I’ve been blogging for years over at battlecat.net, but after I started the DIY Masters project I found it quite difficult to mix what had been a very personal blog with more specific content about a learning project. I guess it’s like trying to run a business from home, or trying to write a PhD while in your pyjamas, I just couldn’t separate the personal from the public and as a result wrote very little at all!
So I’m paying attention to that experience and setting up a separate blog which focuses on the big topic of learning (and teaching) whether the context is education within formal settings or learning in a more DIY and independent way.
Of course, focus is something which is really important for a student, and as someone who’s returning to formal university study after 6 years as an employee and freewheeling traveller, it’s a significant change to make. It’s not like I wasn’t learning over that time – I’ve been to German and French classes, went to TAFE for some screen printing evening classes, and there was that self-directed learning experiment. However, even though I’ve been learning and studying all along, there is something very different about being back in a formal university degree. It does seem to matter a whole lot more and carry a lot more weight than self-organised learning.
Obviously, there’s a whole lot of cultural conditioning that makes degrees important, supposedly, they get you better jobs, give you opportunity to study at an even higher level and to work as a researcher… Oh, and in most countries they cost a hell of a lot more money than learning from books and open course ware. So the fear of losing money does drive one to focus on their study to a certain extent.
Another thing that provides me with more focus in this type of formal study is that there are other people. A lack of learning peers was one of my biggest challenges when trying to explore my DIY Masters: sure, I had the freedom to choose what I studied, but I had no one to talk the ideas over with. And in other types of tertiary learning, such as studying German with other adults I found that while I was studying with social peers, they were not studying for the same reasons as me. So, even though I’m studying this degree in an asynchronous online learning environment, I am still tremendously motivated to “turn up to class” because there are other people participating and sharing in the same learning experience as me.
It’s also different studying at a post-graduate level – for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m studying a topic in order to take myself deeper into a field of knowledge that I want to be an expert about. Looking back at my undergraduate learning, and at the undergraduates I teach, there’s a strong sense of learning (and teaching) a very general grounding of a topic. Without prior knowledge to draw on, or a sense of how the knowledge might be used, undergraduate learning is a very different experience to the way graduate students learn and are taught about a field they already have some experience in.
Maybe the end of this post is a good place to actually throw some of that formal learning into the mix in order to think about this changing learning experience in terms of andragogy, a topic popularised by Malcolm Knowles. I’ve been really satisfied and appreciative of the range of readings we’re directed to in our course, but this reading at The Encyclopedia of Informal Education was particularly important to me. The summary of Malcolm Knowles‘ work within adult education clarified many of the motivations that fuelled my informal learning project last year and as a result, this current re-entry into formal learning.
There just happens to be a passage that describes this change of attitude between my undergraduate experiences and my in+formal post-graduate learning. It’s a summary of the assumptions about adult learners that andragogy is based on:
- Self-concept: As a person matures his self concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being
- Experience: As a person matures he accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.
- Readiness to learn. As a person matures his readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of his social roles.
- Orientation to learning. As a person matures his time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly his orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem centredness.
- Motivation to learn: As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal (Knowles 1984:12).
(Smith, 1996; 1999)
Smith, M. K. (1996; 1999) ‘Andragogy’, the encyclopaedia of informal education, http://www.infed.org/lifelonglearning/b-andra.htm. Last update: September 07, 2009.