How learners interact with the learning environment and which affordances it offers them
You won't find it in the dictionary: affordances in education
"The verb to afford is found in the dictionary, the noun affordance is not. I have made it up."
James J. Gibson
You will hardly find the word 'affordances' in a dictionary. Actually, if you try to translate it into any other language, most of the translators won't offer the proper meaning. However, the word is used in a scientific article by Katrien Cuyvers, Piet Van den Bossche & Vincent Donche, which is about Self-regulated learning. Moreover, you can find the word 'affordances' in Wikipedia, where it says that it was derived from the word 'afford' and coined by James J. Gibson in 1966 when he couldn't find the right word in the dictionary to describe interactions between the environment and the animal.
What does it have to do with education?
Good question. The thing is that workplace learning differs from formal learning by its spontaneous and unobvious nature (Cuyvers, Van den Bossche, & Donche, 2020). Consequently, for workers to learn and develop their self-regulation learning skills, they have to be able to identify their learning needs, assess their own knowledge and see affordances (Cuyvers et al., 2020). In other words, to see possibilities that the working environment offers them.

Affordance is something that the environment can offer to a person when they interact with the environment.

What can it be? The article lists examples such as the availability of time for learning, resources (digital learning environments, events), communicating with colleagues (Cuyvers et al., 2020). Basically, everything that can stimulate learning behaviour.

It is something that 'invites' you to learn new things.

The word affordance is widely used in a variety of fields: perceptual psychology, cognitive psychology, environmental psychology, industrial design, human–computer interaction (HCI), interaction design, user-centered design, communication studies, instructional design, etc.

For example, handles on a teapot and mugs give us an obvious affordance for holding.

A chair invites us to sit on it due to its construction, and an open door provides an affordance to enter.
How can we design affordances to invite people to learn something?
It seems logical that learning is a sort of interaction with the environment, especially if we are talking about informal and/or workplace learning. I tried to come up with some examples of affordances in workplace learning, but I don't have a lot:

  • physical libraries with specific literature where people can study and read
  • specific events such as workshops
  • facilitated team meetings

Any other ideas? Let's think together which affordances we can design for workers to invite them to learn. How can we teach people to pay attention to these affordances? Add a comment below to join the discussion.

Cuyvers, K., Van den Bossche, P., & Donche, V. (2020). Self-Regulation of Professional Learning in the Workplace: a State of the Art and Future Perspectives. Vocations and Learning.

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Victoria Bolotina

Program Leader
MSc in Educational Science and Technology and PhD Researcher (University of Twente, The Netherlands)
Co-founder of LLLab
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