HWL Description

How We Learn (Media & Technology Across the Lifespan)

Funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada

SSHRC Fund (2009-2012): How We Learn (Technology Across the Lifespan) (Stephen Petrina, Principal Investigator, Franc Feng, Co-Investigator) $139,900
The primary objective of this project is to investigate how properties of new technologies and new modes of engagement interact to affect learning across the lifespan.  Whereas in the not too distant past Canadians could draw lines between how, when and where they were learning and not learning, nowadays flexible or mobile devices offer the potential for learning virtually anything, anywhere at any time.  One implication is that the “basic” skill set of competencies and literacies required by a capable student or citizen is evolving.  Another implication is that emphases are shifting in business and education to the process of learning, or meta-learning.  Commentators increasingly identify various activities outside classrooms (e.g., gaming, mobile device texting and recording) as indicative that the properties of new technologies (e.g., flexibility, interactivity, mobility, modularity) and new modes of engagement (e.g., continuous partial attention, asynchronous, synchronous, semi-synchronous) are changing the process of learning (Jenkins et al., 2006), but there is little empirical evidence.  The interaction of these two primary variables is fundamental to the learning sciences but is poorly understood, and field and laboratory-based research is urgently needed to help educators and managers take advantage of new media and technologies.

Project Phases:

Phase I:  Concept & Review of Research (2006-2007)
Phase II:  Field-Based Ethnographic (2008- )
a.     Meta-learning
b.     How we learn technology
c.     Meta-technology
Phase III:  Lab-based experimental (2008- )
a.     Intergenerational learning
b.     Attention & properties of new technologies
Phase IV:  Design-Based Research (DBR) (2009- )


We are using our working definition for Learning as assembling what assembles the world.  Learning involves deliberation as well as collectivity: To assemble means gathering for deliberation and judicious recognition, meaning some disassembly, of who and what are or ought to be gathered (from the past, present and future).  Learning means being in, and part of, an assembly as well (Latour, 2005).  It always means more than acquiring knowledge or collecting our thoughts.  It refers to an active process of concurrently assembling, disassembling, and reassembling ourselves and the world.
We are using our working definition for Technology as the world generated as artifact, or the activity, knowledge and will to make it so.  When we refer to technologies, we are not just talking about objects— we are talking about activities, knowledge and volition as well (Mitcham, 1994).  “World” generated may refer to the natural, social or spiritual world, or lifeworld, generated as artifact.  Indeed, it is important that we refer to technology as something we do and something we are in or part of.
How We Learn Technology, or the process of Learning Technology, is oriented toward people assembling what assembles the world generated as artifact, or the activity, knowledge and will to make it so.  We can think of this as what or who people choose to gather as they are involved in generating artifacts, or in the activity, knowledge and will to generate these artifacts.
We are not merely interested in how people learn to use technologies, although “learning to use” (or “learning to interact with”) encompasses common and important aspects of people’s encounters with technologies.  We are also interested in how people learn to be with (or against) technologies, or learn to shape, or be shaped by, technologies to, or counter to, their liking.  Again, we are interested in learning in the fullest sense of the verb “to learn” as we define it, and “technology” in its fullest sense, as we define it.

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