Metaphors of Collaborative Learning

I have tried  balancing my learning as others wanted and expected me to.

And I have often failed miserably.


Learning may be perceived as the acquisition of knowledge, as participation in a process, as creating knowledge and a progressive inquiry. (see Development of Learning Theories)  For me, it is not always simple to separate these models of learning. There is a place and time for each; each model taking on a different role and significance in the different stages of my learning process. It is with hindsight that I may later reflect, look back and attempt to pin-point what model of learning I was experiencing throughout a particular learning process.

Learning, like communication,  does not happen in a vacuum. It is socially conditioned and takes place in a specific time and context. There also needs to be shared points of references for one can only learn in regard to what one already knows. Going a step further, I also tend to regard all learning as relative at times – in the sense that what a learning experience may be for me, may not be regarded as a learning opportunity in the eyes of another. How I perceive an  optimal learning context too, may not be so fruitful for someone else, hence “learning” may possibly be regarded as having a certain degree of relativity if one wishes to pin-point the best model for learning.

Hindsight in learning as well as teaching, cannot be underestimated. Just as when Jackson (1968) states that:

“teaching is an opportunistic process. That is to say, neither the teacher nor his students can predict with any certainty exactly what will happen next. Plans are forever going awry and unexpected opportunities for the attainment of educational goal are constantly emerging.” (Jackson, 1968)

So too learning is full of the unexpected. Or at least, that is how I perceive the learning process at times. I have often maintained that learning is a slipping, sliding, gliding process, where things fall into place rather than be pre-programmed to fit into place. Again, I turn to Jackson who offers a similar metaphor for this process:

“(…) the path of educational progress more closely resembles the flight of a butterfly than the flight of a bullet.” (Jackson, 1968)

If  I wish to visualize the learning process, perhaps it is most authentically represented in a Jackson Pollock canvas – as Postman and Weingartner claim, ” a canvas whose colors increase in intensity as intellectual power grows (for learning is exponentially cumulative)”.(Postman & Weingartner 1975)

By no means do I wish to challenge nor disregard what researchers have established or expressed as learning models. Not at all. I myself have referred to these principles and models as well in the quest to understand this elusive process known as learning. (elusive because one cannot predict the exact moment of clarity and learning). When it does occur, again, it is with hindsight that one can look back and realize that like the high speed bubble, the moment has passed and one already “knows”, one has already “learnt”.

If I were asked which model of learning is most immediately significant to me today, without hesitation my reply would be collaborative learning. Learning for me does not make sense if it is merely a culmination of knowledge acquisition. Hence referring at the beginning of this post how I often failed “learning” which was repetitive, non-critical and non-participatory.

Learning is not, in my view, a hoarding of facts and figures. Learning implies outcomes of action-systems; learning is a change in perceptions.   If knowing is doing, then it is through collaborative learning (as as well as teaching and sharing) that my acquisition of knowledge makes the most sense. It is through collaborative learning – in the true sense of participating and  growing within the networks and communities to which I belong, that my learning takes most often place today.

It is through this perception of learning, of doing,  that I also engage students  in my classroom practices.

How do you perceive learning?


Jackson, P.W., 1968, Life in Classrooms, Holt, Rinehart & Winston

Postman, N. & C. Weingartner, 1975, Teaching as a Subversive Activity,Penguin Education


9 thoughts on “Metaphors of Collaborative Learning

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