IFeL blog

Structure, Dialogue and Autonomy

Learning objectives and Wittgenstein’s list

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Recently, during a skiing holiday with friends they asked me to explain what I am doing in my job. And in the evening of that same day we had a friendly debate about what Wittgenstein’s impact on our time was. I spared no effort explaining and discussing, yet both questions are still open in my mind and a parallel between them has emerged.

In my job, among other things, I am convincing people about how useful learning objectives are by providing a pre-concept of the expected competences. A learning objective should offer orientation within the complex process of learning, a push of common language for future conceptualisation and at the same time a conceptual playpen for the first practical experiences. It should also mark the starting point for reflexion: how well is my learning process working, is it on target?

But, unfortunately, at first sight any set of learning objectives looks like a list of errands to work through one by one, therefore people tend to take it as a shopping list of things to put into the head of a learner.

Thinking about this, I remembered Wittgenstein’s attempt to solve «the» philosophical question with one sophisticated list. He wrote a book of 75 pages containing 7 numbered propositions, with various sub-levels (1, 1.1, 1.11):

  • The world is all that is the case.
  • What is the case—a fact—is the existence of states of affairs.
  • Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus)

His important contribution followed after this first book, though. He became the one philosopher to accept and show, that even his perfect list (or logical treatise) couldn’t solve the philosophical question. And he restarted his thinking about meaning and sense making in contexts of use within specific language-games.

Now this might be a little simplified for the sake of analogy, but we can make the step from list to language-game by thinking about a specific learning objective that evokes in a few words a future competence and its practical use in the professional world.

The complexity of such a language-game, lying beyond a professional field, should never be underestimated. By spelling out learning objectives, we hope to be helpful for learners, showing first steps into the complexity of professional skills.

To give an idea how the horizon of such a language-game may look like, I attach my draft of a grid of competences for self regulated learning. It cannot be read as a solution for the question of learning, but as a communicative outline for an open, common language for formulating learning objectives.

This draft will be discussed in the Eduhub Special Interest Group ePortfolio and in internal projects. And it will be used as an example for describing competences in the project MAGICC (Modularising Multilingual and Multicultural Academic Communication Competence www.magicc.eu.) by the project coordintor, Brigitte Forster Vosicki, of the University of Lausanne.

Attachment: Self Regulated Learning (SRL) – Grid of Competences

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