Sunday 21 November 2010

Knowledge and the 'Morphological Turn' in Learning Technology

What happens to disciplines if we see them morphologically - that is, to see them as accounting for insight into structures and processes of change and development of forms, rather than seeing them as accretions of categorised phenomena? Categorised phenomena are fine - if we can agree on the categories. Then there can be some sort of coordinated activity. But in social science particularly (and very noticeably in e-learning) we can't agree on the categories because we can't unpick process of making categories (and our role in it) from the categories themselves. So there are deep problems in coordinating activity.. and hence we find ourselves in a bit of a crisis. In fact, the problem of coordination is bigger if your 'coordinated activity' is about running an institution (not just an education institution, but any institution - a bank, say..)

Knowledge, value, teaching and learning are all tied up together in morphological processes. People change; institutions change; values change and knowledge changes. This is hardly a new insight - Heraclitus knew something of it, and it was a much more common perception in ancient Greece. Indeed, the Greeks would talk endlessly about whether 'something' called knowledge was even possible (for example, Protagoras). This had a significant effect on the thought of Plato and Aristotle.

It's not that we shouldn't reduce things to categories... but we've got to do this sensibly, with the simple aim of being able to coordinate ourselves effectively. A society that continually argues about its own categories for understanding itself is a society in its death-throws.

Personally, I'm up for the 'morphological turn' in Learning Technology. The 'psychological era', which began with Pask in the 1950s has done its job. Our concerns are no longer psychological, but bio-psychosocial. Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations are basically a critique of psychology. I think he's right. It's just taken us 60 years to realise it. We need to explore more fully the Sociological, biological and epistemological aspects of institutional, societal and personal morphology in this strange technological world we have made for ourselves.

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