Socially-Negotiated Learning (In A Nutshell)

Most of the time I was writing it, I didn’t feel quite as good about this one, but I think it came together well. This is the third in the triad of key elements I started investigating when I started this PhD program three and a half years ago (Context-embedded, inquiry-driven, and socially negotiated learning). I still feel good about the three categories, and about the additional elements I’ve added… particularly “motivation and engagement” up front, and “reflection and metacognition” at the end (which comes next).

In any case, like the other “one-pagers” I’ve posted, each paragraph (or each sentence in many cases) will be supported by references to seminal constructivist theorists, educational technologists, and video game scholars. The final paragraph won’t be necessary when this is incorporated throughout the section.

In the meantime, let me know what you think of the overview. :)

A constructivist learning environment does not leave a student in isolation, but rather facilitates socially negotiated learning.

Early constructivists believed that all learning is experience. Those that followed soon came to the conclusion that all experience is social, and that thus all learning is social. In fact, some social constructivists maintain that meaning is not so much made within an individual mind, but socially negotiated and shared between individuals.

Constructivists are often primarily concerned with students’ individual cognitive development, and this too is a social process. The culture (or cultures) within which learning takes place affects student development, making the culture of the learning environment an important aspect for educators to consider. The social processes of education can also effect individual student development.

Communication, particularly the development and use of language, is a critical element of learning – and of a constructivist learning environment. Dialog, which implies a social relationship, is the foundation of all meaning-making, even if it is merely internal dialogue.

In order to support dialog and social negotiation of meaning, one aim of a constructivist learning environment is to promote cooperation and collaboration between students, as opposed to isolating students and placing barriers between them, common effect (if not common goals) of traditional learning environments. Facilitating cooperation and collaboration has the additional benefit of helping students to improve their social skills and teamwork.

Another benefit of cooperation and collaboration between students is that individual students can complete tasks with the help of others that they would not be able to perform independently. Student’s intelligence can actually be distributed among others in the learning environment, a situation that constructivists consider common in real-world scenarios. For this reason, constructivist learning environments often encourage the development of learning communities or communities of practice.
Within such a community each student can play an important role. In this way, role-playing as an educational strategy can also be a way students can develop socially as well as individually.

Constructivists maintain that the skills that students develop when roll playing in a learning community will transfer to real-world contexts more successfully than those skills developed in isolation with traditional teaching techniques. Ideally, constructivists hope not only for a transfer of skills, but that the learning that occurs in schools will itself have relevance to the student and to the greater society as well.

Many video game scholars maintain that video game playing is a often a deeply social experience and that well designed games can provide a learning environment that facilitates socially negotiated learning. Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) in particular, are inherently social and require dialog, cooperation, and collaboration between players. Learning communities and communities of practice are commonplace in MMORPGs and though it may not be common among casual players, the games are designed to promote role-playing within the environment.