Here Come the Clones – A Slant on Multicultural Learning

In a globalised world, filled with the richness and risks of multiculturalism, how does one maintain a sense of being unique while at the same time, having a sense of “belonging”? Does the sense of “self” maintain its individuality or with the increase of networks and connections, with the far reaching consequences of globalisation, is one left to become a shadow of self, a clone of contemporary “selves”?

Because  London Fashion Week was recently taking place, I asked my female students what was the first piece of clothing which came to their mind when they thought of black for women.  Immediately their replies were “abayas”, “sheilas” (the black cloak and headscarf which is characteristic of female clothing in the Arabic Gulf). Women in the Arabic Gulf are as trend conscious as women anywhere else (if not more, as financial wealth is widespread), yet it was not biker jackets,  nor black boots,  nor LBD (little black dresses) which were initial references for these students. Their references were local,  and directly meaningful to their everyday lives.

An anecdotal example, but one that is significant when it comes to multicultural learning. Any teacher asking similar questions to their students will have responses which are mostly rooted in a local context. (I would like to make a note here: when referring to “multicultural learning”, I am referring to learning across cultures/with other cultures,  and not to political policies of social engineering).

Which brings me to ask whether in today’s scenario of social media entwined with learning and knowledge creation, if there is a risk of cloning in education. On the one hand, the same or similar digital platforms and tools are becoming widely used – for instance, Moodle as a learning platform for distance learning and Fotobabble as a digital tool. On the other hand, learning, sharing and creating knowledge through social networks is increasingly entwined in educational practices. How sustainable is this for the individual who is learning, to maintain his/her individuality?

When discussing  sustainability and authenticity  in higher education, Kaviola (2006) highlights how

“In transformative learning method students construct their own information and solutions to problems in co-operation and dialogue with the others involved in the learning process. When a student practices decision-making related to sustainable development in a collective learning situation (e.g. problem based or contradictory information), his or her ability to manage conflicting situations (which are inevitable in changes that promote sustainable development) will improve. This is also a way to develop students a sense of ownership in the learning process (Wals 2006: 49). “

This ownership in turn becomes personal, localised and individual. Rather than cloning, one has contextualised learning, which provides a degree of authenticity and meaningfulness in learning. Again, turning to Kaviola (2007) who explains that,

” A human cannot live in isolation away from society. Constructivism stipulates that learning and the object of learning are an indistinguishable part of the socio- cultural framework in which the learning takes place. This implies that information is always constructed in a certain context and that a person will put together a picture of the surrounding reality and him or herself by selecting and interpreting information and by reflecting on the feedback that s/he gets on his or her actions. ” (Kaviola, 2007)

A step further is of course Connectivism, where through connections and networks, knowledge is shared, distributed, and transferred. Individual learning through networks, chaotic as it may initially appear, is an inherent characteristic of Connectivism (Siemens, 2004). This informal learning lies on a set of principles, namely,

* Perceiving learning and knowledge in a diversity of opinions

* Learning as a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources

* Nurturing and maintaining connections is necessary to facilitate continual learning

* The ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill

* Decision-making is itself a learning process

Learning contexts will take many forms, whether those be personal,  institutional, or national. Learning cultures are even broader, with some sharing similar characteristics. However, despite the similarities, despite connections and learning networks, I doubt that today’s education panorama with Open Access, MOOCs and the myriad of online learning resources that exist, will lead to cloned education models or learners. These may push individual learners out of their comfort zone,  may provoke them into a richer, more critical analysis of knowledge and learning, but will not necessarily create clones. Clones are indeed among us (Korea’s Plastic Surgery Obsession Is A Glimpse Into The Futurebut hopefully will remain in the domain of other social concerns. 

Learning, like much else, remains an individual perception; a perception fostered and shared by a localised culture. That culture may indeed be transnational, international, mulitcultural (pick your choice) but it is left to the individual and fortunately, individual differences are still what makes us individuals – both as learners and humans.

 

References:

Kaviola, T., 2007, Towards Sustainable Development in Higher Education

Siemens, G., 2004, Connectivism

Wheeler, S., 2012, Theories for the Digital Age – Connectivism

Digital Delights : Connecting Online Education – Connectivism – A selection of articles and posts on Connectivism

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3 thoughts on “Here Come the Clones – A Slant on Multicultural Learning

  1. Pingback: Here Come the Clones - A Slant on Multicultural...

  2. I felt your blog post was fresh, reflective and thought-provoking. By using the clone metaphor you sharpened your message aptly! I really hope that we can avoid e.g. in education export field “the vision of cloned education” and support the local context and the individual learner ownership. The contextualized learning is underlined e.g. based on authentic learning approach.

    Yet, one question rose in my mind: Do we understand different concepts as identity / self / individuality in the same way in the West and East or in the other parts of the world. Whether the self is more a collective phenomenon in the East? This maybe explains some of the things that occur / are typical in different learning cultures.

    Irja

  3. Hi Irja,

    I think your question of cultural differences in the perception of individuality raises a lot of complex issues, which certainly require contextualization (e.g. which culture and so on). Yes, there are differences in behaviour; for example, in the Arabic Gulf, female students will not complain individually, but often in a large group. Male students, however, act more individually. In my experience though, I have perceived cultural differences more in terms of social behaviour rather than in learning.

    In regard to learning, one major difference (in my experience) is the expectation and assumptions of roles. For instance, both in the Arabic Gulf and in the Far East (Japan), there is still a strong emphasis on rote-learning. When students come to higher education (my teaching context), it takes time to unwind, so to speak, this pattern of learning and foster learning autonomy and apply critical thinking skills to their studies. In this aspect, I have found learning styles to be strongly linked to cultural values and patterns of behaviour.

    However, with the increase of international education, there are also changes. One change is the example I mentioned above, i.e. how students are taught how to become more self-reliant, more autonomous as learners and not only learn for the sake of memorisation. On the other hand, I don’t believe that the changes that are occurring in education can be traced only to the internationalisation of education. Younger generations are changing because of the influence of globalisation as well and this is reflected in the classroom.

    A someone who is an “outsider” of the local culture/s where I teach, I always tell students that they need to hold on and value their culture. One example is when I teach presentation skills – yes, students need to know what makes a good presentation in terms of skills and content, but should keep their cultural flavour as well. In the case of Japan, bowing to the audience and in the Arabic Gulf context, the offer of a gift at the end of a presentation, or at the openings of meetings, a brief prayer.

    Personally , I value the richness of different cultures. Below the surface of digital devices and global fashions, local cultures are still alive but definitely changing. Perhaps the future will become more culturally cloned. For now, (and thankfully!), individuality is still in the hands of humans.

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