Ecology as a metaphor to understand a system has three dimensions:
- Meaning. In this case, the idea of an ‘ecosystem’ has a defined meaning. We can translate and adapt this to human social environments, like those for learning.
- Models. Models are frameworks and heuristics we develop to explore learning further.
- Metaphor. Metaphor is language we use to explain behaviors. E.g., sustainability, resilience, fragility…these sorts of words that have biological sources, which can help us understand learning.
Situated learning permeates this idea of learning ecologies. Situated learning means that the learning I gain is ‘situated’ in all the places/spaces we inhabit. It is similar to when we think of a natural ecosystem: Communities of organisms interact with each other and the environment to flourish. We might take a fish. There are 3 things it needs to do:
- Sustain itself. Feed. Get nutrients.
- Find mates. Procreate. Extend species.
- Needs to make sure not to get eaten itself.
It swims around. Searches its environments. Takes in information. Reacts to information.
The same happens in human systems. But our systems are often man-made. We change our own environment – and that’s how we are different from all the other organisms. In those systems we are doing more than looking for food or mates or making sure we are not eaten. Our environments are about meaning and making. We are performing and making, and generating meaning, and often generating value in an economic sense.
J. Lemke gets to the heart of it: Eco-social systems are for the making and re-making of meaning.
Implication for Learning Leaders
John Dewey said, “We don’t learn from experiences. We learn from reflecting on experience.” The importance of culturally supporting an environment where employees can explore their learning ecology, and identify the resources and support systems an organization is key to supporting employee learning.