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How Do You Use Metaphors for Learning? Open Thread

Rose In yesterday's post, I gave some examples of various metaphorical structures for thinking about learning. At the end, I asked if other people found metaphors useful for thinking through concepts. In comments on that post, Kate Foy mentioned that she frequently uses metaphors and analogies to teach, while Ken Allen warned against getting too carried away with using metaphors as they can obscure, rather than enhance learning. In a wonderful post responding to mine, Britt Watwood talks about how he and his team have been using metaphors in their workshops on social media and teaching,  elaborating on how they've been using some of the strategies I mentioned yesterday.

This seems like some really juicy ground for discussions, so here are some questions for the day:

How Do You use Metaphors for Learning and Teaching?

What are their benefits?

What drawbacks do you see?

Let's have an open thread on this and see what we can learn.

Flickr photo via janusz l.

Comments

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I hear Ken's comment about not getting carried away with metaphors, yet I think the language we use is very important. You are asking about metaphors for teaching and learning. In an aside, Jeff Nugent, Bud Deihl and I had a stimulating discussion this morning on the term "online learning". We have almost stopped using the term because much of our learning takes place within the Web 2.0 stream. It is powerful, personal, and rich with nuance. Yet faculty come in to us with preconceived notions of online learning as easy and simple. They assume that they can easily teach an online class even if they have never taken an online class. Metaphors give us an ability to draw out their expectations and open their eyes to possibilities that might be difficult to convey otherwise.

Hang about Michele.

Perhaps you should read my comment again.

I use metaphors all the time. There are good ones and poor ones. 'Filling jugs' is a metaphor that's been used for education. You'll agree, that goes down like a lead balloon. The idea of coming up with a good metaphor in two second is simply pie in the sky. When it all comes down to brass roots some metaphors simply don't cut the custard. Everything turns to mustard when they're used.

The thing is you've got to get the association right or it's all as clear as mud.

Ka kite

This is a fun thread! You've got me thinking as did Ken's simile and mixed metaphor-laden response. :-)

In direct response to your query as to how I use metaphor in teaching, I have to say that I wade about in them on a daily basis. In my role as a director, and a voice and text coach with actors, one of the first jobs is to assist them to actually sniff out a metaphor in a bit of text. Why? Well, as Ken rightly suggests, metaphor is a function of an understood language system. If my language system doesn't use them, then it's inappropriate to utilise I guess ... which leads me to ponder on whether all languages use metaphor and simile (no that's another thread!)

Anyhow, when working on a playscript, I'm dealing with compressed, structured language, and often what we in the trade call 'heightened language.' Think poetry, Shakespearean verse for example, and my students need to come to a visceral grip with what is 'meant' first and then how it makes the speaker 'feel' i.e., what kind of affect state does the language induce in him or her. The challenge then is to express that for the audience.

I find metaphor to be direct and effective as well as affective. It calls on the five senses and the imagination; the latter being very powerful ... but also elusive if the language system doesn't permit of understanding e.g., joining the dots. Ken wickedly mixes his metaphors above showing how understanding the intention and then deliberately breaking it, makes for a comic effect. A non-fluent, non-native English speaker would be left scratching the proverbial head!

That's enough I think for a start. Suffice it to say I use metaphor in daily conversation without even thinking about it, but if I do go to metaphor deliberately, I use it to connect to, and open up the listener's imagination ... e.g., when I am directing an actor in a rehearsal.

Kia Ora Michele

I intended to add a comment here but it got too long! Here is the link to my post though it is really a comment!

Ka kite

@Ken--as always, you've taken things even deeper and with great humor too! :-) I like what Kate says about how metaphor helps us tap into emotion, too, which in learning is something that I think we often forget. I find that when it comes to metaphors in learning I DO get a more "visceral" sense of a concept, which can have its own problems if the visceral sense is a negative feeling. This gets me to thinking about the difficulties of using metaphor for teaching and learning, because they can activate negative ideas, such as what Britt mentions in working with people to teach them about "online learning" and how that has taken on a new meaning for him that is richer and deeper.

@Ken--as always, you've taken things even deeper and with great humor too! :-) I like what Kate says about how metaphor helps us tap into emotion, too, which in learning is something that I think we often forget. I find that when it comes to metaphors in learning I DO get a more "visceral" sense of a concept, which can have its own problems if the visceral sense is a negative feeling. This gets me to thinking about the difficulties of using metaphor for teaching and learning, because they can activate negative ideas, such as what Britt mentions in working with people to teach them about "online learning" and how that has taken on a new meaning for him that is richer and deeper.

Hey Michele,
Your post definitely got me thinking. In particular, I started thinking about using metaphors for learning when I was doing feminist organizing work. My work at that time involved leading lots of trainings on various feminist and/or reproductive rights issues. We were training college students which definitely involved a certain level of intricacy; they were young and unfortunately, had almost no adequate sex education to use as a base for the entire discussion. Plus, the national conversation around abortion and reproductive rights doesn't exactly lend itself to nuance.

For these reasons, I was using metaphors pretty constantly to try to get to our students "where they lived". Of course, as mentioned above, they had to be carefully crafted, which was part of our training. We had to make sometimes complex connections between race, socioeconomic and gender-related issues and that was where I found the metaphors to be most helpful.

The only catch that used to come up for me was whether or not I understood the metaphor based on my own life experience. Our group of organizers was pretty diverse, but what made sense to one or more of us, didn't always make sense to the others. Yet more complexities...

I use metaphors in designing my online courses. I find that metaphors help to maintain interest, creates a mental "mind's eye" visual for students to contrast with content to make it more relevant. For example; I use the metaphor of building a ship and staffing it with crew and then taking the ship on a cruise to different ports of call that represent worldwide tourism and hospitality. The ship and crew represent the internal customers of any organization, in this case, a tourism/hospitality course scenario.

Based upon student surveys, my students find it more interesting and fun to utilize the metaphors for our course online. Use metaphors where appropriate and it can really make a course far more enticing and improve retention.

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