Dewey on social learning


John Dewey, in 19161 wrote about the social nature of learning, and how learning is about more than having access to content:

The importance of language in gaining knowledge is doubtless the chief cause of the common notion that knowledge may be passed directly from one to another. It almost seems as if all we have to do to convey an idea into the mind of another is to convey a sound into his ear. Thus imparting knowledge gets assimilated to a purely physical process. But learning from language will be found, when analyzed, to confirm the principle just laid down. It would probably be admitted with little hesitation that a child gets the idea of, say, a hat by using it as other persons do; by covering the head with it, giving it to others to wear, having it put on by others when going out, etc. But it may be asked how this principle of shared activity applies to getting through speech or reading the idea of, say, a Greek helmet, where no direct use of any kind enters in. What shared activity is there in learning from books about the discovery of America?

Full text of Democracy and Education is available on Wikisource, or at a library near you. The more you know…


  1. Dewey, John. (1922). Democracy and Education: an Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. The MacMillan Company. New York. (it appears as though the book was written in 1916, but not published until 1922. Still, a long, long time ago… ↩︎


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