Mapping Learning

The last line of my last post:

“In my next post, I will write about moments in my life that demonstrate each of these different ways of conducting relationships.”

I’m not going to do that.

Goal setting is important. It reminds me where I’m headed, and reminds me that I’m going to have to do some work to get there.

The down side is that as soon as I set a goal, it represents where I thought I was when I set it, not where I am now. Sometimes (a lot of the time) I change course.

So much of the language we use to describe learning is connected to travel; look how far you’ve come… they aren’t quite there yet… am I on the right track?… you’ve lost me! Just the word progress has that double meaning. We see learning as a journey because it’s a useful way for us to visualise the incomprehensibly complex process of change that happens when we learn (ooh, there’s another one… process… procession).

Davis and Sumara explain in a similar way how Euclidian geometry has formed our understanding of knowledge in their wonderful book Complexity and Education. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

Goals for learning (or objectives) help us to understand the learning ‘journey’ by plotting a point on the map to which we need to get to. We head towards it, measuring the distance until we’re there. Then once we’re past the spot, we can look back and know we’ve ‘been’ there. A test score in that sense is a fixed coordinate on our journey. Confirmation that we have reached our intended destination.

This desire to ‘see’ our learning is an important instinct, but plotting coordinates is only one way to describe the journey. In fact, it doesn’t describe the journey. The only information you can really get from two fixed points is the distance from a to b. And doing that is pretty easy; all you need is a long enough ruler.

Objectives are useful for measuring ‘distance travelled’ in learning. We need a whole lot more information in order to figure out how to get there, or looking back, to explain how we arrived.

Maybe we need a map.

Or maybe we need subjectives. Goals that start where we are. Ideas that begin within our own understanding of ourselves and our place in time and space, then push outwards, not knowing what we might find. Just knowing that change and discovery are compelling enough to move towards. Trusting our own compass to point us in the right direction(s).

In an early discussion during #Rhizo15 I was captivated by Giles (Deleuze) and Felix (Guattari)’s concept of ‘maps not tracings’.

“A map has multiple entryways, as opposed to the tracing, which always comes back “to the same.” The map has to do with performance, whereas the tracing always involves an alleged “competence.””

p14 A Thousand Plateaus

I hope that the drawing of maps could be an alternative way to ‘see’ learning that doesn’t fixate only on fixed points and measurement.

This post has been inspired by the #Rhizo15dg facebook conversation I initiated by my excitement about maps and tracings, and by a brilliant blog post by Nick Kearney

It has also been inspired by my journey to the forests of northern Sweden. Both the space it afforded me to think, and what it taught me about travel and terrain. I left a little piece of my heart there in exchange.