What's In a Word?
On the Limits of the Lexicon of "Learning"
And while I firmly believe that our task as educators is to start where the learners are at and to invite them to engage with new ideas, practices and attitudes, sometimes the words that make sense to people don't quite carry the right connotations for me.
Here are a few terms that I struggle with; I'd love to hear how you understand and use them or some alternative words that you have found helpful (please post your ideas below):
Training: Probably the most widely used term in the field. But it just feels inherently top-down to me, conveying a sense of transferring what I know as an expert or authority figure to people who are empty vessels. Also for me it reminds me of "basic training" or "dog training." Bad connotations! Somehow it just doesnt' get at the potental for new relationships and shifting of the power balance within the classroom and beyond.
Delivery: As in "workshop delivery". Not bad as a catch-all term for the necessary steps of planning, organizing, convening, teaching or facilitating, and evaluating a learning event, but it still has the sense of a one-way transfer of knowledge. Like delivering a pizza (30 minutes or it's free) -- no work involved, you just sit back and open your mouth..... Also, since the first Gulf War, I can't hear this term without thinking about the Orwellian euphenism of "delivering ordinance" (i.e. dropping bombs). In situations where experts are merely delivering content like so much artillery fire and death-by-powerpoint , I wonder if the learners are really the "collateral damage".
Education: According to our friends at Babeled.com, "the word educate is directly derived from the Latin word educare, which was constructed by combining the two words, exand ducere. The literal translation of educate is to draw out of, lead out of, etc. The Romans considered educating to be synonymous with drawing knowledge out of somebody or leading them out of regular thinking. The Romans developed the noun, educatio from the verb educare."
I like that: "edu-care" -- not a bad way to think of our work. Still....in professional circles, education often is heard as "formal education" and it brings up memories of hard wooden chairs, inkwells, Mrs. McGillivray's stern school-marm stare and rote learning. As such, it doesn't really capture what we mean by less formal, lifelong learning done in less structured situations.
Teaching: A great term, but again, it harkens back to grade school and suggests a power imbalance. As well, I find that many adults cringe when they think of themselves needing a teacher: shades of night school or remedial education.
Popular Education: "Popular education is at the crossroads between politics and pedagogy....[and it] may be defined as an educational technique designed to raise the consciousness of its participants and allow them to become more aware of how an individual's personal experiences are connected to larger societal problems. Participants are empowered to act to effect change on the problems that affect them."(Wikipedia to the rescue!).
Now we're talking! The transformative potential of learning to change a learner's self-perception and therefore the world! But....sometimes that is a hard sell to a client who just wants to create a new employee orientation curriculum. Not everyone is looking to change the world; sometimes they just want their employees to fill out the forms properly (but perhaps that's part of the problem...)
Participatory Education: Great in that it describes how Adults are subjects (decision makers) in their own learning, but in my experience it has been tainted by some really flaky processes that didn't adequately model accountability and rigor.
Pedagogy: Literally, the "function or work of a teacher". But in etymological terms: "from Fr. pédagogie (16c.), from Gk. paidagogia "education, attendance on children," from paidagogos "teacher" (see the Online Etymology Dictionary). But if adults do learn differently than children, this doesn't really work either....which is why some speak of ...
Andragogy: An alternative to pedagogy focusing on the learning strategies for adults. Articulated by Malcolm Knowles in his 1980 book "From Pedagogy to Andragogy" (For more, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andragogy). But this time, the root word is "man" and while perhaps meant to be heard as "mankind", it still might be seen by some as exclusive , even sexist. It also sounds too much like "androgenous" , which doesn't quite convey what we're talking about. Nope, that won't do, either...
Covering the Content: A few years back at the Dialogue Education Institute, a colleague working in academia used the term "covering the content". A bunch of us who had been immersed in these circles smiled and told her, "Go ask Jane Vella how she "covers the content". Our unsuspecting colleague came back a few minutes later laughing as Jane had done what we expected: "Cover the content??! This is how I cover the content! [Jane sits down on a book]. It's not about "covering the content", it's about learning!" True story! As such, I can never say that phrase with a straight face.
Curriculum: A catch all term for describing the program of teaching and/or learning. But somehow feels too formal for an adult learning situation.
Learning Design: As in how I learned it through Dialogue Education: a well-crafted framework that supports participatory learning, rooted in a Learning Needs and Resources Assessment, structured on the Steps of Design and learning tasks. I like the idea that we "design space for learning" by providing a framework for a workshop or webinar, but with lots of space for the learners to do their own thing. Still "learning design" also is sometimes associated with a very technical approach to framing educational software (i.e. IMS Learning Design), which isn't exactly what I mean either.
Instructional Design: I like the "design" aspect again, but it again the term "instructional" emphasizes the role of the teacher or instructor here, not that of the learners as active agents.
Dialogue: A wonderful concept of "words between", but I found in my marketing work at GLP that there were a myriad of uses of the term "dialogue" that referred more to conflict resolution or mediation. This often led to misunderstandings about what we did.
Facilitation: Literally "to make easy". I like this the best of all the terms, but again, people often see facilitators as primarily "process" facilitators (e.g. strategic planning or other forms of facilitated processes), and I often need to qualify it as "learning facilitation".
Help! Your Turn....
What are some other problematic words that you wrestle with in your work? What terms have you found that work well to describe what you do as a teacher/trainer/facilitator/educator/pedagogue/andragogue? Please write these in the comments section below.