Bateson’s Hierarchy of Learning

Something that really resonated with me, toward the end of the thesis proposed by Gardner Campbell in his OpenEd12 Keynote, was the introduction of Gregory Bateson‘s Hierarchy of Learning, described below. Despite being focused around the purpose of higher education, I see a lot of what my TALONS colleagues and I have sought over the course of the last few years in the creation of the learning environment alongside an ever-evolving pedagogical positioning.

The following is from Dr. Paul Tosey‘s paper, “Bateson’s Levels Of Learning: a Framework For Transformative Learning?

Learning 0 (Zero) 

Characterised by specificity of response, which – right or wrong – is not subject to correction.

“…entails responding to stimuli but making no changes based on experience or information.”

Learning I

…is change in specificity of response by correction of errors of choice within a set of alternatives.

[Learning] I is the explicit focus of much Higher Education and management learning, involving common notions of `learning’ as cognitive, conative and affective – changes in knowledge, skills and attitude. It is also the focus of much learning theory. Behavioural, cognitive and experiential perspectives are much concerned with the acquisition of knowledge and skills. Finally, `learning to learn’ often refers to study skills. 

Learning II

…is change in the process of Learning I, e.g. a corrective change in the set of alternatives from which choice is made, or it is a change in how the sequence of experience is punctuated.

“…the norms and expectations of this new setting (e.g. about the level of personal disclosure), and how socialisation was happening in parallel with the overt teaching of content, marking this context as similar to and different from other settings in my experience. I experienced a congruence between the overt, espoused intentions and the `hidden curriculum’.”

Learning III

…is change in the process of Learning II, e.g. a corrective change in the system of sets of alternatives from which choice is made.

Bateson (1973:276) refers to being `driven to level III by `contraries’ generated at level II’; `The “problem” to which third-order learning is a “solution” consists of systematic contradictions in experience’ (Bredo 1989:35), [and that] … symbolic modes of knowing demonstrate[] the significance of metaphor at the root of perception, and the profound potential for learning should such metaphors change.

Learning IV `

…would be change in Learning III, but probably does not occur in any adult living organism on this earth.’

I agree with Gardner’s observation that schooling, and education’s purpose is not habituation and conditioning, or adaptation. It is the cultivation of the ability to think about strategies and contexts from which one could choose to adapt… or not.” 

“It may be,” he says, “that the evolution of the species represents the emergence of the possibility of Learning IV, as we think together.

Learning III, and bringing about this possibility of Learning IV, must be concerned then with what the contexts of learning communicate – in where and how learning is carried out, what is motivating the learner, how the facilitating teacher interacts with the process, etc – but also with providing safe and authentic opportunities to “experience[] breaches in the weave of contextual structure.”

I think about the lasting experiences of the TALONS Fall Retreat, Night of the Notables, Adventure Trip and In Depth studies as “breaches in the weave of contextual structure,” where there is glimpsed (to again borrow from Gardner) “some deep experience of the richness, the complexity, the ecologies of yearning that inform our desire to make meaning out of our experience, which we must do together.”

Last spring we came to call this monad-force The Precious, a grand harmony experienced in these rare moments TALONS builds itself around, and that our grade twelve peer tutor Katie summed up perfectly in a day’s end temperature reading seated on the side of a mountain in the pouring rain, telling our graduating grade tens that, “now is when you get to go out and recreate this, whatever you think this is.”