Monthly Archives: December 2010

Learning About Learning

For the last few months, I have been trying to get along to the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday mornings for a regular meetup discussing self-organised learning. For me, this is an offshoot of Tuttle and School of Everything: I first met several of the regular people who make it along on Wednesdays at Tuttle, and the meetup evolved out of SoE “unplugged” sessions.

The main thing I get out of the meetup is structure and conversation when I’m working from home – as one of what has been described as the “self-unemployed”, the opportunity to get out and meet like-minded people for challenging conversation is a real positive.

The overall topic is self organised learning, and I must admit that I sometimes feel a bit of a fraud being there at all: most of the people there have much more experience in education than I do, and more formal understanding of pedagogical theories and ideas.

My interest in learning – aside from a passion of learning itself – stems from my experience working in learning and development and organisation development in a corporate environment- what used to be known as “training”.

I also spent fourteen months working on a change programme developing a new school curriculum in Scotland a couple of years – but I was strictly working on programme management there, whilst others created the content. I picked up a lot of knowledge from the pedagogues I worked with, but – as much of my learning over the past few years – it was very ad hoc and, indeed, contingent.

I approach the weekly, informal discussions with others, who regularly include David Jennings, Fred Garnett, Tony Hall and Lucy Johnson, from a different perspective; but then so do they – one of the great things is that everyone comes from a different place and is willing to explore and challenge others’ views. (It won’t surprise you that one of my recurring themes is that of organisation culture…)

The group varies in number, from on occasions just two or three (some of the best conversations – though perhaps also the most random! – are when our numbers are limited!) to fifteen or more; one of the interesting things is the way the group dynamics shift depending on who can make it. One of the rewarding things is how newcomers to the group always seem to react in a very positive fashion.

Sometimes we have open, wide-ranging discussions, and sometimes a fixed topic or subject – at least for a while (before we stroll off topic…). There have been many discussions about the resources we use to manage or record our learning, technologies which institutions might use, the philosophies behind our learning (though mine is more random and emergent, I think!), the nature of informal learning, and using peer-to-peer learning in organisations. I have been meaning to make blog posts out of these – and may still do so, sometime.

There are occasional speakers who come along, too, usually organised by David – despite being a self-organising group, it still takes some organising, and David and Lucy seem to do most of that.

It strikes me that the energy of this group stems from our different interests – enough commonality to want to hear what the others have to say, enough difference to generate real debate. It is also a very open group – anyone can turn up and take part. And, apparently, we are a friendly, welcoming bunch!

Be Careful What You Wish For: three thoughts on rioting students…

Like lots of other people, I have been thinking a lot about riotous students.

I have three main thoughts.

Firstly, why is this such big news? I can’t help thinking that, frankly, today’s students are doing exactly what students are meant to do. Students should be expected to react like this: if you cannot protest when you’re a student, when can you? Indeed, it is their job to protest! They do it for the rest of us – and that challenge is vital. Youth need to hold us to account.

This is not to condone riotous behaviour – but really, they’re just doing their job.

I was a teenager in the 1970s. I remember watching young people rioting in London – protesting against the American war in Vietnam, protesting against racist political parties and the economic hardship brought about by unemployment.

The surprise is that students lost the habit of rioting in the late 1980s and 1990s. Maybe those students – parents of the people who have been taking to the streets recently – forgot how, too eager instead to enjoy economic prosperity.

The kind of prosperity which their riotous offspring are unlikely to enjoy.

Second, they are right to be angry. Their parents’ and parents’ parents’ generations have spent all the money, mismanaged the environment and generally had a great time leaving future generations – most obviously today’s students – to pick up the bill. And we’re not giving them a choice. David Cameron may be repeating “we’re in this together” until someone believes him, but we’re not. The middle aged and elderly will be long gone when today’s students are still paying off our bills. No one should be surprised that they are angry. They should be angrier.

Third, for decades politicians have been lamenting the political apathy displayed by young people. Well, be careful what you wish for. At last, the young are reacting to their situation and taking an interest.