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APRIL 14, 2004




The purpose of this paper and the independent study is to explore the nature of learning through its theories and practices. During this semester, we have engaged in learning by examining the domain of and the relationship between design, learning and collaboration. We have found that design and collaboration are the very cornerstones of the foundation of learning. Learning is an active process that starts with the learner. It consists of a relationship between the learner and the environment, their present and past experience, a natural or innate curiosity to know and the social interaction between each of us. Woven in this process is the desire to change the self and/or the environment in which we find ourselves. We design and change or fashion the environment to meet our perceived needs. Collaboration is very much part of the process of learning. We unconsciously and consciously engage various forms of collaboration with ourselves, colleagues, stakeholders, tools, critics and agents, as well as, aspects of distributed cognition to foster a self confidence of knowing. Learning is an exciting process as Piaget, Dewey, Vygotsky and others have demonstrated in the past through their own research. We have experienced this phenomenon ourselves, and we have empirical evidence justifying it by watching the joy of learning in children. But what is this phenomenon of learning? How is it defined? How do we, in fact, learn?

There are many definitions of learning. The two definitions that we think are more readily acceptable today exemplify the relationship between the individual and the environment. That particular relationship engenders a specific experience and that process of experience results in a change of behavior. The actual metaphysics of experience or the ontological basis of experience consists of two specific or dominant elements; first, there is perception and second, there is thinking. Aristotle stated in his Metaphysica that the first step in knowing is through perception. What is perceived, by each of us, is filtered into and through the nous or mind and establishes the very first level of being conscious of 'otherness'. Aristotle characterizes experience as "the whole universal that has come to rest in the soul." The soul is nous and nous is the soul. The educative process is one of experience and the inculcation of experience being reconciled within each individual creates learning.

There are many theories as to how we learn. All of the theories we researched are grounded in one or a combination of rationalism, empiricism or constructivism. Rationalism was first espoused by Plato and Socrates. It states that we have the ability to reason without any influence from outside our minds. All knowledge is derived from innate reason; innate ideas without the aid of the senses and all external substances are the extension of one's own innate reasoning. "Learning and development are therefore the results of internal influences." It is simply a priori.

Empiricism was advocated first by Aristotle and states that knowledge is derived from experience. The external world is the source for all knowing, for all knowledge and our ideas are based on our experiences of the world around us. All knowing is a posteriori.

Constructivism as espoused by Emmanuel Kant stipulates that all knowledge is constructed by the individual. Information is taken from our surrounding, our world, and interpreted by the mind. "The external world is disordered but is perceived as orderly because order is imposed by the mind and reason is a source of knowledge. The fact that information is processed and interpreted is a form of construction. The individual constructs meaning from the information of experience." This meaning becomes the source for knowing the world and the basis for learning. Learning is constructive in nature and is dependent on our ability to interpret it to our benefit.

There is no one 'dominant' theory; however there seems to be more acceptance and research in the area of constructivism. It is our hypotheses from what we observed in learning theories that learning is really a combination of rationalism, empiricism, and constructivism. It appears that individuals use a combination of all three to arrive at a level of understanding of the subject matter of interest. It is a synthesis of reasoning, observation of external factors or, for that matter the visualization of mental images, and a structuring of concepts into meaning making. The end result is one of learning.

Our research also indicates that contemporary learning is also influenced by and through various aspects of design and collaboration. Herbert Simon states in his book, The Sciences of the Artificial, the proper study of mankind is not man. The proper study of mankind is the science of design for it is in this process that will bestow greater knowledge. It is not what we know that is important for the future. What is important in the future is that we must know where to go to get the correct information and we must know how to apply this information correctly to solve the problems we will be facing in the future. Knowing where to get the correct information and knowing how to apply the information correctly entails collaboration and distributed cognition. Collaboration and its subset, distributed cognition, are essential to the process of learning. It is part of the experiential educative model that Jerome Bruner refers to as discovery learning and what Professor Fischer refers to as guided discovery learning.

We believe the most important aspects of our research on "Learning: Theory and Practice" is the following:
  • Learning begins with the learner.
  • Learning is a life long process.
  • Each learner must be responsible for and take responsibility for learning.
  • Learners must become proficient in using media and technology to capture useful information.
  • Learners must become proficient in applying and constructing information through media.
  • Learners must be designers and collaborators.
  • We live in a complex (variable) world and as a result all information and knowledge also becomes more and more variable (complex) therefore learners must use, adapt, and play in a manner that engenders the construction of knowledge. The end result is mere learning


1.Dewey, John, Experience and Education, Simon and Schuster Publisher, New York, NY. 1938. pages 20-21.

2. Lecture material power point presentation by Professor Gerhard Fischer, "Overview of Collaboration".

3.Ibid. Lecture, "Overview of Collaboration".

4. Lear, Jonathan, Aristotle: The Desire to Understand, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England. Reprint 1999. Pages 1 – 14.

5.Ibid. Lear, Page 2.

6.Ibid. Lear, Page 2.

8. Ibid.

9. Fischer, Gerhard, Work in Progress: “Integrating Self-Directed Learning and contextualized Tutoring” page 3.


Dewey, John. Experience and Education. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Publishers, 1938.

Kafai, Yasmin, and Mitchel Resnick, eds. Constructionism in Practice: Designing, Thinking and Learning in a Digital World. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers, 1996.

Lear, Jonathan. Aristotle: The Desire to Understand. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press,1999.

Pear, Joseph J. The Science of Learning. Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press, 2001.

Simon, Herbert. The Sciences of the Artificial. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1996.

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