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Valuing learning

I had a lengthy conversation yesterday with Amy Scatliff. We had been put in touch by another colleague who had met Amy at a conference last autumn. Amy and I are both interested in learning in other than classroom situations, which means we have a lot of common territory though arriving there via different routes.

During our discussion, we found ourselves discussing the way different types of learning are valued. Although the distinction in the value afforded to formal and informal learning can be traced back to the Greek philosophers (Hager, 1998) who regarded theoretical knowledge as having greater meaning and importance than knowledge derived from doing or creating, we did wonder if the non-accredited, and often unrecognised, learning of adults in the community has diminished in status in recent decades.  The emphasis on accredited qualifications is probably greater now than ever before the expectation that  pre-defined achievement levels will be met from early years education and throughout schooling and on into further and higher education. Amy commented on the way people often devalue their skills and are sometimes surprised – and even shocked – to find they have skills which others value and want to learn.

We also commented on the changing nature of society and societal values in both the US and UK over the past 30 years, with an increasing emphasis on financial rewards and the changing role of women in the economy. There is a sense that the type of skill sharing around a family gathering described by Foley (1999) is less likely now than in the past, but that one of the positive effects of the credit crunch might be a recognition of the need to reacquire some basic skills. We laughed about the current series on UK TV where people are being encouraged to share their grandmothers’ recipes and wondered whether this might signal the beginning of a change in the way different types of knowledge and skills are valued.

Reflecting on our conversation – and we covered much more territory than that outlined here – I am reminded of the law of unintended consequences: so often when we make a change (or when change occurs) although some problems may be alleviated or there may be positive growth in some ways, there is all too often a flip side which has not been anticipated. Sometimes it may be the silver lining of the dark cloud, but all too often the unintended consequences are negative rather than positive.

Foley, G. (1999). Learning in social action: A contribution to understanding informal education. London: Zed Books Ltd.
Hager, P. (1998). Recognition of Informal Learning: Challenges and Issues. Journal of Vocational Education and Training: The Vocational Aspect of Education, 50(4), 521-535.

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