Taking a course or being a learner?

England’s annual Festival of Learning is underway now and will continue throughout May and June. It’s a chance for organisations to showcase and celebrate adult learning and to encourage more people to ‘have a go’. You can find out more here.

The highlight of the NIACE-led Festival will be Adult Learners’ Week from 13-19 June.

ALWAdult Learners’ Weeks have become international events although the timings vary in different countries. As part of the Canadian Adult Learners’ Week, the NWT Literacy Council based in Yellowknife in the North West Territories hosted a guest blog by Jim Stauffer, a Community Adult Educator at Aurora College. His blog considered the difference between ‘taking a course’ and ‘being a learner’. You can read the full text here and or on Jim’s own blog, Way Up North, here. It is well worth reading.

Jim and the NWT Literacy Council have given kind permission for me to share his comparisons. They are:

If I am most concerned with getting the right answer, I am taking a course. If I am not satisfied until I understand how the darn thing works, I am a learner.

If I want to know what I need to do to pass, I am taking a course. If I get excited because something in class touches my “real” life, I am a learner.

If my motivation is to get the certificate, I am taking a course. If my motivation is to become better at something I love doing, I am a learner.

If I attend classes because I can’t get an excused absence, I am taking a course.If class is so interesting that I don’t want to miss anything, I am a learner.

If the best part of the day is going home to my family, I am human. If you wondered what that has to do with anything, it’s just my whimsy intruding.

If I only spend time studying what’s assigned, I am taking a course. If I get side-tracked investigating new ideas that aren’t directly related to assignments, I am probably a learner.

If I only discuss my studies with the instructor and others in my class, I am taking a course. If I can’t shut up about what I’m studying, if I bring it up with my family and friends until they get tired of it, I am definitely a learner.

If the most important part of my writing is punctuation and grammar, I am taking a course. If the most important thing in writing is communicating what’s on my mind, I am a learner.

If my biggest accomplishment is passing the test, I am taking a course. If I can’t wait to put my knowledge into practice, I am a learner.

If the class is too easy for me, but it’s required in the program or job, I might just be taking a course. If I just want to be in school even though the course content is too difficult for me, I still might be a learner.

If I am afraid to make a mistake, I am taking a course. If I give myself the freedom to try-fail-try again, I am a learner.

If I lay awake at night worrying about my grade, I am taking a course. If I lay awake grappling with the subject, I am a learner.

WEA students

It’s refreshing to see this focus on attitudes to complement the emphasis on skills and knowledge in educational debate. It chimes well with the WEA’s efforts to encourage critical action learning.

Imagine a society populated by lifelong learners and how different it would be.

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About Ann Walker
Adult education and lifelong learning specialist and campaigner. LinkedIn: http://linkd.in/1GI0QK1

6 Responses to Taking a course or being a learner?

  1. sandthetwin says:

    I’m a learner. Some of my students are ‘taking a course’ but most are learners too. What can we do spread the learning so it becomes the delight and the joy it is for everyone?

    • Ann Walker says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Adult education needs a more positive image with the general public and we need more people to share the “delight and joy” of learning as well as its usefulness.

  2. Thanks for this, Ann – Jim’s observations are spot on, and remind me strongly of my favourite bit of advice to educators in schools from John Holt in ‘How Children Fail’, way back in 1966, which strike me as just as relevant to adult education: “Since we cannot know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned.”

    Really enjoying your blog – thank you!

  3. PS And I should probably have added that the Campaign for Learning co-ordinates Learning at Work Week (www.learningatworkweek.com), taking place next week in 6,000+ organisations across the country as part of the Festival of Learning, to help in the movement to transform the ‘taking a course’ culture of learning & development into a strong, empowering, relevant and engaging learning culture that benefits organisations and their employees!

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