Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Learning as 'Knowing': Towards Retaining and Visualizing Use in Virtual Settings

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Learning as 'Knowing': Towards Retaining and Visualizing Use in Virtual Settings

Article excerpt

Introduction

Learning organizations rely heavily on distributed information processing, which is characterized by the norms and local practices of the sub-unit, customized styles of work and situational influence on problem solving. Learning in these settings is frequently framed away from the universal, the general and the timeless and more in relation to the local the particular and the timely (Toulmin, 1990; Suchman, 2000). To grasp the basics of such learning, researchers have explored a variety of theoretical constructs. Wenger (2001) uses the notion of communities of practice to coin 'a group of people who share an interest in a domain of human endeavour and engage in a process of collective learning which strengthens sense of community' (p. 1). The basic idea rests on anthropological perspectives that examine how adults learn through the performance of social practices rather than focusing on environments intentionally designed to support learning. Arguably, this type of learning is outside an instructor-student-course context and more likely to be encountered in settings where the community addresses not only the technical acquisition of skills required by a specific practice, but also the informal and social aspects of creating and sharing knowledge. It is in these communities of practice that people learn the intricacies of their job, explore the meaning of their work, construct an image of the organization, and develop a sense of professional self. Then, learning becomes an enacted capability, mediated by technological artefacts and enabled or constrained by the intrinsic configurations of people, artefacts and social relations.

Visual aids are widely recognised as amplifiers of the learning capabilities of humans used to foster sense-making and process complex information. Card, Macinlay & Shneiderman (1999) introduced the term information visualization to qualify a research area concerned primarily with the interactive manifestation of complex information structures. At the time, the focus was on computational manipulation of large data sets to extract value and amplify the users' cognition. Since then, a variety of techniques have been developed for framing ambiguous states, bringing order to complexity, making sense out of seemingly unrelated things and finding insights that are buried in data. With the emergence of networked environments, information visualization was expanded in two prominent directions. The first, coined as social visualization, seeks to provide informative accounts of the social contexts in which information is created (Gilbert & Karahalios, 2009). The second, referred to as knowledge visualization, focuses on the 'use of visual representations to improve the creation and transfer of knowledge between people' (Eppler & Burkhard, 2004).

This paper presents an effort to exploit the synergistic use of both types of visualization to trace aspects of virtual learning in the history of recurrent co-engagement and the socially constituted activities of an online ensemble. The focus is on learning that emerges in practice and in the course of collaborative co-engagement in the social production of artefacts whose historical design record pre-dates and frequently determines their tangible and material substance. Earlier works have convincingly demonstrated how this type of learning can be facilitated through virtual prototypes that pre-exist certain types of consumer goods (von Hippel & Katz, 2002). The current paper extends this body of knowledge into information-based product lines such as online vacation services that pre-exist the packages in which they are embedded and collaborative music rehearsals that pre-date the live performances or recorded audio files experienced by users. In all these cases, the material and the virtual substance of the artefact become strongly intertwined in a social production process that is organized around 'construction-negotiation-reconstruction' cycles. …

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