14 June 2010

On learning and being taught

My son has just called round (he's 28), initially to print out a spreadsheet, but then to email it. Before that, though, he wanted me to show him how to add up a column of figures on the spreadsheet.

He couldn't email it from his own laptop because of the security settings, so he had to copy the file across via a flash-drive, with which he needed my help.

The file was simply in his main "My Documents" folder, called  "Expenses.xls". I pointed that out. He didn't understand that it was a problem...

I was irritated, to say the least. Apart from games consoles, he has had his own computer since before he went to university. I remember helping him to create graphs for a project when he was still at school.

After he left, I had something of a moan to Susi. In her inimitable way, she suggested that it was not surprising because because I am a useless teacher (guilty! I am hopelessly impatient when it comes to procedures) and when I responded by pointing out how long he has had to acquire these basic skills, she wondered if he had ever been taught them at school or university.

I love learning. I hate being taught.

In particular, I don't understand the assumption which underlies so much current discourse in the field, that learning depends on being taught.

Texting is not taught at school,  but the "achievement" of young people in this field is phenomenal. (Hint to Michael Gove; if you ever want to massage figures upwards, introduce a Diploma in "Social Communication", where txtg is a major component.)

I remember an epiphany in 1974, after a discussion at an annual Easter houseparty with friends in a rented cottage, in this case on the Nefyn peninsula...  That beyond the basic three "R"s and foreign languages (and some of that was dodgy -- did you every meet a French person who enquired, "Comment allez-vous?"?) ..beyond that almost everything I had been taught at school was;
  • trivial and/or
  • irrelevant (to what? Almost anything in the real world.) and/or
  • wrong
So I love learning. I hate being taught. Misapplied teaching inhibits, distorts and blocks learning.

But somehow the conventional wisdom is that being taught is a prerequisite of learning.

And of course that a paper qualification is a reliable proxy for learning, knowledge and skill.

No. It's merely a proxy for having been taught.


  1. Surely the paper qualification is a proxy for having demonstrated whether learning outcomes have been met? If it were a proxy for being taught no-one who turned up would fail, and we are not quite there yet (other than on PGCEs)

  2. Anonymous2:50 pm

    And surely too, everyone knows that computers are arbitrary devices with infinite modes and failings. No one knows everything one needs to know - no matter how much may be taught, or learn.


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