Week3b – A2 – Sfard

Acquisition methaphor versus Participation methaphor

1. How Sfard defines the acquisition and participation metaphors.

Acquisition methaphor

 ” The language of “knowledge acquisition” and “concept development” makes us think about the human mind as a container to be filled with certain materials and about the learner as becoming an owner of these materials. ““The new researcher talks about learning as a legitimate peripheral participation (Lave & Wenger, 1991) or as an apprenticeship in thinking (Rogoff, 1990).”

The learner through different ways acquires and then becomes the proprietor of this given knowledge. The teacher can be viewed as the ‘feeder’ of knowledge.

Participation methapor

 “…the terms “discourse” and “communication” suggests that the learner should be viewed as a person interested in participation in certain kinds of activities rather than in accumulating private possessions.”

 The learner is learning through participation in a work group. The teacher is an expert participant of the work group.


2. How she distinguishes between them

  • Acquisition methaphor was more popular than participation methapor.
  • While the concept of acquisition implies that there is a clear end point to the process of learning, the  participation is ongoing



  •  “While the AM stresses the individual mind and what goes “into it,” the PM shifts the focus to the evolving bonds between the individual and others. While AM emphasizes the inward movement of the object known as knowledge, PM gives prominence to the aspect of mutuality characteristic of the part-whole relation. Indeed, PM makes salient the dialectic nature of the learning interaction: The whole and the parts affect and inform each other. On one hand, the very existence of the whole is fully dependent on the parts. On the other hand, whereas the AM stresses the way in which possession determines the identity of the possessor, the PM implies that the identity of an individual, like an identity of a living organ, is a function of his or her being (or becoming) a part of a greater entity.   

 3. Sfard sees social theories of learning drawing on both the acquisitive as well as participatory models of learning. Do I agree?

 As argued by Sfard, no methapor is an utopia (perfect). Each model of learning has its advantages and disadvantages therefore the educator should gain enough experience to capture  the best learning experience for his students (or fellow less knowledgeable participants). The methapors are not exclusive therefore a combination of both is needed.

Sfard states : “Because no two students have the same needs and no two teachers arrive at their best performance in the same way, theoretical exclusivity and didactic single-mindedness can be trusted to make even the best of educational ideas fail.”

“An adequate combination of the acquisition and participation metaphors would bring to the fore the advantages of each of them, while keeping their respective drawbacks at bay.”

” In a good learning situation you acquest knowledge but also participate in the process of creating knowledge.” http://p2pfoundation.net/Three_Metaphors_of_Learning




My learning process is normally oriented more as individual trying to grasp knowledge about a particular subject, thus having a minimal social context. The type of learning (individual AM vs participation PM) may be dependent on the aim being sought. Different ‘subjects’ have to be tackled differently. Even the student needs and teacher experience will reflect on the type of methapor mix needed.

I think that for a teacher it is easier to ‘use’ the acquisition methapor with his students. This is so due to various factors. Prior experience would probably be focused on AM. AM might provide better ‘class’ control (even on-line?), the teacher can be assertive. The traditional model of a teacher is that of transferring knowledge to his students. For me, learning by participation, seems to be somewhat difficult to apply in my class context. Purely having my students grasp the lessons objectives by simply participating in the class surely needs a good preparatory work.

A blending of these two methapors is the best option as the students can be given time to participate in activities but finally the goal of learning as stated in syllabuses is that of individual enrichment.


“learning is not seen as purely ‘acquisitional’ or as purely ‘participational’, but as an interplay or conflation of the two.” Metaphors for Learning: cognitive acquisition versus social participation. Elmholdt, Claus; Elmholdt, Claus. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research (0031-3831) 1/04/2003. Vol.47,Iss.2;p.115

Having more (AM) vs Doing more (PM)


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