Posted by: MandyS | February 8, 2013

We participate therefore we are…?

Block 1 Week 2a Activity 1  John Seely Brown

This activity is centred around a webcast in which Brown presents his argument that the “best indicator of success is whether you know how to form, join and participate in study groups.” This is my view of what Brown is saying:

Pedagogy focuses on ‘knowledge transfer’ and the ‘maximisation’ of that transfer. Brown argues that the ‘social view of learning’ focuses instead on understanding and this is something which is ‘socially constructed’ i.e. we learn from others.

The activity asks us to consider:

1. whether Brown is suggesting that individual reading, listening and viewing is less valuable than group work?

He does not actually say this and I don’t think you can assume this simply from the fact he suggests that understanding comes from study groups. Knowledge transfer clearly has its place in learning and it cannot be dismissed simply because the current trend is towards group study. In my view, unless there is an element of knowledge transfer to begin with how can the learner usefully form their own argument. One needs to know something about a subject before there can be any critical examintation of it. Study groups enhance the learning experience by providing a medium for discussion. To me, discussion has two purposes. Firstly, to act as a springboard to understanding, which is especially useful when knowledge transfer takes place but the learner fails to understand what it is they have learnt.  Secondly, as a reinforcement of knowledge and understanding, which is useful when a learner might readily understand the concepts but wants to take on board other points of view. Knowledge and understanding are mutually dependent and so too is individual and group work.

2. What are the implications for your own use of technology?

The module I tutor already supplements individual learning with group study using a combination of forums, face-to-face tutorials and Elluminate (if there is a demand). Their use, however, is not compulsory and as a result I would say they are generally underutilised.

3. What are your reactions to Brown’s argument; what are the strengths and weaknesses?

This is essentially a lecture in which Brown is personable, his images engaging, and his argument persuasive. The biggest weakness for me though is where is the evidence? How do we know real learning goes on in this way – there are no facts and figures, no studies referred to. To be fair, it is only the first 8 minutes and it may simply be an introduction but if his argument is to have any weight surely it should be supported by some evidence? (or is this just the lawyer in me…). On that basis then I think I would say, yes,

‘It is illogical for John Seely Brown to claim that study groups are the “best indicator for success” when he is asking us to listen to one person – himself! – in lecture mode.’


Brown, J.S. (2007) ‘Researching open content in education’, webcast, The OpenLearn Conference October 2007, Milton Keynes, The Open University, stadia/ preview.php?whichevent=1063&s=31 (last accessed 12 November 2012).






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