Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Learner is like a Garden

When making an analogy that compares today's learner, one has to take into consideration the extensive platform that confronts this generation of learners. Society today is an amazing information infrastructure and children obtain knowledge in many different facets throughout their lives. George Siemens has compiled his knowledge and beliefs on this topic into the theory of Connectivism. The basis of this theory is that, "Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual." (Siemens, 2005) .

Taking all of these ideas into consideration, I believe the learner of today is like a garden.

Each spring my garden is a place of infinite possibilities. It can be anything I want it to be; vegetable garden, flower garden, herbs. It is only limited by the care and attention it receives and how it uses the resources available to it. After planting the garden it is gains its independence and flourishes or fails depending on the resources it has and how it uses them. The garden is diverse, and each plant will seek out or reject different environmental and physical attributes. For example, tomatoes when planted next to Thyme are protected from pests. Green peppers and watermelons are a water saturated vegetable and leech water from the ground and green beans prefer a vine to grow toward the sun. Each of these plants seeks to quench their own needs. As we know the garden is not a perfect haven. Weeds loom and threaten to suffocate and stifle growth. Pests also threaten the progress of the plant.

Careful gardeners do many things to make their gardens grow. They plan their gardens very carefully pairing vegetables in complimentary groupings. They painstakingly care for their garden not just by removing weeds that may prohibit growth, but by spreading manure to fertilize and encourage growth. They are careful to protect their garden from pests, especially when plants are young so plants can mature and be strong enough to ward off invaders on their own.

Now let's look at the garden in terms of a learner. Like the garden the learner is a thing of infinite possibilities. It can be anything it wants to be. Although we have some progress still to be made, our children have more opportunities and less limitations they had even ten years ago. Similar to the garden the learner is limited by the care, attention and resources it has available. The resource available to a learner today gives them the ability to find the information they need to succeed and learn from one another. As Siemens (2005) holds, "Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. This can be said for the garden and the learner. Learners and gardens must adapt to the environment and make decisions based on what information they receive.

The diversity of the garden relates to the diverse cultural, socioeconomic and academic ability levels of the learners we have in our classrooms today. With the vastness of knowledge we have the ability to learn from each other in a consistent way. We are in affect within the garden wall in our classroom. The tomato and thyme, the watermelon and green beans. Diverse needs, diverse interests, diverse levels of success.

It would be neglect to not discuss the inherent risks of a world that is so accessible. We live in a society where our children have access to everything they could imagine…but unfortunately some they could not. These would be the weeds and pests of the garden. They do, however, differ slightly in their intentions. Weeds would be those influences both animate and inanimate that threaten to stifle and smother the learners. This may be unintentional such as the restrictions from technology we instill in our classrooms. Siemens articulates in the video, "The Conflict of Learning Theories with Human Nature" that "We crave the ability to externalize." Can we honestly say that we give our children and students the opportunity to do this?

This hindrance can also be intentional as we see in the garden with the pests. Learners today are challenges each day with becoming more and more discriminating. "The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital" (Siemens, 2005). There is so much information out their that is predatory, and not just in the literal sense. We have an important responsibility not just to teach children how to access information but how to shelter themselves from fraud and deceit, an inherent "pest" of increased availability of information. Analogous to the garden…if we spend the time protecting our garden (learners) and teaching them in youth, they will grow, mature and have the strength and knowledge to blossom and succeed.


  1. Lauren this is an excellent analogy! It is so in depth and insightful. I even learned a bit about gardening! Also, I like your point on predatory information and how we as educators need to decipher through it. Siemens quote was perfect to go along with the idea.

  2. Lauren,
    This is one of the best analogies I've read over the past few semesters. Thanks for sharing.
    Dr. Burgos

  3. I really like the garden analogy too! Really helps to grasp the theory.

  4. I also loved your analogy. As a gardener, and a flower lover, I know we tend the garden, we plan for everything we can imagine- but in the end we really don't have control over the results-nature takes it's course.

  5. Lauren,
    This is a beautifully written article. Your passion for learning and teaching, are so evident with your clever analogy of another love, gardening. The onslaught of the information age, the strange smallness of a world so different and yet so fundamentally the same, can be overwhelming to comprehend. A little water(knowledge), sun(growth), fertilizer (mentor) and the seedling will begin to tell you how much it needs daily. They thrive even in an imperfect environment, seeking out ways to feed themselves as they grow. Occasionally, the weed or pest will strengthen the resolve of the plant. not destroying completely. Like a windstorm and a determined tree sinking its roots tighter into the ground. Eventually, achieving maturity(wisdom). Success! Enjoy the fruit of your labor dearest daughter, I am so proud of you! May your gardens and seedlings always flourish. Love, Mom


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