An attempt to start from first principles…
There is now, there is before and there is after. Whatever time is, our awareness of it helps us distinguish between past and future. Within our own lived experience we understand the difference between what has been and what will be and the relationship between them.
The future doesn’t yet exist and is full of alternative possibilities while also being shaped by the past. We have seen in our own lives how prior events shape future ones. While these events are all in the past they teach us important lessons about the processes of change; causality, sequence, randomness, predictability and purpose. Our understanding of the past gives us some experience that things can be changed both for better and for worse for ourselves and for others. We know that by understanding how change has happened in the past we are able to plan for change in the future.
Thanks to memory, language, the written word and other cultural activity we are able to extend this understanding of change beyond our lifespan. We can conceive of a past, including a distant past, before we became conscious. We can conceive of a future, including a distant future, after our own life.
Learning takes place at the point where our knowledge of the past interacts with our wish to act in the future. Our past is filled with learning experiences whose effects accumulate over time. We are shaped by the sum of these learning experiences and they may inspire joy and hope or fear and dread. They change us, our relationship with the past and our view of the future.
There is the self, there are others and there is the relationship between them. Whatever consciousness is, it helps us to distinguish between self and others. Within our own lived experience we understand the difference between our thoughts and actions, those of others and the relationship between them.
Our actions exist in the outer world and our thoughts exist only in our inner world. We have seen for ourselves the actions of others. Our experience shows us that the actions and reflections of others can influence ours and that theirs can be shaped by ours. While these are not our own, we can ourselves reflect on the thoughts and actions of others in ways that give us a better understanding of the world we inhabit.
Thanks to memory, language, the written word and other cultural activity we are able to extend this understanding of others beyond our selves. We can conceive of the inner world of others and the link between their action and thought.
Learning takes place at the point where our knowledge of others interacts with our knowledge of ourselves. Our past is filled with learning experiences which arise from some interaction with others. We are shaped by these learning experiences, they change us and our relationship with others.
There is the whole and there are the parts and there is the relationship between them. Whatever wholeness is, it cannot be fully grasped simply by knowing the parts. Within our own lived experience we understand the difference between parts and wholes and the relationship between them.
Things exist in the world both as parts and wholes and we can understand them as both. For example; cells as parts of organs, our heart as part of our circulatory system, itself part of our whole body; ourselves as part of a local and a global ecosystem and social community; our locality as a part of planet Earth, itself part of our solar system and our galaxy.
Thanks to memory, language, the written word and other cultural activity we are able to study the parts separately as well as linked to the whole. We can conceive of different levels of organisation and the translations between them.
Learning takes place at the point where our understanding of wholes and their parts comes together and we can translate this understanding between different levels. Such learning helps us to deepen our understanding of what we can know about the world.
Learning is a dialectical process of constantly testing the unknown against the known and broadening the sphere of the known, connecting our learning with that of other people and testing our understanding against theirs. This requires time, human thought and action in a social context. The dialectical relationships are between the past and the future, action and reflection and the individual and society.
From learning to education
The sequence of learning events in our life so far has shaped who we are in more or less welcome ways. Much of this learning may be outside our control but some can be regarded as part of a number of life projects which give purpose and meaning to our lives. Such life projects are necessarily learning projects which require some planning of future learning experiences and reflection on past ones. Any learning project, whether self-defined or defined by others is an educational one.
Education implies a conscious programme of learning experiences or opportunities which are likely to improve the chances of desired outcomes for those who experience it. If it is designed, it may be part of an education system or a formal curriculum.
A programme of education creates a framework for learning experiences and provides some kind of structure, coherence, meaning and purpose for them, for the individual learner and for others around them.
A civilised society has a duty to take collective responsibility for nurturing learning in ways which promote the values and interests of the society as well as the flourishing of the individual as a free and active contributor to society. This requires societal educational programmes which reach all citizens and whose aims are widely discussed and contested and subject to democratic scrutiny and consent. These programmes will only ever include a fraction of what people learn but give value and authority to particular forms of knowledge and skill.
So it starts with a self-conscious person travelling through history in society with other people and trying to make sense of it all. First there is learning and then there is education.
Line drawing A.Rodchenko (1915)