The Messiness of Learning?


Some interesting observations about the messiness of learning by Naomi Barnes, writing at Hybrid Pedagogy, who concludes:

Learning is much messier and dynamic than scaffolded, compartmentalised education policy would lead us to believe. In classrooms, keeping on topic and task is an important structural and behavioral expectation. Random thoughts are actively discouraged. I believe that we need to start paying more attention to the random thoughts because when learning is conceptualized as a web, rather than a line, randomness becomes more meaningful… Social constructivist trained teachers have experience in guiding collaborative problem solving. But instead of scaffolding the pathway to expertise, why not allow students to pursue their interests in a topic and then look for ways to synthesize what each student brings to the table?

Does this resonate with HEAT members’ own experiences in a useful way? Or are there problems with this approach?

One thought on “The Messiness of Learning?

  1. Thanks, Matt.

    Jesse Stommel, on the same web site as Naomi Barnes, offers a definition of ‘hybrid learning’ which usefully (to my mind) distinguishes it from ‘blended’ learning – currently a much discussed (if diversely understood) approach here at Westminster and at other universities and externally, not least in relation to digital technologies and MOOCs:

    “At its most basic level, the term “hybrid,” as I’m using it here, refers to learning that happens both in a classroom (or other physical space) and online. In this respect, hybrid does overlap with another concept that is often used synonymously: blended. I would like to make some careful distinctions between these two terms. Blended learning describes a process or practice; hybrid pedagogy is a methodological approach that helps define a series of varied processes and practices. (Blended learning is tactical, whereas hybrid pedagogy is strategic.) When people talk about “blended learning,” they are usually referring to the place where learning happens, a combination of the classroom and online. The word “hybrid” has deeper resonances, suggesting not just that the place of learning is changed but that a hybrid pedagogy fundamentally rethinks our conception of place.”

    Arguing that this concept of hybridity challenges our ideas of place has some links to Allan Parson’s recent post on Spivak following our latest reading group: ‘Spivak’s lessons: refractions of the scene of teaching’. In that post Allan draws attention to a hardly unaccidental repeated emphasis on the collocation of learning with ‘the classroom’ – the classroom being the paradigmatic scene in which learning does or does not place. See:

    The scaffolding metaphor is one that took off in the 1970s (I think) as researchers and educationalists rediscovered the earlier researches of Vygostky, Luria and Leont’ev which sought to encompass environmental factors, personal history and motivations, the role of culture and the artefact, and complex real life activity. With the label ‘constructivist’ attached, it has perhaps encouraged the contestable idea that learning is pre-determined by a ‘framework’, however democratically co-constructed this may be. It’s debatable whether Vygotsky would have favoured this kind of interpretation, or indeed this kind of language. The study by Moll (1992), for example, tried to ‘go back to’ Vygotksy and apply Vygotskyan concepts to writing strategies in the classroom, which encourage pupils to bring their own ideas and which required teachers to accept messy handwriting and unconventional spelling and grammar. An example of how ‘constructivist’ teaching might be able to work with randomness and ‘messiness’ in a creative way?


    Moll, L. C. (1992). Vygotsky and education: Instructional implications and applications of sociohistorical psychology. Cambridge University Press.

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