English resumé of the book “Relearning”, by Mads Hermansen

Synopsis of the book ‘Relearning’

‘Relearning’ outlines a dynamic psychological model for the
identification of important factors in a theory of learning.

The book has four chapters:

Chapter 1. Epistemology and understanding
Chapter 2. Definitions. Presentation of basic categories in a general theory of learning.
Chapter 3. Presentation and examination of four theories of learning.
Chapter 4. Conation

The book is about 130 pages long and is written by associate professor Mads Hermansen, PhD, EdD, the Danish University of Education.

Chapter 1 presents the epistemological foundation. This chapter is based on the work of C.S. Pierce and K. Popper explored in the light of a sociological perspective and in the context of late modernity.

Chapter 2 presents six definitions in pairs to expand the universe of understanding. The model facilitates the description and/or examination of theories of learning.
The three pairs of definitions are:

Feedback – Feed-forward
The definition takes as its staring point the ‘now stretched out across time’ in prospective and retrospective reflection, which nevertheless is bound up with the ‘ontological now’ in what is done in practice.
This process may be illustrated as follows:


The ‘now’ does of course progress with the activity in the flow of time.
The infinity sign precisely captures this process between feedback and feed-forward.
The lemniscate constitutes the basic figure at the heart of the model, which encompasses the three dimensions in a dynamic process.
The following model inscribes the conceptual pair feedback – feed-forward in a lemniscate curve.


The above model describes the relation between feedback – now – feed- forward as an infinite process.
The material ‘being in the now’ may thus be described as a state of being simultaneously ahead of oneself and behind oneself. In order for this ‘being ahead and behind oneself’ not to become stressful, it is imperative that these excursions into the future and the past should be substantially related to the meaningful narrative under construction in the ‘now’.

Habitus – Reflexion
Previous models have described the process of feedback-feed-forward as habitual, that is, non-reflexive. Thus the current model merely serves to describe a process of automatic learning.
However, it is evident that learning also occurs in the reflexive mode. The next model thus incorporates a meta-perspective on habitual learning. It looks as follows:


The basic tenet is that learning processes in the habitual and the reflexive mode are subject to the same laws.

Toil – Exuberance
Learning by toil is characterised by a certain amount of struggle with the content as well as the need for overcoming resistance on a personal or existential level.
Exuberant learning, on the other hand, is a less strenuous process of knowledge acquisition through play or experimental activity.
This may be illustrated as follows:


This model seeks to capture the fact that toil precedes exuberance from an evolutionary perspective. Thus the relation between the two components in this part of the theory is not quite complementary. The exuberant learning mode initially requires a certain amount of toil.
The lemniscate curve still accurately describes the process, since it is characterised by fluctuation between the two modes.

We can now identify three conceptual pairs to describe three dimensions in the crucial positions in a general theory of learning.

Learning dimensions

The three conceptual dimensions are:
” Feedback – feed-forward
” Habitus – reflection
” Toil – exuberance

In chapter 2, this model is applied to a genuine model for discussion and analysis, where the specific positions are illustrated by examples and stories from everyday life.
The resulting figure unites the three definitions in an inclusive model synthesising the previous four models:


This serves to illustrate the fact that the three dimensions are intimately connected. The chapter shows further that learning is always societal, i.e. socially situated and culturally distributed. The process of cultural distribution interacts with processes in the learner.
Again, we have an expanded relation between the cognitive/emotional processes taking place in the learner and societal processes. This is by definition a dialectic process of mutually determining relations and may thus be inscribed in a lemniscate curve. Intra-personal processing is largely cognitive but of course also emotional and conative.
The relation between the social context and the intra-personal processing space can only be understood dialectically as a mutually constitutive relation.

In so far as a theory of learning includes broad and well-founded definitions to capture the processing of the ‘now’, it will be marked with a signature in the positions of the now in the model.


We may thus conclude, with a quotation from the book, that
“The ‘now’ is positioned in the cube at the point where feedback and feed-forward meet, and incorporates the opportunity to rise to the level of reflection.
It may be characterised by varying degrees of toil or exuberance.
The ‘now’ is thus – with differing values – the real turning point in the progressive process of the realisation of ‘individual life projects of existence’. It is always mediated by the processes of feedback and feed-forward, both in the habitual and in the reflective register, and characterised by toil or exuberance or a combination of the two.
Thus the figure of the cube delimits the individual learner’s current learning space.
The cube can be stretched horizontally to incorporate everything from the ‘Big Bang’ to the end of world, or narrowed down to the point where the ‘now’ turns in on itself and disappears from view. Perhaps this is what happens during meditation, where one loses oneself in the ‘flow’.
The cube may also vary in height depending on the extent to which reflection is incorporated in the process.
The model can also be more or less oriented towards relaxation and play as in, for instance, exuberant investigation seeking the sublime, or it can be oriented towards toil, working hard with a subject or a set of circumstances. In this mode, one works with transgression.
Picture, if you will, a cartoon version of the model, where it stretches, shrinks, becomes crystal clear and blurs, moves back and forth between toil and exuberance and generally adapts topologically to the conditions it tries to capture.”

The model affords the possibility of further defining its eight sections.
This may be illustrated as follows:

The eight sections have the following coordinates:

1. Feedback – Habitus – Toil
2. Feedback – Reflection – Toil
3. Feedback – Habitus – Exuberance
4. Feedback – Reflection – Exuberance
5. Feed-forward – Habitus – Toil
6. Feed-forward – Reflection – Toil
7. Feed-forward – Habitus – Exuberance
8. Feed-forward – Reflection – Exuberance Model 9
Chapter 3 provides an account of two habitual theories of learning: operant- and classic conditioning, where the focus is on Skinner and Pavlov’s classic theoretical positions.
The chapter moves on to describe two reflexive learning theories: existential- and narrative learning, based on, respectively, the work of Colaizzi/Rogers and Ricœur/Bruner/Gergen.
The chapter partly seeks to provide an exposition of the four positions in a theory of learning, partly to offer an investigation of the extent to which these theories live up to the demands posed by the model constructed in the previous chapter.
Thus the chapter constitutes both an introduction to the four positions in a theory of learning and an investigation of their universal claim as learning theories.

Chapter 4 explores the drive, conation or motivation of the learning process in as much as these can be distinguished from the learning process itself. This is of course primarily due to the overall conative inclination characterising my meta-view of the project. This meta-view is based on a narrative/existential relation linking the drive to the maintenance of life and the constant construction of meaning.
A further theoretical foundation is ego psychology as represented by H. Kohut and draws on materialistic and behaviouristic tenets as exemplified in the work of L. Seve and D. Berlyne’s motivational theory.
The book closes with a concise synthesis of the themes discussed and an extensive list of references.