On the Nature of Praxis

Proposal to the 2023 Open Education Conference. Status: rejected. I hate rejection. :( 


On the Nature of Praxis

Stephen Downes
National Research Council Canada, Ontario, Canada


The concept of 'praxis' can be thought of as the relation between experience and reflection in practice and learning. As most commonly used, praxis the combination of action and theory - either a way of informing our future actions with reference to their purpose and meaning, for example, the true realization of human freedom (Arendt), or "reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed" (Freire), or as a way of structuring and learning from our experiences, for example, the self-change that happens after an experience (Marx), or the formation of abstract concepts based on experience (Kolb). But in an era of sea-changes in our understanding of what it means to know and learn and in the face of challenges posed by associationist language models that seem to learn without praxis, the traditional conception of the relation between experience and reflection may be insufficient to explain learning and to guide to learning strategies, including open education.

Learning Outcomes

  • Identify commonalities in different senses of the term 'praxis' as it is used to inform learning and learning strategies
  • Differentiate between theory-based and associationist models of cognition and reflection
  • Criticize traditional accounts of praxis from the perspective of network-based associationist models of learning and cognition
  • Apply associationist principles employed in large language models and other network-based cognitive systems in the development and conceptualization of open education



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