Lifelong Learning: Analysis of Pedagogic Identities

Recently, I re-worked a 2011 assignment for EDU8406: Theories for Learning Futures, a subject in the Grad. Cert. for Tertiary Teaching and Learning Development. As well as a group essay unpacking pedagogic identities (PIs) to cultivate lifelong learners, was a concept map to guide the analysis. As I was unable to track down my classmates of 10 years ago, I re-analysed the PIs and re-configured the concept map. So~ I made it quirky.

Continual change is part of life, and necessitates fluid eclectic responses of resilient spirit, techne, and praxis by the student. Concept Map of Pedagogic Identities

concept map learning futures pedogogy


Pedagogy is characterised as the practices that define and promote learning and teaching, and how learning is supported through personal relationships, environment and the process of teaching and learning (Department of Education, Employment & Workplace Relations, 2009). Collaborative effort enabled construction of a concept map to illustrate the organisation of learning theories for learning futures pedagogues (see Concept Map above).

The concept map provides a visual representation of inter-relationships between analytical criteria and a modified version of Zukas and Malcolm’s (2002) five pedagogical identities (PIs). Learning theories (PIs) which will be explored for their utility in learning futures of students are: Critical Theory, Discipline Based Learning, Situativity and Vygoskian socio-cultural perspectives, Critical Reflection. Pedagogical pluralism is the essence of the concept map metaphor, as an educational approach to learning futures aims for communities of practice which are multifaceted (Kinsella, 2010).

As the PIs are inter-related and collaborative (Zukas & Malcolm, 2002) by way of their analytical criteria, they form a system within which the learner is immersed. The eight analytical criteria to analyse each learning theory PI are a continuum of: i) Learning is an individual or social process? ii) Content and purpose are based on the discipline or pedagogy (learner needs)? iii) Learner centred approach or ‘rightness’ as an objective measure? iv) Product or process orientated? v) Content is contested and dynamic (able to be questioned) or statistic and ‘given’?

vi) A social or psychological process? vii) Educator as a ‘real person’ (with baggage and a social identity) or an anonymous and ‘invisible’ person (no identifiable values and beliefs)? viii) Learner in context (a person in the world with own personality, values and circumstances) or as a homogenised entity (anonymous and decontextualised)

In the concept map the Solar System represents the inter-relationships of the PIs and analytical criteria for lifelong learning. The Sun is the hub of the System and it radiates energy for continual change (e.g., rapid technologies, shifting job roles, modified institutions, and socio-cultural movements) in the form of a Lifelong Learning approaches to Learning Futures. Each PI is dependent on the Sun’s radiation to exert its ‘gravitational pull’; a unique frequency band of analytical criteria which informs the exploring astronaut (Active Learner) about the learning future they are experiencing.

The rocket depicts the Active Learner navigating continual change as they propel themselves on their adventure of discovery amongst their learning futures. The far-away galaxy represents traditional pedagogy and analytical criteria from which the system of PIs and analytical criteria has developed: the anonymous learner and educator; the lone wolf approach to learning; and static or instrumental learning (Zukas & Malcolm, 2002). Whilst the present lifelong learning solar system is nourished by tradition, it also separates itself from it in ways that perpetuate innovation and adaptability.

The first planet is the Pedagogy Identity of Critical Theory, a ‘rightness’ social process by which the student is encouraged to critically analyse their adult education (Hart, 1990). Critical Theory aims to validate learner discourses and questioning minds (Hart, 1990; Keesing-Styles, 2003), although its liberating role (Hart, 1990) points to content and purpose which are based on a static discipline rather than dynamic pedagogy.

Another criticism of Critical Theory is that its social focus on ‘inherent power relations’ from which learners must be emancipated (Hart, 1990), is inherently dependent on educators who are the agents of social change (Habermas 1973). The Theory homogenises and de-powers learners by virtue of positioning them as being ‘without power’ until instructors refuse to maintain a position of anonymous 'dominator' elite drawing on binary logic of a class conflict (Blumenfeld-Jones, 2004).

As such Critical Theory ignores the learner in context, and the educator as a real person. And the Theory ignores the fact that inequality exists within any social system (e.g., grades on a class assignment). Ultimately, the learner is always in need of emancipation for ‘something better’ via paternalistic experts (Larsen & Wright, 1993). Ironically, Critical Theory oscillates a gravitational pull which is oppressive and lacks self-reflexivity (Rajen, 2001).

The PI marble sphere of Discipline Based Learning (DBL) is the social process by which a learner is frequently exposed to discipline specific skills within curriculum content (Kemmis & Smith, 2006). Through ‘rightness’ of DBL, the student is socialised into the conventions of their discipline by actively engaging, challenging and synthesising new knowledge.

The anonymous educator is a necessary force in DBL, as they guide the student in specialising and expanding on skills particular to a subject within their discipline (Grellier, 1999). Skills are products cultivated through content and purpose within a specific discipline. The learner is encouraged to converse about concepts, theories and models so that the educator is not depended upon as the sole knowledge source (Darling-Hammond, Austin, Orcutt, & Rosso, 2001). A critique of DBL is that it is very similar to that of traditional curriculum and redundant, as well as being reductive and restrictive (Hamblen, 1988). It may also be that some disciplines do not draw on cognitive learning theories to understand how students learn, resulting in ineffective DBL (Redish, 2000). Comment has also been raised with regards to the dangers of DBL, in that it can negate practical problem solving of students through their reliance on simplistic interpretations of complex phenomenon (Brennan, 1994). Real-world ‘culture shock’ caused by the distancing experience and theory, and the maintenance of the traditional hierarchical ‘mug-and-jug’ relationship between educator and student (Friere, 1974). And for the student adept at using the lens of a particular discipline, they can be limited to a framework-thinking perspective (i.e., an ideology) which ignores or is hostile to other tools of navigation in the field (Brennan, 1994). Overall, alienation of the inter-disciplinary and liberating nature of learning futures puts DBL at a distinct disadvantage if it is the sole pedagogic approach to develop lifelong learners.

Surveillance of the planetoid PI of Situativity reveals a range of community of practice learning environment processes available to the learner for observation, practice and assessment of skills and knowledge (Illeris, 2009). A constructionist emphasis is made on the collaborative aspect of ‘meaning making’ dialogues (Piaget, 1932; Vygotsky, 1978). The Educator is positioned as a real person who facilitates within a context with an awareness of when to ‘step back’, providing space for the learner-centred cultivation of a questioning attitude to develop their own understanding, including mistakes made along the way (Jeong-Im & Hannafin, 1995).

Learners share their contextualised experiences, insights and challenges as part of a content and purpose to develop a recognition of how they as part of a learning context inform theirs and others learning experiences (Gallagher, 1999). The social process of communities of practice supports learners to develop their own opinions, and to discover how to structure materials delivered in the curriculum to meet their needs and learning opportunities (Kumpulainen, 2000).

The goal of Situativity is for the provide opportunities for the learner as a real person, to assimilate and accommodate a diversity of skills, knowledge and competencies (Illeris 2009; Piaget, 1932).

However, it has been argued that current Situativity emphasis is on cognitive interactions between learners and teachers, peers and the socio-environmental learning context, displacing the central role of symbolism in the learning process (Vera & Simon, 1993). Jettison of the fundamental role of symbol in the construction and use of knowledge ignores that processes of cognition is itself a symbolic process (Vera & Simon, 1993).

Symbol systems are complex pattern information systems that enable the learner to rapidly plan and respond (within their capability) to a continually changing environment. As such, internal representations that mediate the learners experience with their contextual environment and navigating toward their goals need to be considered for a comprehensive Situativity explanation of pedagogy.

Traveling to the luminous PI body of Vygoskian socio-cultural perspectives, social processes also impress the necessity of content and purpose that is learn-centered. Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (ZPD) highlights the Educator as having an authentic relationship with the learner and is the ‘more knowledgeable other’ (MKO) unpacking tasks into smaller manageable steps (Berk, 1995; Kirschenbaum & Land Henderson, 1989). The learner converses with an MKO within a ZPD to be exposed to and mentored by other/s who have broader life experiences (Gallagher, 1999), and to be directly or indirectly guided in the learning process (Mezirow, 1990).

There is a dynamic and active relationship between the more knowledgeable other as the learner is able to contest knowledge (Zukas & Malcolm, 2002). As a social process, learner develops a richer identity of themselves as a learner (Kumpulainen, 2000). Ultimately, it is the environment (culture) is seen as the originator of learning and psychological tools such as language mediate the social process of learning (Hall, 2007; Stierer & Maybin, 1994). As such, the learner is not contexualised. Of import though, is that the Vygoskian socio-cultural perspective is a theory based on individual learner and teacher experiences; conversing with an MKO in a university classroom of over 100 students can only be achieved in a limited capacity.

As such, the socio-cultural realities of the real-world have not been considered (Stierer & Maybin, 1994). Also, from a Piagetian perspective, the learner who is not ready for participation in a particular activity is at risk of being imposed upon by the views of the MKO (Piaget, 1967/1995).

The PI globe of Critical Reflection has is the individual process whereby the learner considers and scrutinises their thinking, decision-making and behavioural choices as a learning outcome (Biggs, 2003). The content and purpose of this learner-centered psychological process is to enable problem-solving and investigation (Dewey, 1993; Krishnamurthy, 2007). Further, the process encourages the learner to evaluate their subjective identities, beliefs and values (Wilson, 2002), allowing the learner to determine their own position on a matter (Foucault 1982).

Application of learnt analytical strategies through Critical Reflection to contest knowledge builds a resilient learner able to navigate daily life challenges through self-monitoring (Atherton, 2002). Learning goals can emphasise the intrapersonal benefits, and the interrelationship between self and knowledge production (Finlay & Gough 2003). The learner is positioned contextually, although the Educator remains an ‘invisible other’ in the process.

A dearth of curricula have Critical Reflection as a focal point. In general, the pedagogy is not considered as an academic pursuit of worth to cultivate (Smith, 2011). Also, over self-critical introspection can be a slippery slope to cynicism, thinking in isolation and self-absorption (Schon, 1996). The learner may also develop a tendency to rely on self-introspection alone to navigate curriculum and subsequently dissociate as they become overly self-critical (Baker, 1990; Brockbank & McGill, 1998). Without adequate instruction, it may be the Critically Reflective learner gets in their own way of the learning process.

For the Active Learner adventuring amongst the spheres of learning futures, this critique has emphasised the role of Educator to be salient and personalised as part of the Social process, such as with Vygotskian and Situativity PIs. And the import of the Dynamic and Psychological learning processes of Critical Reflection PI. The latter perhaps holds the most potential for developing the Active Learner’s symbolic thinking to steer complex, continuous change.

The symbolic approach is not a PI considered seriously in academia at this point in time, however, its presence in limited form may herald a Learning Future that includes this foundational element of cognitive processes, be they individual or social. Also, it is acknowledged here that there is a place for DBL for cross-skilling and up-skilling, although it would be remiss to see a curriculum solely focusing on this PI. The student is apt to develop a limited navigation framework to face adversity and uncomfortable change.