Tinkering as Learning

John Seely Brown, who was the director of the amazing Xerox Parc for many years, and whose book The Social Life of Information was hugely influential in the tech industry in which I work, has a new book coming out soon, The New Culture of Learning, which looks great. You can download the first three chapters from the site.

He talks a lot about one of my pet subjects, Community Mentoring, the apprenticeship model of education:

Where traditionally mentoring was a means of enculturating members into a community, mentoring in the collective relies more on the sense of learning and developing temporary, peer-to-peer relationships that are fluid and impermanent. Expertise is shared openly and willingly, without regard to an institutional mission. Instead, expertise is shared conditionally and situationally, as a way to enable the agency of other members of the collective.

…as well as a dozen other favorite topics of mine: play as a means of learning, constraints as a stimulus for, rather than an inhibition of, creativity, and so on. I wish I could figure out how to get my hands on the whole book. There is a great page of resources on the site as well, for further exploration.

Here is an interview with John from the site, talking about tinkering as a mode of knowledge production, an idea reinforced by my recent visit to MakerBot.

(Thanks for the head’s up, Scott!)

Author: Caterina Fake

Literature, Art, Poetry, Homeschooling Mother. Founder & CEO, Findery. Co-founder, Flickr & Hunch.

6 thoughts on “Tinkering as Learning”

  1. Great post, Caterina. Thank you.

    There’s a lot of wisdom in what John Seely Brown says here. I love his points on the value and importance of constructive criticism, and the absence of same from many of our classrooms (or other learning environments) today.

    I think “tinkering” is the best way to learn certain types of things. As an adult, I surely learn more by tinkering than any other method, and I think I did so when younger as well – so long as there is a good foundation of certain fundamentals present.

    The model which he describes will take a special environment in which trust and respect of one’s peers’ work is instilled, but what a priceless value to instill it is.

    I look forward to his book becoming available.


  2. My kids are in preschool and I sent them to a ‘Montessori’ school. I was wondering on what your take is on this type of education? It seems like their activities are mostly ‘tinkering’ with educational materials.


  3. I went to Montessori school myself, and it was a great experience for me, and I think for most kids. Yes, it is a lot of tinkering, playing, exploring. The problem is people think that kind of learning is just for preschool. By Kindergarten you have to sit quietly, and pay attention and be taught.


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