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Learning without Barriers (Telegraph Hill Festival)

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 WikiQuals Local

The WikiQuals project is about helping people to believe that any choice that they make about learning for themselves is exactly the right one. And the right choice for society, all of us, as well.

Unfortunately our natural, inquisitive, process of learning, often dismissed as merely “informal learning” has been stolen from us by the formal education system and its institutions; schools, colleges and universities. Consequently, having had our confidence stolen from us, we end up believing the lies the education system, with its massive economic power, tells us about how we learn; and then we behave as instructed. The Americans even say education works better when it is based on “instructional design” – at least they let us know that their education system is about doing as we are instructed so to do. Institutions formalise how we behave, but humans (us) learn informally. We are a species fuelled by curiosity. Driven by our curiosity we follow our interests and learn a lot about whatever it is that excites us personally.

The Problem with Institutions

Only recently in human history, following 19th century legislation by the Victorian technocrats, have we in the UK made education formal and related to subject-specific expertise. Significantly this was after we had established the idea of subject-based taxonomies, as defined by experts, with the introduction of the Museum Act in 1860 which was followed by the education Act of 1870 (which Manchester acted on most effectively, becoming England’s second city educationally).

This formalisation of learning around subject-based expertise also flipped what had previously been good educational practice in the medieval university (the so-called “liberal arts” model) in which you were educated in a range of skills concerning communications, analysis and expression, only to focus on subject expertise at the Masters degree level; you were literally “mastering” a subject having already learnt how to express yourself and discuss your thoughts with others. What we now call “schooling” is about putting barriers between our natural desire to learn as a self-conscious, problem-solving species, and our expression of our learning, No wonder Ivan Illich called for a “deschooling” of society (as we have been discussing for some time in Everything Unplugged). More on our Deschooling thoughts in Unplugged.

We are diminished as human beings by being told just to focus on the subject expertise required in educational institutions; and by being told that consequent economic rewards will follow. What I call being “A-level students on steroids” for the rest of our lives; we’ve been though an artificial arc of success by passing exams and assume that real life will pass in front of us in the same way. Success in educational institutions creates entitlement in those who accumulate accreditation.

The Trouble with Pedagogy
Allegedly, good teachers are those who understand their “pedagogy” best, that is the techniques relating to the subject delivery of their part of the academic taxonomy, with which we fallaciously divide up the natural world and our layering of civilisation upon it. I think this is the wrong way to think about teachers. I think the best teachers act as “brokers” enabling learners to follow their interests in our increasingly limited educational institutions which are content-delivery systems, validated by examination-driven quality control.

I’m quite happy with teachers being subject experts, perhaps as an element of quality-assurance of their practice, but I think they need to express a wider range of capabilities across the PAH Continuum (one of our big ideas) to be effective for their learners. That is they also need, beyond their subject expertise, to stimulate collaborative learning processes (Andragogy) and the creativity of their learners (Heutagogy).

The trouble with pedagogy is that it prioritises the subject expertise of the teacher rather than the everyday interests of the learner. We need learner-centric processes not teacher-centric classrooms. We need to get back to the learning itself.

Accreditation without barriers

My view is that accreditation is the real barrier to learning in contemporary society. This is because of the way we have set up and evolved our learning accreditation systems. The 19th century brought about the primacy of subject-based thinking about the world, as the Victorians built an industrialised society, by mechanical means. The 20th century brought about the institutionalisation of education as the delivery mechanism of universal access to school as part of the democratisation of the mass society of the Welfare State.

What will 21st century learning ultimately offer us for a post-Welfare State world? The technologies are, potentially, participatory, as we can see with, say, Wikipedia. However, so far we have seen the use of new technologies being largely limited to “e-enabling” what we already have. For example the rise of MOOCs as an online learning option, but they are just content-delivery systems designed by Southern Californians concerned with “scale”. In education “scale” means “one teacher, many learners” What we need, and what participatory technologies offer us, is “one learner, many teachers” And we should let the learner choose their teachers, what Rose Luckin calls their “more able partners”.

So a key question for me has been “can we design learning processes which allow learner-centred learning?” Well, yes we can!

WikiQuals – self-accredited learning

The WikiQuals project grew out of both #occupy at UCL and the University Project at Hub Westminster in September 2011. I was asked to design it by students unwilling to pay £15k for a Masters degree at an educational institution they no longer respected (UCL). A couple of years before I’d created the Emergent Learning Model. This is a learning design tool which helps you to design new educational processes. We’d just used it on Ambient Learning City, Manchester, for digitally inclusive learning across the City, so WikiQuals was a new challenge. There is much more about WikiQuals and self-accredited learning on this blog; the best presentation about it is WikiQuals and Open Learning. I’m happy to help anyone who wants to design new learning for themselves, either as part of a group (home schoolers?) or individually as a WikiSqolar; talk to me 🙂

As part of the Telegraph Hill Festival on Tuesday 13th March at 6pm we will be looking at how we might create WikiQuals Local with a local community, at BE Bright above the Hill Station Cafe, SE14 5TW, along with David Holloway and Kate Faragher.

Come along to discuss this with us. Else post questions for me to answer below


About fred6368

Visiting Researcher at the London Knowledge Lab Member of the Learner-Generated Contexts Group Social Improv & #Heutagogy Contextualist & CyberSalonista Participatory City Beatles & World Music Fan Working on #WikiQuals

11 responses »

  1. An excellent and clear summary, Fred, of many of the ideas we have talked about. I particularly like this paragraph:

    “We are diminished as human beings by being told just to focus on the subject expertise required in educational institutions; and by being told that consequent economic rewards will follow… Success in educational institutions creates entitlement in those who accumulate accreditation.”

    I think an important point in relation to this paragraph is that the promise that “consequent economic rewards will follow” is now a false one. I call it ‘the broken promise that cannot be unbroken’. It may be true that at a population level those who conform to educational expectations and gain high level accreditation earn on average more than those who do not. But there is no longer any sort of guarantee of such economic rewards at the individual level for ‘academic’ high achievers. So teachers and parents who bully young people into ‘working hard and doing well in your exams’ are leading them up the garden path – and in the process diminishing both the humanity (as you say) and the mental health of young people.

    But what gives me hope is that I believe we are reaching a tipping point in attitudes to the pedagogic treadmill. I think an increasing number of young people, and indeed their parents, are starting to realise that the assumptions behind the exam factory approach to learning are false and the promises empty.

  2. What time are you meeting at The Hill Cafe tomorrow? There are quite a few of us locally who are home educating our kids following a philosophy called ‘Autonomous Education’. I would be interested to participate in this conversation as it sounds like what you are discussing is philosophically very similar.

  3. This is an superb critique/analysis of our education system and its historical perspective. Education has become a commodity in our capitalistic-driven age. The top academically inclined survive it although well-heeled families can effectively purchase access to the top universities.The other 95% are badly let down and greatly diminish our society. What is incredible is that there is so little discourse in the public domain.

  4. As I say I would like to update my submission as there has been a fair bit of water under the proverbial bridge since the Everything Unplugged days in London, both personal and professional.


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