Education as Enculturation

Week 5 Theme – Online Learning Discussions – Applied

This week I revisited one of my guiding questions from the start of the course and considered themes from these questions in executing the design for my asynchronous discussion activity. 

The first of my questions focused on interactivity in asynchronous learning materials.  Vrasidas discussed different types of interactivity in online learning, namely: student-content, student-teacher, student-student and student-interface (2000, p. 2). It is tempting to draw parallels between the first 3 of these types of interactivity and the 3 components of the Community of Inquiry Framework: Cognitive, Social and Teaching (Garrison et. al., 2007), which is something that I would like to explore further in this course. 

My question focused on asynchronous learning materials (or student-content interaction); however, since much of this course is focused on student-teacher and student-student interaction, I would like to modify that question and consider the following instead: 

How can interactivity in asynchronous learning environments learning materials be designed to provide an optimal learning experience? 

The second part of the question “optimal learning experience” should also be re-examined and perhaps more specifically define what I meant by “optimal learning”.  At this point in the course, I’m still not entirely sure myself.

But, the ideas on enculturation (or re-acculturation)  presented by Bruffee in the supplementary article on Cooperative VS Collaborative Learning allowed me to re-examine what might be considered “optimal learning”. Bruffee states that one of the goals of learning is to gain access to specific knowledge communities, and that successful enculturation into a society or community requires learners to “[develop] the appropriate vocabulary of that society and [explore] that society’s culture and norms” (p. 14) He then positions the role of the teacher as introducing students to the conversation in which they can construct communal knowledge and ultimately gain membership to these communities (p. 15).

Rockwood, also cited in the Panitz article, presented cooperative and collaborative learning not as mutually exclusive, but as a continuum, suggesting that as knowledge develops, learners graduate from cooperative learning to collaborative learning (qtd. In Panitz, 2000, p. 6-7). Characteristics of cooperative learning are a higher level of structure with clearly defined goals and more teacher facilitation. Accordingly to Panitz, students need to become fluent in the foundational knowledge (or culture and norms) through cooperative learning in order to progress to collaborative learning (p. 7). This leads me to think that cooperative learning could be considered a type of scaffolded collaborative learning, where learners are given fewer and fewer supports, until they are ready to practice on their own (thus, gaining full membership to the knowledge community). 

I’m not quite sure what implications this will have for the design of my learning activity with regards to scaffolding and the level of teacher presence. The initial designed that I’ve proposed is closer to the cooperative end of the spectrum, which is likely appropriate for first year medical students. But it should be modified to allow for increasing amounts of student autonomy. I’m considering revising the activity as a proposed solution to one of the current issues that we are tackling in the curriculum: Independent Learning. To date, these are typically just asynchronous learning modules that learners interact with independently. However, one of my goals this year is to develop a strategic plan for improving these modules.

To end, I wanted to borrow from Arnold Arons (as paraphrased by Bruffee), and reframe his comment in a Medical Education context: the goal of learning is to reinvent medicine and collaboratively, to gain enough fluency in the language of medicine to join the community of medical practitioners. (Bruffee, 1995, p. 14).


Bruffee, K. (1995). Sharing Our Toys: Cooperative Learning versus Collaborative Learning. Change, 27(1), 12-18. Retrieved from

Garrison, D. Randy, and J.B. Arbaugh. (2007) “Researching the Community of Inquiry Framework: Review, Issues, and Future Directions.” Internet and Higher Education, vol. 10,  pp. 157–172.

Panitz, T. (2000). Collaborative Versus Cooperative Learning: Comparing the Two Definitions Helps Understand the nature of Interactive learning. Cooperative Learning and College Teaching, 8(2), 13.

Vrasidas, C. (2000). Constructivism versus objectivism: Implications for interaction, course design, and evaluation in distance education. International Journal of Educational Telecommunications, 6(4), 339–362.

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