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H809 – Reading Oliver et al. chapter 2 (A3.6)

February 26, 2011

Oh well, chapter 2 comprises almost 20 pages and although that is no problem at all when it comes to a novel, but not for an academic reading. Well, we are advised to concentrate on the section ‘Methodology’ and considering my tight schedule I guess I take the risk of just skimming the first 10 pages. However, reading the first question it seems with that surface approach I will not be able to really answer the question :-8

Here are the questions we are asked to consider.

  1. What do each of the various approaches listed highlight?
  2. How, if at all, are specific methods (interviews, surveys, focus groups, observation, etc.) and methodological approaches related?

Various approaches/perspectives on learning technology

Ok, the first pages are a theoretical overkill, the authors Oliver et al. (2007) swamp the reader with all the different perspectives. During my BA studies I got to know  a lot of theoretical perspectives, but to be honest, some of the perspectives mentioned in the article are unknown to me.

Social sciences, sociology, social psychology, business studies, psychology, personal development, educational theory, philosophy, linguistic, media studies, critical theory, theories of representations, cultural theory and criticism. And not to forget the new disciplines such as systems theory, instructional design, to name just a view.

I couple days ago I read the blog of one of my study colleagues, and I was somehow amazed how she came up with Sfard’s (1998) acquisition and participation metaphor. Now I know how she came up with, because broadly, well very broadly taken Oliver et al. introduce two main perspectives the ‘Knowledge perspective’ and the ‘Social perspective’ with all the subdisciplines or to use Sfard’s metaphor the acquisition metaphor (AM) and the participation metaphor (PM). Oliver mentions that researchers in learning technology have a particular interest in the knowledge-technology-society nexus as an object of investigation.

Sfard (1998) explains that within the acquisition metaphor (AM) teachers provide material that students receive and consume with the goal of individual enrichment. Yet, the second part of the activity included the use of the forum, thus reflecting also the participation metaphor (PM) as it emphasizes community building as the goal of learning. AM implies that learning stops after the consumption, whereas participation views learning as an ongoing process embedded in a certain context. This activity highlights the distinctions between the two metaphors, but also the intricacy to draw clear boundaries between them.

Well, coming back to Oliver et al. and the perspectives they introduce. I try to make it short, I know not an easy task for me ;-), but first the ‘new’ study week started today and I still have to finish two more activities for week 3 and second I understand just half or less of that what is written in the article 😦

Science refers to a system of objective knowledge. Knowledge is based upon scientific ideals of objectivity and rationality, and was (is) considered as the dominant paradigm in Western society. Science refers to a system of objective knowledge. It is based on scientific methods, which generates knowledge and universal laws through systematic observation and experimentation. From the early nineteenth until the late twentieth century society was coming to know the truth about the world. says Post-modernity ‘can be characterised by the break-up of these large sets of knowledge’. Indeed, the sets of knowledge were questioned by post-modernity people who challenged the authority and analysed the answers from professionals. The idea was to integrate the process of generating and disseminating knowledge in social activities such as the research needs of business and the professions, and the progress of technology.  Ideas associated with the shift include:

  • Constructivism – what are the means by which knowledge is constructed, legitimated and circulated?
  • Instrumentalism – How is knowledge valued? To whom is it useful, and how?
  • Power – Who has the authority to determine what counts as ‘knowledge’?

Knowledge was not longer viewed as a quality of people, but more as a ‘thing’ . Knowledge was turned into artefacts, it was commodified (Lyotard, 1979 cited in Oliver et al.,2007). This commodification of knowledge shifted knowledge from ‘is it true’ to ‘what can it do? (Giddens, 1999 cited in Oliver et al.,2007). Lyotard not only argued that computers have a crucial role to play in supporting and extending the way in which knowledge was commodified, but commodifiied knowledge artefacts, once represented in digital form, can be almost limitless disseminated and analysed, re-inscribed, re-applied, re-appropriated. However, McLuhan  who claims that ‘the medium is the message’ also noticed the importance of context. The knowledge society transforms in a knowledge economy ‘manifested in the artefacts of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and in the ability of people to master these form of knowledge.

The author also raise the question ‘Can the knower be separated from what is know?’ and refer to two contrasting positions on knowledge. One group posit knowledge as being ‘out there’ as something to be sought and acquired by the knower (similar to Sfard’s AM) and the other group that posit knowledge as being ‘in here’, constructed by the knower and inseparably a part of them (see Sfard’s PM).

Positivism represents the traditional hypothetico-deductivist view of reality as being objectively ‘out there’, something that can be investigated through our senses, contrary to the social perspective (Oliver et al., 2007). According to this perspective knowledge arise from social practice, it is constructed rather than ‘found’ and it context-dependent. Constructivism belongs to the most recognised social positions who advocate learning through active experimentation. Critical theory, a different kind of social perspective emphasises conflicting interests in social groups. Beetham (2005 cited in Oliver et al.,2007) e.g. groups learning theories under four groups.

  • Associative – people learn through basic stimulus-response conditioning, then later through the capacity to associate concepts in chain of reasoning (Skinner or the Pavlovian dog might be known)
  • Cognitive constructivist – people learn by active construction of ideas and building of sills, through exploration, experimentation, receiving feedback, and adapting themselves accordingly
  • Social constructivist – people and groups learn with the support of dialogue and in the process of collaborative activity
  • Situativist – people learn through participation in communities of practice, progressing from novice to experts. Development of habits, values, identities and skills that are relevant to and supported by that community (e.g. Wenger’s communities of practice).

The authors refer also to the post-theoretical or new critical approach that acknowledge the disconnect in much learning and teaching practice between what teachers claim and what the do (e.g. assert constructivist credentials yet still using behaviourist motivators).

Oliver et al states that their primary position in the book is to challenge the hegemony of  ‘out there’  and that their primary focus is on the relationships between learning, identity and action.

Well, that is my answers to question 1, question 2 about the methodology will be answered in a separated post.


Oliver, M., Roberts, G., Beetham, H., Ingraham, B. and Dyke, M. (2007) ‘Knowledge, society and perspectives on learning technology’ in Conole, G. and Oliver, M. (eds) Contemporary Perspectives on E-learning Research, London, RoutledgeFalmer.

Sfard, A. (1998) ‘On Two Metaphors for Learning and the Dangers of Choosing Just One’, Educational Researcher [online] vol. 27, no. 2. Available from (accessed 24 February 2010).

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