There has been, during each year of my degree programme, an elephant in the room. Or rather, a stinker in the timetable - a module that sets one's teeth on edge just thinking about it. Unfortunately, as one of the main tasks I am supposed to accomplish at University is thinking, this means that some, but not all of my teeth, have been ground down to a nub. Or nib. I shall return to whether it is a nib or a nub later.
In my first year, it was the module "Manage your own Learning" , peppered with references to learning styles, that provided grist for the mill. Dubbed "Bring Your Own Beer" by a colleague now departed from the course, it uncritically presented learning styles as "fact" and endowed us with the knowledge that verbs are, in fact, called "do" words. In the second year, a module called Social Policy and Learning was about nothing of the sort, but was in fact a three month moan fest about the direction of about the direction of primary schools over the last thirty years(in the UK) from one (political) perspective. Despite the fact that I might agree with this perspective, after a month, the predictable line was presented at each lecture that teaching had undergone de-professionalization over those thirty years and this was, we were told, a bad thing. The obvious question I was obliged to ask after a few weeks was "Is it? Can Napoleon really have been that wrong?"
This, the third and final year, the guilty party is a work experience module I am obliged to attend. It is not so much that I am obliged to obtain work experience, it is that the theoretical framework that underpins the module is Situated Learning Theory. I could perhaps describe, at length, what my objections are to this, but perhaps its best to start with a quote:
"Legitimate peripheral participation has led us to emphasize the sustained character of development cycles of communities of practice, the gradual process of fashioning relations of identity as a full practitioner and the enduring strains inherent in the continuity-displacement contradiction" (Lave and Wenger, whenever)
I am almost tempted to say 'Nice words but what do they mean?', but I cannot. This is mainly because even the words are ugly. And these words are followed by more, usually the same ones, slightly re-arranged.
Compare the above with
"I am proposing that the ability to learn evolutionarily novel information is the result of two types of brain plasticity, both of which evolved to enable humans to cope with variation in ecological and social conditions within lifetimes"(Geary, 2008)
What follows is a load of specific tangible research findings - facts if you will - references, and nice graphs. And a conclusion.
Geary's stuff is truly a thing of beauty, made more so by the fact that there is a strong possibility he will be demonstrated wrong at some point. Wenger, on the other hand, cannot ever be shown to be wrong because nothing is ever said. Reading Situated Learning is like looking out of a plane window during a flight over the Atlantic - all you see is a vast swathe of undefinable grey. You know this impression is incomplete - there is a mass of complexity 'down there' but you cannot get close to any of the detail, you cannot actually touch, follow or describe any of the individual waves. You dont get to smell the ocean, feel the temperature. Ultimately it becomes boring and the beauty of the ocean is utterly lost.