Learning, for me, often describes a state of being between. This betweenness may refer to ideas, knowledge and understanding, modalities, or spaces.
In this post I examine the nuances of terminology used to describe these states; terminology that goes beyond the impersonal notion of ‘journey’ to reveal nuances of experiencing learning and how they can help when thinking about learning, embodiment, interdependence and agency.
Falconer (2011) identifies metaxis as a term used by Plato to describe the human condition of ‘in-betweenness’. It points to a sense of suspension in an ecology of polarities or binaries. This reflects the idea that learning exists in a social web of continua, a constant theme in my consideration of spaces for learning. Learning can be thought of as acts of transition through this multidimensional constellation of affordances (Middleton, 2018). In other words, learning is less about transaction and accumulation of knowledge and more to do with inter-actions (hyphen intended), immersion, and being engrossed in states of becoming. The quality of time and place, and movement therefore, matter.
Falconer (2011) notes Linds (2006) use of metaxis as “the state of belonging completely and simultaneously to two different autonomous worlds.” For me, this echoes the idea polycontextuality.
Polycontextuality describes being present in more than one context concurrently. The idea of presence is significant here in relation to agency – polycontextuality recognises the effect of spatial affordances on the person, and the effect of the person on the contexts in which they are simultaneously present. I have blogged about polycontextuality on many occasions, mostly considering the bridging effect of social media, however polycontextuality during the pandemic has become a familiar condition to all of us as we have navigated (often with great difficulty) our conflicting identities of home, work, school and leisure.
Connection, connectivity and Connectivism (Siemens, 2003) allude to our networked and ecological lives. For education, it is the connectivity created by the socio-technological and semantic nature of the situations we experience that interests me: how one thing relates to another, and through that, how connection creates new value.
Connectivity is a multidimensional phenomenon; one that reflects the influences of spatial and interpersonal affordances. Connectivity is a way of describing interactivities and agencies. For example, the idea of the lab is only given meaning by the potential for human interaction within it. Without this understanding, ‘lab’ is, at best, a room with objects in it. Equally, the potential users of the space bring their own affordances or contexts: what they know, what they have done before, what they expect, what on a given occasion they want to do with the knowledge they glean, etc.
Thinking about hybridity by analysing and reflecting on accounts of academic innovation during the pandemic, the idea of ‘digital advantage’ emerges as a way to understand that new concept of learning environment we are trying to put our finger on; the 1+1= 3 factor of the post-digital world in which ‘digital’ can no longer be problematised as distinct, separate, or other. The idea that through association or connection something greater than the sum of the parts emerges. This new space signals a potential for interactivity in the hybrid connected space.
It is fascinating to wonder how all these interweaving and connecting factors can be used to enrich the experience of learning.
Tethers and ties
Savin-Baden (2015) uses the term ‘tether’. It alludes to a changed space in which the presence of the personal digital device has disrupted previous conceptions of learning space, though it means more than this. It reflects some of the ideas of connectivity discussed above, but takes us closer to understandings of human behaviour rather than technological determination.
Savin-Baden defines digital tethering:
as both a way of being and a set of practices that are associated with it. To be digital tethered would generally be associated with carrying, wearing or holding a device that enables one to be constantly and continually in touch with digital media of whatever kind. Practices associated with digital tethering include the practice of being ‘always on’, ‘always engaged’: texting at dinner, or driving illegally while ‘facebooking’.Savin-Baden, 2015, p. 1
This is similar to what I have previously called ‘smart learning’ (Middleton, 2015).
Savin-Baden talks about liquid learning. Certainly fluidity, fluency and flux are relevant to thinking about learning and agency in a post-digital age. It raises questions about embodiment and corporeality, and our state of ‘being’ or self-identity. Who or what is in motion? What is being changed? What is between states? And how do our respective changing states influence others?
Fluency ultimately concerns our sense of our self. Our self conception is our perception of our own unique identity in change. It bundles what we know about ourselves: our personality traits, abilities and knowledge, likes and dislikes, our beliefs and moral code, and motivation. It is how each of us answer the questions, “Who am I and who am I becoming?”
I think these questions are fundamental to university learning. They explain why developing meta cognitive skills through reflective learning is important in an undergraduate education.
Flux, then, refers to our state of continuously changing self, with the implication that knowledge itself must be understood as fluid too.
Liminality is frequently used in association with the idea of threshold concepts; a passing from one state of knowledge to another. In this context, it implies a planned incremental progression: do this first, then you are ready to move on up to the next stage.
This idea of liminality tends to focus on knowledge and skills though. Its original conception was more anthropological and concerned with a rite of passage and a conscious shift in a person’s state of being (Turner, 1969).
Hybridity, for me, simply means exploiting two or more modes or systems effectively.
A permeable state is one that is infused with qualities. I often imagine social media in terms of this infusion of media in ways that it can adapt to context. The media is malleable. It is accessed to the extent that it is useful. It interfaces smoothly with a given situation.
This leads us to instercies.
The interface or meeting point between two or more spaces, a phenomenon which asks us to consider how communication or exchange happens between spaces. In education, for example, how can feedback from one interaction come to affect learning so that it influences subsequent learning?
The exploration of the terminology covered in this post shows that we have many ways of thinking about connections and hybridities.
I have also indicated some of the benefits of developing a more nuanced discourse when thinking about learning as being a shift in a person’s state of being.
I have expressed such ideas of in-betweenness as being to do with inter-actions, implying that learning actions are relative to two or more states of being; an example of this being, the learner’s awareness of who they are and who they are becoming.
Falconer, L. (2011, November). Metaxis: the transition between worlds and the consequences for education. Presented at Innovative Research in Virtual Worlds.
Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining spaces for learning in higher education. Palgrave Learning & Teaching.
Middleton, A. (2015). Smart learning: teaching and learning with smartphones and tablets. MELSIG and Sheffield Hallam University.
Savin-Baden, M. (2015). Rethinking learning in an age of digital fluency: is being digitally tethered a new learning nexus? London: Routledge.
Savin-Baden, M. & Falconer, L. (2016). Learning at the interstices; locating practical philosophies for understanding physical/virtual inter-spaces. Interactive Learning Environments, 24:5, 991-1003, DOI: 10.1080/10494820.2015.1128212
Siemens, G. (2003, October 17). Learning ecology, communities, and networks: extending the classroom. Online at: http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/learning_communities.htm
Turner V.W. (1969). The ritual process: structure and anti-structure. Chicago: Aldine.