Curiosity may have killed the cat, but not the online learner

2nd April 2004 at 01:00
Two former college lecturers are embarking on what they describe, rather ironically or perhaps wistfully, as "a radical new venture in learning" - learning for the sake of learning.

The New Curiosity Shop was launched in Edinburgh on Tuesday by Arthur Chapman, a former senior lecturer in computing at Edinburgh's Telford College, and Noel Chidwick, also a former senior lecturer at Telford where he created the first virtual learning environment in Scottish FE. Their slogan is "online learning with the personal touch": tutors and group activities are central to the concept.

"We encourage learning for the pleasure of learning, and our short courses are designed to stimulate thinking, provoke questions and provide opportunities for our students to explore ideas," Mr Chapman told The TES Scotland.

The venture will tap into the internet to reach potential users from all over the world. "It's online learning with the personal touch," Mr Chapman says.

Mr Chapman looks back at the world he left behind and he knows what he does not want. "The current drive in education is for lower costs, increased productivity, the clamour for qualifications and of jumping through hoops to improve job prospects. In industry and commerce the ugly phrase 'just-in-time training' has taken hold.

"Our courses fill a niche neglected by colleges and universities, whose high overheads and unwieldy systems make it difficult for them to provide courses on this scale. Learning for the sake of learning is becoming an endangered species.

"The New Curiosity Shop is attempting to address that, and our courses are designed to generate a sense of discovery, and finding out. We think there is a need to nurture the ability to ask why?"

Entry qualifications do not feature in these plans. "Our courses are aimed at anyone who is mentally active, inquisitive, and enjoys learning.

Students can be from anywhere in the world and from any background: just bring a brain with an itch that needs scratching."

While courses will not differ significantly from others available online, the approach will. "The courses encourage the students to interact with the tutor and their fellow students, recognising that learning is a social process," Mr Chapman says. "Our activities relate strongly to the real world, and students often have to bring their findings back to the group to share."

A course will typically last for seven weeks, with students working for three to four hours a week over that period. Each course runs at set times through the year "to encourage group activities and moral support".

The New Curiosity Shop is based in Edinburgh, home of the enlightenment, but its reach is global. "Even now we have tutors in Scotland, France, the United States, India - even England - developing courses for us," Mr Chapman says.

The thinking is deceptively simple: "We have a passion for learning, an appreciation of the technology and a desire to change attitudes in a world moving far too quickly for its own good."

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