what needs to be learned but how it can be achieved. This is not something people usually learn during the process of learning…

  3. I like this post thanks. It is timely for a book by Dewey that I’m reading now. In it he separates 4 kinds of thinking, the highest order one he nearly defines as reflection itself.

    • Thanks Glenyan! Great to hear that. Yes, Dewey also had a lot to say about this. I have read some of his massive contribution to education, but should read & reflect it more.

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