Call for choice over curriculum, not just chips and car parks

22nd January 2010 at 00:00
`Learner voice' should be extended to give students a say on course content, study finds

Colleges should give students more power over the curriculum and not limit "learner voice" merely to cafeteria choices, a study has recommended.

A report reviewing academic studies on "learning to learn" for the CfBT education trust and the Campaign for Learning, said the practice was particularly valuable in further education because it could help students understand prior bad experiences in education and overcome them.

Crucial to this is the opportunity for students to influence what and how they learn. However, the report claimed that despite the higher profile of the idea of learner voice, it was often too limited in scope.

It said a Learning and Skills Council evaluation found that 40 per cent of colleges and training providers did not involve students in developing course content. Responses from a student panel also suggested that their feedback is limited to a few areas.

"They feel their feedback only affects peripheral issues such as catering facilities and car parking, while fundamental teaching and learning practices remain unchanged," the report said.

Research in secondary schools suggests most students are willing to take responsibility for their learning. An Ipsos Mori poll for the Campaign for Learning found that 65 per cent viewed learning as their responsibility, rather than their school's.

But the report suggested teaching styles did not reflect the preferences expressed by students.

They indicated a preference for learning by doing and learning with their peers, but said their most frequent classroom activities were copying from the board and "listening to the teacher talking for a long time".

Among the strategies recommended to help students understand their own learning and articulate their preferences was for them to keep a diary about their learning.

It also suggested lecturers explicitly encouraged students to talk about their approaches to learning and provide them with feedback about how they approached a task rather than only on the end product.

Self-directed learning has been a key element of adult education, the report acknowledged. But it said some studies had also suggested it was not always appropriate in FE, because some students may not have the motivation, confidence or skills to learn independently.

The report also said FE staff needed more support and professional development to understand "learning to learn" strategies and acquire greater awareness of the development of the relevant skills.

But it said this had implications for the number of teaching hours devoted to vocational or subject-specific content if extra time was spent on more general skills.

Ofsted findings about initial teacher training in FE were also not encouraging for the prospect of making changes through professional development.

The inspection body found that teaching practice assessment was weakly moderated, systems for evaluating trainees' progress were underdeveloped and there were limited opportunities for trainees to have the necessary hours and level of study. They often had heavy workloads and little or no protected study.

Toni Fazaeli, chief executive of the Institute for Learning, said: "It is disappointing that trainees employed in work-based learning and adult and community learning settings continue to be the most disadvantaged in the quality and extent of their workplace support."

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