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Analyzing Learning in a Micro Culture

If some learning mechanisms are revealed only in circumstances and through processes of social interaction, development will remain a mystery until and unless the detailed analysis of learning in the micro culture is pursued. My infant study is detailed enough and constrained enough for analysis at a level which will permit productive construction of a theory of learning through social interaction. One primary objective is to describe and explain the infant’s learning about objects in space and her development of language capability. At first, these developments will be treated as separate domains of analysis but when appropriate and where possible attempts will be made to see ways in which the two disparate areas of development contrast, compare and interact. A surreal image of these relationships is this: an infant is born with eyes and arms, but has to learn to use her hands for manipulating objects; imagine language as an extra set of invisible arms, with which an infant has to learn to manipulate the appropriate objects (people) with speech.

My ultimate objective is to derive a sufficiently rich description of the infant’s learning that it can be specified in terms of the sorts of computational mechanisms advanced in Minsk’y society theory of mind. To reach that level of specificity of interpretation, I must first proceed with a description of “what happened” during the course of the infant’s development. I will cast my description in terms of the analysis of my infant videotape corpus (and assume that analysis of my naturalistic text observations is available to aid selection of themes for initial videotape analyses.

Each of the videotape sessions is a thirty minute sequence of episodes, all occurring in the same place and continuously — with occasional interruptions. One can think of this space with the infant and the camera as defining the stage of observation. On the stage, we see a sequence of scenes, where a scene is a suite of actions involving a specific set of people all on the stage from beginning to end.1 The boundaries of scenes are entrances and/or exits of major players in the actions. Within scenes, the actions will be further segmented into episodes and smaller parts as analysis requires.

The stage during any videotape session will be described as a setting with salient props. The settings are the familiar rooms of our family living quarters. Props might be such things as a large mirror, toys for the infant to play with, furniture involved someway in the later actions, etc.
The five sorts of primary entities in the analysis of scenes (and examples) are:

the setting:

in the living room, in a chair with a small table nearby…
the actors:

infant Peggy, Rob & Miriam (siblings), Bob & Gretchen, Scurry (dog)
the props:

objects introduced variously on purpose or found at hand
the actions:

to be described as a first object of analysis
the purposes:

to be inferred as a second object of analysis ( in some cases, parent’s objectives were specified beforehand, but those of the infant typically were not and others always emerged in the course of the action.)

The outcome of the analysis will be the straightforward description of the setting, the props, a relatively straightforward description of the actions, and a more elaborate description of the actors and the purposes evident in the action and based on prior evidence. These more elaborate descriptions will follow from microanalysis on the videotapes to infer and ascribe the following sorts of elements and structures.

The sorts of entities to be constructed from the analysis are:


what actors say

what actors mean by their communication

suites of activities and interactions forming a local whole.

what actors want to do or have happen

attempts to get other people to do something

descriptions of knowledge in the minds of actors

attempts to impart knowledge to others

descriptions of values in the minds of actors

attempts to impart values to others

repeated interests expressed by the infant or others
development lines:

observation sequences in multiple videos and texts

to be further specified as needed.

What will make this analysis possible ? Several related aspects of the corpus construction: the limited social world of the infant in this nuclear family during the first three years of her life; the regularity and extent of the videotaped observation; the design of the corpus to address precisely this issue of the interrelationship of social interactions, language learning, and learning about the manipulation of objects in space. My hope is that the work will be worth the effort inasmuch as it promises to cast light on these interrelationships, which are not often given their due even in the best single-focus studies of learning and development. We shall see.

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