….Is Learning Global or Contextual? Part 1

In recent years in my life, I had opportunities to question so many of what has been handed down to me, and one of such phenomena is Learning. In my undergraduate and postgraduate studies, I have read a lot of theories, frameworks, strategies, models as they evolve, most of these theories, models, strategies, techniques are related to learning or psychology of learning or even brain-based theories. In the last 10 years, a lot of synergies between educational technologists and other disciplines such as neuroscience, learning science, etc have gained tractions and attention among learning professionals. This is so because of the nature of educational technology as a discipline.

Edutech is eclectic in nature, that is, it draws understanding and perspectives from all disciplines of life to solve learning problems. Some of these theories and models have been carried out in the US, UK, Germany, Australia, etc, but what baffles me is when they are being applied, they are applied to the whole world. Every nation begins to grapple for these theories and models, and apply them to their nations. This is common in the Africa continent. The majority of theories and models we use and apply are not from within African countries. They are from Europe or the United States. I do not have any problem with those theories or models, but what I have a problem with is their application to the Africa context, which is entirely alien to our context. I might not be right, but what I observe is a lot of Africa professors and professionals struggle while trying to adopt the theories and models, which eventually result in experiencing minimal results in our context. No wonder there’s a little result in applying those principles.

Take, for instance, microlearning strategy, it was formulated by B.F Skinner, the Harvard professor about 76 years ago but was buried, and now in recent years, it has resurfaced again. Do you know what, everybody is talking about microlearning strategy? The strategy has made us believe people’s attention span is too short, therefore break your content in bite-sized, and if you do not, they say people will not interact with your content, so to make your course selling, and attracting, you have to adopt a micro-learning strategy. I do not have any problem with microlearning, but what I have problem with is the fact that people who invented the strategy had made us believe that whatever works with them (Context) should work with everybody(Contexts), and it’s sold to every nation, country, tribe, context, and all context will just accept without trying to investigate how it’s relevant to their context. We will not carry out our research to ascertain its relevance before implementation. And therefore, we struggle to learn how it works and try several times to patch things up, and by the time we are getting through, another strategy has been released. We pick that one up and try it again, hence keeping us busy never to try inventing any new thing that’s relevant to our context. Most times, all of those strategies never work for us (African context). I am not a racist, but what I am saying is each context needs to create their models, theories, strategies, methods that will bring about learning.

We need to find out what works for each context as learning is about to take place. Take for example, in Nigeria, there are villages with no electricity, no internet access, no TV, no access to all the infrastructure available in the city, but in that same village, there are learners who will write external exams before they could even dream of going to the university. They will use the same curriculum with no single support. What makes things worse is that they are expected to finish the curriculum at the same rate at which other learners in the city will finish theirs, there is no equity in learning let alone justice. What we have is equality.

Learning is not always equal, but it can be equated for everyone to have the opportunity to learn.’

What’s learning? Learning simply means using acquired information, knowledge, attitude, skills, and competencies to solve problems in society. If we can’t use what has been learned to solve problems, then learning has not taken place. Problems could be cognitively related, affectively related, emotionally related, financially related, and psychologically related. The way people solve their problems is tied to the context in which they live, and in which the learning has taken place. It’s usually obvious that to solve a problem with a model that has worked in another context requires constant adaptations to the context of the problem. It’s not usually true that the way people in developed nations learn is the same with people in African countries-continent considered to be developing.

The way people learn is tied to their contexts/experiences/environments/cultures/exposures etc from where they grow up. The interpretation of learning materials is usually in the mind frame of an individual, and what constitutes the mind frame of people is what their eyes have seen, ears have heard, the nose has perceived, the skin has felt or sensed. No individual uses a foreign context to understand a concept that is within a context not readily available to such an individual. Therefore, to be able to solve our peculiar problems in Africa, we got to be learning. Back in my Psychology of learning course, I learned that “Learning is a relatively permanent change in behavior of a person having gone through a well-designed and coordinated curriculum. Inserting this definition into our discussion, it’s clear that behavior could be cognitive, societal, psychological, attitudinal, skill-based. Note that it’s not enough to experience a change in behavior when such behavior cannot be translated into solving contextual problems.

Learning that cannot solve contextual problems is not learning!

I do not think we are solving our problems in Africa, all I think we do, is to grapple for a new model, strategy, technique, and method that has been experimented in another context and use such as a buzz word to intimidate competitors, whereas what should bother us is the question that revolves around ‘Does learning take place? How much of e-learning courses have impacted our contextual world in Africa?

Our question is “Is learning global or contextual”? From my perspective, I think learning is more contextual than global. Though access to learning materials could be global, learning such materials is within the context of an individual. How many of the learning strategies and methods do we use today emanated from the Africa context? Almost 90% came from a different context completely alien to our environments. I know the whole world has become a global village and interconnected to one another, but yet, when real learning takes place, it occurs within the frame mind of an individual. How do I know what I have learned? It’s when the concept resonates with something within my context. To be able to learn a concept that my frame of mind could not locate will require I experience such a phenomenon either with my eyes or ears. I am not discouraging using strategies, methods from another context, but let’s ask questions before using them.

The first question to ask is an adaptation, is the strategy adaptable? And if adaptable, how long will it take me to adapt and generate learning in the real sense of it. The truth is if I spend half of my time trying to figure out how to adapt a strategy designed and developed for another context, and before I could finish figuring out to adapt them, another strategy would have come up. I have not got any chance to apply the ones I have spent half of my time before another one is rolled out. And again, I start another rat race trying to figure out how to use the new one……..I will keep being in the vicious circle all the days of my….when in fact I could spend the same half an hour to develop strategy relevant to our context and apply it immediately to solve my contextual problems. Let’s ask ourselves this question…” Is learning taking place with all our learning courses outside there? Or they are just for money?

I will continue the discussion next time!

Let’s create learning that’s learned once and remembered always.

Thanks for your time. I hope it’s not a waste of time.

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