What can we gain for our understanding of educational blogging from learning as acquisition and learning as participation perspectives?

September 17, 2008 at 4:58 pm 2 comments

(Originally authored April 2008. I am re-reading and reflecting on this in light of this connectivism course. )

Learning is a complex activity and over the years different approaches to the meaning, concept and process of learning have been articulated, proposed, analysed and examined. As “learning sciences are fundamentally concerned with identifying how structures of information are generated and used in learning activities, and with what ways that information functions in activity” (Greeno, 2006, p. 86), this paper focuses on the use of educational blogging in a higher education context and examines it using a perspective from learning science theories and research: acquisition versus participation metaphor as applied to learning.

Blogs are online spaces where individuals publish their thoughts on any subject and the technology enables interaction between authors and readers of their blogs. Within an educational context, instructors incorporating blogging (the term educational blogging will be used to distinguish the context of using blogs in education) to support their online or face-to-face classes may provide a more structured approach to students compared to traditional sense of blogging.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that educational blogging could provide an effective technology supported learning environment that potentially creates opportunities for individuals and groups’ collaborative learning environment. According to Eide and Eide (Eide and Eide, 2005), blogs have a powerful impact on learners:

  • Blogs can promote critical and analytical thinking.
  • Blogging can be a powerful promoter of creative, intuitive, and associational thinking.
  • Blogs promote analogical thinking.
  • Blogging is a powerful medium for increasing access and exposure to quality information.
  • Blogging combines the best of solitary reflection and social interaction.
  • Bloggers have solitary time to plan their posts, but they can also receive rapid feedback on their ideas. The responses may open up entirely new avenues of thought as posts circulate and garner comments.

Educational blogging was incorporated and designed to extend a face-to-face literature unit to enhance the teaching and learning of literature among first year students back in 2004. The students’ blogs formed an important component for student assessment. These first year students were not expected to have knowledge of publishing on the web or using blogging software. They were given instructions in the unit outline on the requirements and expectations of what to blog on in Live Journal (http://www.livejournal.com), the online platform chosen for blogging. According to the task expectations outlined at the commencement of the semester, students were to submit their own stories and poetry as a response to literature they were studying that semester via blogs. They were also expected to read each other’s blogs and provide feedback via comments to the blogs. The instructor also used a blog to communicate with, and provide students with additional material that had not been presented in the classroom, and also provide feedback to the students’ blogs. As the blogs are in a public space, potentially people that are outside the course could also view and comment on the students’ blogs.

Applying Learning Science perspectives: Acquisition versus Participation Metaphor

Understanding the interplay between an individual’s learning and impact on the group and vice-versa is not straightforward. The acquisition metaphor and participation metaphor proposed by Sfard (1998) offers a pathway of understanding how the use of educational blogging among first year literature students aids the learning process.

For many years in the learning sciences, theories and research have concentrated on learning at the individual level and students cognition’ were analysed in terms of individuals gaining knowledge as units or concepts. “Since the time of Piaget and Vgotsky, the growth of knowledge in the process of learning has been analysed in terms of concept development” (Sfard, 1998, p. 5). Such approaches to learning have been coined by Sfard (1998) as the acquisition metaphor (AM). Furthermore, these “[c]oncepts are to be understood as basic units of knowledge that can be accumulated, gradually refined, and combined to form ever richer cognitive structures” (Sfard, 1998, p. 5).

In the context of this literature unit, students would need to gain knowledge of Australian literature and demonstrate to the instructor that they have grasped the rich text and sub-text of literary works and pose reflective and critical responses that reflected their acquisition and application of the class material. The AM could explain in part what these first year students were confronted with fresh out of high school. The presentation of the literature material via classes and the instructor’s blog have to be assimilated by students to build upon concepts of literature they had been exposed to through high school. In one sense, these students individually need to master the concepts of literature and be “enriched” (Sfard, 1998, p. 7).

The goal of education from the AM approaches to learning is therefore for educators to transfer some aspects of their expertise to students who would acquire these knowledge concepts and the expert (i.e. instructor) would work at enhancing the individual’s accumulation of the concepts during the course of the semester. “The degree of similarity in cognitive structure between expert and novice was a good measure of whether learning objectives were being met” (Wilson and Myers, 1999). The more individuals could acquire such concepts and retain them, the more knowledgeable they become and therefore achieved a higher standing compared to their peers. In many ways, this acquisitive view of learning is still preserved and continued in the higher education context within many disciplines.

As these students were required to write stories or poetry in response to class materials in their blogs, it would be reasonable to “assume” that they have gained some understanding of the material, internalized the information and published their response (gained through acquisition of knowledge) in their blogs. The AM can also explain in part why individual students have achieved different levels of understanding of the concepts of literature.

However the AM alone cannot suitably explain the context of learning at a wider level and how individuals negotiate and share meanings to knowledge and experience engendered by a media-rich digital environment with the use of educational blogging. As such, approaches to learning in last decade have shifted focus from the individual as possessor of knowledge to individuals’ learning within the wider socio-cultural contexts. According to Wertsch, “[H]uman mental functioning is inherently situated in social interactional, cultural, institutional, and historical context. Such a tenet contrasts with approaches that assume, implicitly or explicitly, that it is possible to examine mental processes such as thinking or memory independently of the sociocultural setting in which individuals and groups function” (as cited by Salomon and Perkins, n.d.). The digital age, enhanced by Web technologies, is challenging the wealth of knowledge that could potentially be accumulated by individuals alone, and aspects of social and collaborative learning are gaining consideration.

This alternative approach to learning considered participatory or social learning approaches as contrasted to the AM of individual learning has been characterised by Sfard (1998) as the participation metaphor (PM) of approaches to learning. “While the AM stresses the individual mind and what goes ‘into it’, the PM shifts the focus to the evolving bonds between the individual and others” (Sfard, 1998, p. 6). There is a significant shift from the focus on individual cognition to distributed cognition: “Learning a subject is now conceived as a process of becoming a member of a certain community” (Sfard, 1998, p. 6). It “shifts the focus to the evolving bonds between the individual and others… and makes salient the dialectic nature of the learning interaction: the whole and the parts affect and inform each other” (Sfard, 1998, p. 6).

The design and use of blogging technology to support learning is a type of a computer-supported collaborative environment. The goals are to “create artifacts, activities and environments that enhance the practices of group meaning making” (Stahl, Koschmann and Suthers,2006, p. 417). Technologies like educational blogging should be exploited to “explore the potential of the persistent record of interaction and collaboration as a resource for intersubjective learning” (Stahl et al., 2006, p. 419). Tomes argues that technologies (in general) create new opportunities by “capturing the collaboration and communication between groups of learners and teachers in a form which allows that collaboration to become an educational resource for other students” (Tomes, 2001, p. 222).

More pertinently, educational blogging, like other information and computer technologies has the “potential to make new interactions possible” (Stahl et al., 2006, p. 419). The additional dimension that technologies like educational blogging bring to learning environments is both dynamic and far-reaching. “Computational media are reconfigurable and representations are dynamic. (it) can bridge time and space” (Stahl et al., 2006, p. 419).

The use of educational blogging technology is a powerful element in the design of learning environments that can enhance and extend beyond the classroom walls compared to traditional support for students’ learning. Literature studies are a rich and often evolving subject matter and educational blogging provides a useful computer-mediated collaborative learning environment. Technology supported or computer mediated environments can “turn communication into substance; a record of activity as well as product can be kept, replayed and modified” (Stahl et al., 2006, p. 419).

Tomes (2001) also suggests that “[t]echnologies can also extend the possibilities for collaboration, offering new opportunities to work in richer and more varied ways. And technologies can change the very nature of collaborative learning” (Tomes, 2001, p. 220). This is supported by feedback from students and instructor (Griffith, 2004) and demonstrated anecdotally by the increased quality and quantity of their literary works published via blogs. There is a “wealth of creativity and interaction that blogging is helping to facilitate” (Griffith, 2004). The use of educational blogging had also encouraged new community blogs among the students interested in specific aspects for example poetry writing. Although such community blogs are not part of formal assessment, students continue to contribute uninhibitedly to these additional blogs. For an academic who has been pushing the “power of the pen and paper”, this transformative change that blogging has engendered among his students has brought a fresh and invigorating change to the classroom.

In the context of the PM, the transformative change that has affected this community of students could also be explained through what Scardamalia and Beriter (2006) call Knowledge Building (KB) approach that strongly supports the PM approaches. Knowledge Building “represents an attempt to refashion education in a fundamental way, so that it becomes coherent effort to initiate students into a knowledge creating culture” (Scardamalia and Beriter, 2006, p. 97).

An important component of KB is the “creation of ‘epistemic artifacts’ tools that serve in the further advancement of knowledge (Scardamalia and Beriter, 2006 p. 99). Use of technologies like educational blogging provides explicit records of such ‘artifacts’ and student learning is enhanced through the review and critique of each other’s blogs.

The use of educational blogging also breaks down the constraints of knowledge as discrete units and has broader implications for life-long learning. Unlike the AM approach, the PM approach does not define end dates for learning: “Learning of rich material is termless; instruction should instill a sense of tentativeness with regard to knowing, a realization that understanding of complex material is never completed, only enriched, and a lifelong commitment to advancing one’s knowledge” (Koschmann, Myers, Feltovich, and Barrows, 1993-1994, p. 238).

In the context of educational blogging from the PM approach, the lecturer is no longer at the centre of the teaching process and could be labeled facilitator, and students could also share their expertise with the community of learners. According to Sfard, “the PM has a potential to lead to a new, more democratic practice of learning, and teaching”. (Sfard, 1998, p. 9). The community of students and lecturer engaged in educational blogging is promoting an exchange and interchange of knowledge creation that has strengthened individual understanding of literature particularly by offering opportunities to students to view, reflect and critique each other’s contributions. This is supported by anecdotal evidence from the lecturer: “Not only was the medium prompting deep reflections and truly creative responses to classic literary texts, it was also generating a real community in which literature was a catalyst” (Griffith, 2004).


Anecdotal reports and feedback from a university class using educational blogging to enhance teaching and learning of literature have been analysed for the impact of the use of educational blogging in supporting individual and group learning. The use of educational blogging has been explored from a learning science perspective using Sfard’s (1998) acquisition and participation metaphors.

Perhaps Damon’s summary of both these metaphors is an appropriate conclusion: “[E]ven when learning is fostered through processes of social communication, individual activity and reflection still play a critical role. Sometimes individual activity may build on collective questions and insights. Other times, however, individual activity actually may need to resist the collective illusions created by a group. Any paradigm that assumes a one-way, deterministic relation between the collective and individual knowledge construction is overly simplistic.” (as cited in Saloman, n.d.)

The full implications of how such educational blogging technologies are no longer “passive” and how they impact on individual and group’s learning and vice-versa could be explored through further research vis-à-vis the acquisition and participation metaphors. There is still more to reflect, learn and understand about theories, approaches and perspectives in the learning sciences.


Eide, F., & Eide, B. (2005) Brain of the Blogger. Retrieved April 16, 2008, from http://eideneurolearningblog.blogspot.com/2005/03/brain-of-blogger_03.html

Greeno, J. Learning in Activity. (2006). In K. Sawyer (Ed.). The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Science (pp. 79-96). New York: Cambride University Press.

Griffith, M. (2004). Using Blogging to Enhance Teaching and Learning (unpublished manuscript). Michael blogs at MG: Literature and Life

Koschmann, T.D., Myers, A.C., Feltovich, P.J., & Barrows, H.S. (1993-1994). Using Technology to Assist in Realizing Effective Learning and Instruction: A Principled Approach to the Use of Computers in Collaborative Learning. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 3 (3), 227-264.

Salomon, S., & Perkins, D.N. (n.d.). Individual and Social Aspects of Learning. Retrieved April 27, 2008, from http://www.education.miami.edu/blantonw/2800/XBLANTON/READINGS/salomon.html (Dead link 18/9/08) (Has been published in Review of Research in Education, 1998; 23: 1-24, Harvard University but the copy I read was from the url)

Scardamalia, M., & Beriter, C. (2006). Knowledge Building: Theory, Pedagogy and Technology. In K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Science (pp. 97-115). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sfard, A. (1998). On Two Metaphors for Learning and the Dangers of Choosing Just One. Educational Researcher. 27 (2), 4-13. (One version at http://people.ucsc.edu/~gwells/Files/Courses_Folder/ED%20261%20Papers/Sfard_ER1998.pdf)

Stahl, G., Koschmann, T., & Suthers, D.D. (2006). Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning. (2006). In K. Sawyer (Ed,), The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Science (pp. 405-425). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Tomes, N. (2001). Technology-supported collaborative learning. In N. Falchikov (Ed.), Learning Together: Peer tutoring in higher education (pp. 220 – 233). Routledge Falmer :London.

Wilson, B.G. & Myers, K. M. (1999). Situated Cognition in Theoretical and Practical Context. Retrieved April 25, 2008, from http://carbon.cudenver.edu/~bwilson/SitCog.html


Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

What is Connectivism? Odiogo your blog, please cck08ers

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mike Bogle  |  September 17, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    Hi WL,

    Really nice piece of work! I’ve read through it once already and will be doing it again on the way in tomorrow. I’m also really looking forward to reading through the references you included.

    Unfortunately I am not a course facilitator (or instructor), so I don’t have any opportunities to explore my theories on the use of blogs first hand with learners. So it’s fantastic to read what your experiences have been – as well as those of your colleagues.

    Has this paper been published? If not I think it should be 🙂



  • 2. wlonline  |  September 18, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    Thanks Mike for your feedback. The paper was a class project so not published. Most of the work in this paper was based on my colleague’s blogging with his students.

    In a sense, networking and connectivity is opening up avenues for people who work in different areas to share and exchange ideas. I have read some interesting ideas from your blogs and I am sure someone out in this ww space will take up on the “theories” that you have thought of. There are some of us who “theorise” but do not have opportunity to see in in action; there are those who are practitioners who are busy blogging but never really have time to reflect on theory. And therefore, we meet somewhere in the “middle” and there is a discourse and we take away something in both directions (theory informs practice and practice informs theory) and we make adjustments to both the thinking and practice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

Subscribe to podcast

Subscribe to this podcast feed


Flickr Photos

%d bloggers like this: