The best kind of learning is learning for its own sake – for the intrinsic reward of studying or learning a new skill. And that's all we oldies wanted to do – enjoy learning sculpture for a few weeks.I like her sentiments, though regular readers of this blog might be surprised by the fact that I don't fully agree with her argument. There is no better or worse kind of learning. People can have mixed motives, instrumental and liberal, and either of them are fine. It depends what the student wants.
The first thing that struck me about her experience is that she was unlucky, her tutor was young. Us old lags know how to work the system to make the course fit the needs of the student, rather than the other way round. However, the mere fact that we need to do so, demonstrates that there is clearly something wrong with what is on offer.
Blackmore picks out a couple of things that irritated her. The first is the use of a syllabus with learning outcomes. Actually, it is important to have a syllabus, it shows that the tutor has thought about what is intended to be taught and has structured it well. A good scheme allows for flexibility and negotiation, the problem is if a syllabus is over-prescriptive. On the other hand, I have always been ambiguous about learning outcomes. In one sense they are positive in that they focus on what the student actually does, not just on what is taught. However, they can also be mechanistic, restrictive, and sometimes stupid and banal. It does depend how they are written. What I do know is that they can form the basis of endless and tedious debates about minutiae when you are trying to get your bloody courses approved. Written well and generically, they can be OK, but they provide ample opportunity for misuse.
The second thing she highlighted is the requirement of accreditation for funding. On this she misses the real issue. I have no problem with accreditation. A non-accredited course would have suited her, but not someone who wished to use their learning in another setting. She wanted to do some sculpture, someone else might have wanted to get into art college. An accredited class could easily allow both. However, this is the big problem. If doing the assessment for the accreditation is mandatory rather than voluntary, if the funding is dependent on the student completing the assessed work, then you start to exclude those who simply want to study for fun. And that process of driving out the non-vocational learner is a by-product of the instrumental neuroses of a government obsessed by dubious notions of the linkages between education and economics.
If a course is non-accredited it excludes people who need and want a qualification, if assessment is compulsory then it excludes those who want to study for the intrinsic pleasure of learning. The conclusion is obvious. The person who best knows what they want from a course is the student. Let them choose rather than force them down a path they do not want to go down and you will have a healthy, mixed group of people who are both having fun and studying seriously. And you know what, they both gain.
Tipping the topper to Will