Learning Outcomes: Conversion, Abstraction, Rejection

It’s easy to imagine that Learning is all about positive and measurable outcomes, but that’s not necessarily always true. It’s possible that we can ‘learn’, and yet not think and act differently, and yet still carry some value from the experience, and that is what i want to explore today. How can learning deliver value, even when no value is apparent.

Let’s consider three outcomes: ‘Conversion’, ‘Abstraction’ and ‘Rejection’.

Conversion is an outcome where someone designs a piece of learning, an intervention or asset of some sort, with a specific outcome in mind – but i, as the learner, take something else entirely different away from it. Not what was intended, but something else nonetheless. So i learn something, but definitely not what you had wanted me to learn. Imagine. you read a book: a book with an agenda, which wants you to take away it’s message – but you reject that message. It annoys you, or does not hold true in your context. But within what is said, you do find a truth – something you can carry into a different context. So you convert it. Perhaps i could have called this ‘re-contextualisation’, or even ‘re-purposing’ as an alternative.

Abstraction is where i do not actively take away anything specific, but rather i abstract something of the learning from the context it was given in, and i hold it in stasis – i do not necessarily agree with it, but nor do i reject it. Possibly it does not hold true in my current context, but i do not reject it outright. We may hold a whole shelf of these things, against a time when we can reexamine them against future contexts or truths. Possibly this is part of the cognitive process by which beliefs change: not in one go, but when a point of fracture or fragmentation occurs – at which point, if we have a range of other inputs to consider, perhaps we find (or construct) our new truth.

Rejection is where i hear what you say, and stack it up against what i already know to be true, and on balance i reject it. This one may be a long shot, but there is an argument that by rejecting something i reduce the possible space of alternative views – so i do create a new future context for learning. We could perhaps again consider this with a simple answer of political views: i may listen to what someone says, and reject it, but that reduces the space of my future exploration – so arguably this is part of learning too.

I think it’s valuable to consider these, if only to broaden our perspective on what ‘learning’ actually is: certainly if an Organisation invests in the creation of assets and structures of learning, it typically does so to achieve a desired outcome – and at minimum that outcomes is likely to include the desire to change how people think, the knowledge they hold, or the behaviour that they exhibit. But we should be open to the idea that there is more to it than that, and that sometimes (perhaps as part of a broader approach to capability) we may wish to actively engineer some ambiguity into our learning design.

So we may want people to think – but not feel the need to judge their thought. And we may want them to act, but not through prescriptive pathways. Essentially we may simply be satisfied with the disturbance itself. There is something to be said for destabilising a system, because into the cracks may fall new thoughts or contexts that can act as a future foundation.

I’m not particularly proposing that we aim for ‘purposeless’ learning, but equally we should recognise the validity of any of these outcomes, and be open minded as to how we may, on occasion, with to engineer in a broader space for learning that we may imagine. Especially if we are focussed on areas of conviction, belief, mindset, or even innovation, complex change, or resilience. Areas where the known thinking, and structured pathways, may be more a hindrance or fragility than an asset.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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2 Responses to Learning Outcomes: Conversion, Abstraction, Rejection

  1. Peter Roxburgh says:

    This is so helpful.

    I wonder if there’s also just ‘absorption’? Like a healthy meal – the nutrients of the learning is making a difference- just not necessarily an obvious one, or even an immediately measurable one. But it’s going into the learner and making ever so subtle changes that add up over time, possibly even subconsciously.

    I think of all the many podcasts I listen to while running. There are definitely things I absorb without even making physical notes or even strong mental notes.

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