Innovations in informal learning. Professor Yvonne Hillier University of Brighton. Innovations in informal learning.
Professor Yvonne Hillier
University of Brighton
Informal learning tends to be unplanned, even opportunistic, such as reading before sleep; watching an interesting programme on the television; looking over someone’s shoulder at work; or dropping into a museum. Such learning can be anything but casual, and its impact is much understated. It can be the predominant element in learning lives (Smith and Spurling, 1999:4).
The number of lifelong learners actively learning today is likely to be small, perhaps very small; and there is a sizeable body of non-learners who are doing very little learning after initial education, if any at all. These people have in effect switched off from learning – or they have been switched off (Smith and Spurling, 1999:21)
At times, especially where economies were being sought, there has been a tendency, even in official pronouncements, to depreciate many [subjects] as recreational and therefore of little educational value; to assume that people go for social intercourse rather than to learn and to dismiss certain kinds of activity (like classes in bridge, golf and entertaining in the home) as pandering to petit-bourgeois aspirations
Russell: 1973 para 13
Russell, 1973:para 13
There would be available for all adults as a road, at any time, to academic and professional qualification as well as towards personal competence and development. At the same time there would be open courses at colleges, universities and other centres, and radio, TV, correspondence courses which could be taken by people in their leisure. Courses of all kinds, sandwich, release and leisure – would, through graduated stages, subject to assessment, lead to all forms of recognised qualification including degrees (Russell, 1973:para 50)
And the whole complex of provision would be arranged on a cumulative credit basis with free movement between courses and stages, regardless of intervening drop-out. Although permanent education is as much concerned with infants as with adults, it has marked implications for adult education, staking a claim for it as an integral part of total provision, not as something for the less fortunate or more studious, but as something to be expected and experienced by the whole nation, ‘permanent education’ is a long-term concept and we have not time to wait for it (Russell, 1973: para 50)
Distance learning (eg Open University)
Individualised learning (NELP)
Open learning (Open Tech, BBC)
Correspondence courses (NEC)
Independent learning (TV, radio, library)
The current learning scene is stark. Too little learning of any kind is being done; a large section of society is doing none at all; and a large proportion of those who have no intention of doing any in the future. The profile of learning falls off far too sharply with increasing poverty and increasing age. The population is under-qualified by international comparison, particularly at the craft and technician level. A major culture shift is required to change all this….there is widespread claustrophobia in the UK learning system, where learning is often confined to special spaces (Smith and Spurling, 1999: 213)
But all the variety, all the books that you might need, all the large bits of paper you needed to do things, printing things off, there just wasn’t that, that wasn’t available. In fact the volunteers used a lot of their own equipment. People just went about it in their own way - you would go to the public library and get something out that they thought their students were interested in and used that. They did manage quite well.
We didn’t have a core curriculum in those days so it was developing something ourselves. We did sort of have a kind of curriculum ourselves which we could refer to, what we expected people to know or what we felt they needed to know in order to function in their daily lives. And then we would make materials or find (realia) and use that to structure our lessons, made lots and lots of worksheets and things, and had folders and folders full of stuff where you would develop all sorts of approaches with people. And we used to run sort of specific things like 10 week spelling courses and develop all sorts, and they were quite a hit actually, people used to really quite like those.
We had a lot of games in the pack and if they liked playing games they might go through until they found a game to play. And we kept on telling them that we expected them to be independent learners in the sense that they had to decide what they needed, it was no use them coming to us and saying what should I do next? We would just look at them blankly and say ‘how the hell do you expect us to know, you’re the learner, you have got to be in charge of what’s going on’
It was the latest thing at the time [with] some specialist add-ons like a very enlarged keyboard, something that’s very spaced out with holes that you have to press through to get the letters that you want and also CCTV systems so that a student who had cerebral palsy but also very poor eyesight could work with a screen. We also had a concept keyboard which is sort of flat rectangle that you customise, it has a grid of cells and you write your own program so that you could put on an overlay, let’s say you had a student who was interested in woodwork and the tools that you use, you could put pictures on your overlay so that he presses the hammer the word hammer comes up on the screen. So there were lots of small but useful things that we were able to include for that particular group of students.
When I came back to basic education in 1994 I was really aware of how the teaching, the teachers were different, they had a different attitude … by then we had to have accreditation, it was a good thing, the students wanted it, we were beginning to realise that we should think about progression and progress and measuring distance of travel. What I realised was that teachers had become almost acclimatised, almost habituated to accreditation and there was a danger in that and there still is a danger in that ….. I do think in the 1970’s and 1980’s we tended to work for ourselves and for our own pleasure rather than for the student.
We were studying Pride and Prejudice and people really enjoyed it. We did all the analytical stuff and literary theory stuff, all totally serious. And then there was the bit about Darcy and Elizabeth that there was going to be the proposal. In their own lives and indeed in mine we have never had proposals, some of us weren’t married and all of us had children but the dream of somebody proposing to us formerly and asking us to marry them was still around and why shouldn’t it be? We had all the kinds of ironies and cynicisms about that. Anyway we decided we would keep this for next week, somebody brought in a bottle of sparkling wine, somebody else brought in cream cakes and when we got to that bit a roar broke out in that room of shouting and
cheering like you have never heard, a bottle popped and we ate cream cakes. And of course we all knew that we would probably never have a Darcy that would propose to us and take us off to a stately home to live in riches for the rest of our lives but the fun and the dream of it were great.