Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The Moral Call to Learn: A Qualitative Investigation of Encounters with Unfamiliarity in Everyday Life

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The Moral Call to Learn: A Qualitative Investigation of Encounters with Unfamiliarity in Everyday Life

Article excerpt

This qualitative study explored the moral aspects of learners' "encounters with unfamiliarity" in their everyday experiences. The encounter with unfamiliarity, as a basic phenomenon within the conceptual framework of embodied familiarization, was investigated using a multiple case study approach (Stake, 2006). Findings from this study are presented first as brief case narratives and second as themes based on a cross-case analysis. Themes of the study point to the nature and significance of the encounter as a part of learning, often as an invitation with a kind of moral significance that called participants to learn, or not learn, in particular ways. Moreover, much of the learning described in participants' accounts was itself a kind of moral action, enacted in response to the significance of the moral call to learn initiated by the encounter. Keywords: Learning, Encounters with Unfamiliarity, Moral Action, Hermeneutics, Agency

So she was considering, in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.

There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself "Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!" (when she thought it over afterwards it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural); but, when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.

In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again. (Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland, pp. 2-3)

Like the fictional Alice of Lewis Carroll's beloved children's tale, Alice in Wonderland, all people are frequently met with unfamiliar or surprising situations in the course of everyday life--though, perhaps not those involving anxious and hurried talking rabbits consulting their pocket watches. Whether at school, in work settings, at home, at play, or wherever, encounters with the strange, the unfamiliar, and the unusual are, if not commonplace, then at least (ironically) not unusual. Working through and making some sense of that which is unfamiliar, and, thereby, achieving a degree of familiarity with it, is one useful way of describing the process of learning that people commonly experience (Yanchar, Spackman, & Faulconer, 2013). Indeed, it might be said, at least in this regard, that genuine learning is initiated by encounters with unfamiliarity, and, as such, provides the basis for a kind of becoming--that is, becoming familiar (or re-familiar)--which allows for effective practical involvement in the world. The study we report here offers some insights into such learning encounters, with a particular emphasis on the moral activities of learners dealing with the unfamiliarity that emerges in the contexts of everyday life.

Literature Review

The general idea of an "encounter with unfamiliarity" (Yanchar, Spackman, & Faulconer, 2013) as an impetus for learning has been discussed in various ways in different theoretical traditions (see, e.g., Kagan, 2002; Louis, 1980; Todd, 2003; Ward, Bochner, & Furnham, 2001). One obvious treatment of this concept can be found in Piaget's (1970) concept of disequilibrium, that is, an unpleasant state of cognitive conflict that motivates learners to pursue a state of cognitive satisfaction through a process of equilibration. Behaviorist notions such as a conditional stimulus or a change in stimulus conditions, and cognitive science notions such as data-driven processing, have also been theorized as the initiating conditions of learning. …

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