An Awkward Encounter – Larossa’s Thoughts on Experience & Knowledge


Jorge Larossa

I have been taken aback by an article I have recently read by a Spanish Philosopher of Education called Jorge Larossa Bondía. In his Notas sobre a Experiência e o Saber de Experiência (Notes on Experience and the Knowledge of Experience) he proposes that we think education in terms of experience/meaning, as opposed to either science/technique or theory/practice, which respectively represent mainstream pedagogical paradigms whose proponents fall under the category of either advocates of education as an applied science or advocates of education as political praxis. Larossa explores a set of words, for words are full of meaning, beginning with the word ‘experience’. He says that experience is becoming increasingly more rare. He establishes a difference between information and experience, saying that the contemporary obsession with information, as well as information overload, is actually a counter-experience, in that it has caused a shift from quality to quantity, from existential depth to fast processing. We have access to an endless universe of information, yet nothing really happens to us anymore. Nothing really touches us or moves us anymore. Larossa argues that in the so-called “information society” we have become fast consumers and processors of information, taking it all in and promptly emitting opinions about all things, as if learning, or at least the deep kind of learning, were actually taking place in that process.

Larossa quotes Heidegger’s definition of experience:



…to have an experience with something means that something happens to us, reaches us; that it takes over us, throws us down and transforms us. When we talk about  ‘having’ an experience, it doesn’t mean precisely that we make it happen, ‘doing’ here means to suffer, to hurt, to accept that which reaches us, to the extent that we subject ourselves to something. To do an experiment means, therefore, to allow ourselves to be approached by that which calls upon us, penetrating and subjecting us to it. We can be transformed by such experiences, from one day to the next or over time.

Larossa, in exploring Heidegger’s choice of verbs, explains that one needs to be vulnerable and exposed to be able to experience. Experience is likened to passion by Larossa. His description of passion as being a tension between freedom and captivity, in the sense that what the individual really wants is to remain inprisoned, depending on the object of his passion, does bear resemblance to the kind of intellectual and existential suffering that one might experience while mulling over something. It reminds me of the type of discomfort and awkwardness that precede an insight, or the darkest moments of the night before the sunrise.

It might be that what Larossa is trying to say is also that education has lost its enchantment. We have been consumed whole by a homogenized discourse of pedagogy, throwing about words like ‘critical’ and ‘autonomy’ and ‘deep learning’ without really contemplating the experience that learning needs in order to become knowledge. Information is not synonym to knowledge. Knowledge takes passion, takes suffering, takes vulnerability and being open to risk, to danger – of being changed by it, of ‘dying’, so to speak. I believe Larossa’s critique of technology and its wonders is that we should not let it technologize us in our humanity. Instead, we must humanize technology, somehow subjecting it to our necessity of going through experiences. (Rhizo14, anybody?)


  1. Thank you Clarissa, this is different and even went through Google Translate in an odd way that makes it even more interesting. To open with Kafka – “In the fight between you and the world, prefer the world” is a good sign! The danger “of being changed” by knowledge is one of those back-of-the-mind things that have been whispering to me recently.

    The other night I had a dream about trying to frighten myself and every time I’d get close to the dark closet or peer over the sticky cold windowsill, nothing was there. I have a good imagination, but not good enough to trick me:-) And not clever enough to invent a Jorge Larossa without your help. Will read the translation tomorrow.

    1. Hi Scott! That Kafka quote is really something. It was the beginning of my being taken aback by this guys’ ideas. I can certainly help you invent a Jorge Larossa, not that I’m anywhere near your clever 😉 I was sorry not to find an English version of the article. Let me know how that translation went, if it was at all legible. Google translator is a wonder, yet it fails many times, especially when it comes to meaning. The Portuguese version of the article already has some weirdness in translation. How good is your Spanish, Scott? The video I linked to his name in the post is a gem. You’d like it a lot. 🙂


  2. Clarissa, the timing of this post is uncanny. I was about to write a blogpost on different approaches to curriculum (something I talk about a lot but never dedicated a blogpost to): and I think, without oversimplifying the point you’re trying to make, that the author is inviting people to move away from the (largely meaningless for teachers) discourse of technical/product views of curriculum/education, and also the (often ivory tower) discourses of praxis, and bringing back to the fore the actual lived experience and meaning-making of actual teachers in their lives (a process-oriented approach that foregrounds teacher experience). More here
    (Sorry I have not responded to your last question! Will try to come back later)

    1. Maha, I agree with you when you sense the point he seems to be making with the experience/meaning notion. At first, and on the surface, he seems to be making the same old critique of technology and how it’s snatching away our humanity. However, if you look into it more closely, and let his words sort of penetrate the mind and reverberate a bit, it begins to make deeper sense… I don’t know. It’s such a rich piece this one by Larossa and I might even take up the challenge of producing an English version of it to share with Scott and you and all my community. His notions do have a flavor of my rhizomatic learning experience, yes.
      Thanks for sharing that. Reading it now.


  3. Hey Clarissa, I re-read your post now, and I think my initial reading of it was biased by what I had been thinking of all day.
    Now, I read it again and was struck by this: ”passion as being a tension between freedom and captivity” wow. And also this “Knowledge takes passion, takes suffering, takes vulnerability and being open to risk, to danger – of being changed by it, of ‘dying’, so to speak.” – though, I think the dying part is taking it a bit too far?

    1. Maha, death as symbolic of change. All change is the death of old ways, or the death of old organizations of elements that articulated make up who we are.

  4. IMHO there’s only experiential learning. There’s nothing but experiences in learning.

    All experiences, fysical, social, emotional, visual, audio, haptic form a context in which the individual learner resides.
    The meaning given to all these experiences through psychological and sociological processes by the individual learner, form another level, meta-level, of this learner’s learning.

    The problem thus, IMHO is not that we don’t put our learners, students, in situations of experience, but that we put them in learning situations where the actual experience has little to do with what education should be about.

    E.g. If I experience a video visually and audialy, this is still my personal experience. If the video is about e.g. repairing a flat bicycle tire, the experience of watching the video doesn’t give me the skill to repair a tire.
    It could help me to understand better what goes on chemically and mechanically when mending a tire, but my manual skills would probably change very little.

    So here we come IMHO back to the centre of education (which is not the same as learning): setting the correct learning goals and making sure the experience we put our students through actually contribute to this learning goal.

    I tried to make my view clear to our teachers a short while ago. My presentation is available, for who likes to watch it, at:
    (audio plus text to the slides are both available)

  5. Clarissa, growing up in California I picked up some Spanish, my daughters are better but they are being too bossy now and would add personal comments to the text:-) I’ve been reading children’s books recently and the Google Translate has a refreshing childish turn to itself. I wonder if precise understanding matters? To me, Jorge is speaking from a whole new country to me and “understanding” may be an illusion anyway.

    As for the death reference Maha, it IS a good symbol for change that moves in and takes over. I tend to create whole rooms full of excuses and weak reasons for having opinions or world views. It’s impossible to reason with all these silly excuses and they need to be swept away or they’ll tie me down like Gulliver and make me live in their tiny town with their tiny ideas. So small and cute:-) but they won’t leave by themselves. I can’t carry them forever and I need the room for other things. This includes things that hurt you. At some point that hurt person inside you that taught you so much need to be let go to “die” honorably so you can move on.

    I’ll try the translation and get back.

    1. I don’t know Scott, still trying to absorb the death thing. The way you explained it is different from how I understood it (then again, understanding is an illusion, as you point out). My interpretation of it (if I remember how I felt at the time) was of death as a symbol for transformative learning… Where maybe your suffering in order to grasp or experience something new eventually leads to a death of the old before you can move on… So I was hoping for a rebirth metaphor instead that was more positive, though I realize that rebirth does not necessarily entail a death preceding it. (Continuing with the Christian metaphors, thinking of the term ‘born-again Christian” – I may be misunderstanding all of my Christian metaphors of course, including one I used in an earlier comment about passion and suffering and death)

  6. Hi Maha, important to know how understandings are built. I’m not sure how Islam represents transformation? Unconsciously, from my Christian cultural experience, I think of death as a metaphor for a powerful transition. Even though I’m not a “believer” (by declared identity) my immediate image of death is the Arisen Christ–which wasn’t what I thought I was thinking so maybe another metaphor would carry meaning better. (BTW your Christian metaphors are fine).

    Having had experience with death doesn’t help because I didn’t stay there long enough to pick up any useful tips:-) And that makes me think you are right to flag “dying” as too harsh a condition for change. If we are to talk about life amongst the living where experience resides and stay away from the supernatural then we need to avoid such absolute endings as death–an inconvenience for Poets and Priests no doubt but they can get over it.

    Writing this is bringing up a lot of questions I can’t answer now, which persuades me to think you’ve adopted some of Dave’s strategies Maha (though you had them before too). My sense is things don’t “end” in the lives of the living where we have memories. They may come forward less often or be replaced with more appropriate upgrades, but things don’t go completely away. Does that make any sense?

  7. If we as an individual die, the worldly parts that make us in the physical sense will still be there and will be part of other things dead or alive.
    Thus “we” were here before our birth and “we” will be here afterwards.

  8. Agree Ron that the remains of our physical self will persist but I wouldn’t recognize those parts as, say, my friend Ken who died a few years ago. He persists in my memory as a unique person I miss but even if had an actual part of him it wouldn’t represent the actually continually emerging quirkiness, contradictions and wonder that his living self broadcast to the world from his living body.

    Even though we were as close as humans can be neither of us was ever the other–at best a mirror or maybe a keeper of the others spirit in a distorting but loving display cabinet. Only the individual “has” the completeness of themselves to “be” as they are. We can care for this them’ness, defend and protect it but we ourselves remain within ourselves.

    It is not a small or selfish act to hold someone within you to keep them from “going away.” It isn’t foolishness or delusion to witness others as being. Yet, in a sense they were never “here” to hold within us–they are always themselves only.

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