‘Recognising’ learning, Gunther Kress, Institute of Education (UK)

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John Cook
18 November 2011

‘Learning’,  as a concept, is a social construct. Conceptions of ‘learning’ are socially shaped and reflect social assumptions: what learning is, where it happens, the degree to which learning is achieved in a particular environment, what a learner is, and so on. Changes in social  configurations and consequent changes in theoretical accounts - and means - reconfigure all of these.

In my talk I focus on two such changes. One is a change in conceptions and distributions of ‘agency’: who is assumed to act? how are actions in learning seen? whose actions are recognized – accorded recognition, acknowledged and valued? The other change focuses on the material means through which we are used to recognize learning: how and where and when is learning seen to become (materially) evident. Both involve changes in recognition. If something is not or cannot be talked about, written or drawn, or be represented numerically, then how do we find evidence of learning, how do we establish ‘signs of learning’?
These are social issues, due to social changes, independent to a large extent of changes in technologies of representation, production and dissemination. However, the increasingly dominant digital technologies in this domain provide facilities which amplify these social tendencies and therefore give such questions an insistence, intensity and prominence that makes it essential to develop accounts which give due recognition to both agency and the material ‘means’ through which learning becomes evident. ‘Multimodality’ offers to provide one set of tools for the recognition of ‘means’; a social semiotic account of learning and meaning offers another set of tools for the recognition of agency as semiotic work.
In exemplification of these points I will use data from several research projects, mostly not involving ‘the digital’ - so that the work of ‘translation’ is left to my audience.

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added by Klaus Rummler


Klaus Rummler
11:21am 5 December 2011 (Edited 11:22am 5 December 2011)

Gunther Kress' answer to „What's social, what's cultural?“


[roughly transcribed from the video]



  • Cultural resources are produced socially. That is: In the action and interaction of humans working together cultural resources are produced.

  • These cultural resources become available to those two or to other members of the community in which they act.

  • The social is about interaction in a group which might be defined by having access to, and understanding of, and use of resources which are produced by that group so that the cultural resources in a sense define, and practices define the group.



  • The cultural describes the field of resources which are being socially produced.

  • The social for me is the domain of action in fields of power.

  • So power is crucial for me in the definition of the social.

  • The cultural is the domain in which the resources are being socially produced and are ready for the next use or ready for change.

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