Every day offers new learning experiences

28th October 2005 at 01:00
Have you noticed that the phrase "lifelong learning" is like one of those perfumed room sprays? There seems to be a feeling that if you scoosh it around liberally, problems will be eliminated and we'll all feel good.

The phrase is sometimes used to mean adult education, but it is more than that. It is the learning that takes place throughout our lives, from cradle to grave.

Governments generally see lifelong learning as work-related. It is considered essential these days for organisations to invest in the learning of their workers. Workers' skills are seen as a capital asset which should be developed.

In a world of continual change, lifelong learning is a way of helping individuals to adapt and deal with that change. Organisations try to increase productivity by ensuring that skills are continually updated to match needs. This is the investment model of lifelong learning.

Professionals also need to deal with change and update skills. They are expected to undertake professional lifelong learning. The national teachers' agreement of 2001 gives an entitlement to 35 hours of continuing professional development. Changed days from when I started teaching, when courses and development opportunities were for a privileged few.

CPD is an entitlement, but it is also compulsory. Teachers have always attended courses, thought about their teaching, improved their practice, but now that it is a "huftae", some teachers are less than enthusiastic. A view frequently expressed is that CPD is meeting the needs of management rather than the individual teacher, that the investment is for "them"

rather than "us".

It doesn't have to be like that. We have choices. We should be able to negotiate appropriate CPD targets. We must make sure that our learning meets our own professional needs, as well as the needs of our employers.

As professionals, we can learn from books or lectures, but also from our own professional experience. The value of experiential learning for children has long been recognised, but the recognition that experiential learning should have equal status with academic learning is fairly new.

Most UK higher education institutions are now prepared to accredit evidence of prior experiential learning. Some offer modules to guide the learner in claiming credit, but the numbers actually gaining accreditation for experiential learning are still small.

If lifelong learning is to be useful, it must include experiential learning. We would be limiting the concept of learning if we only valued the academic kind. Everyday understanding tells us the importance of trying new things.

Experiential learning is at the heart of chartered teacher programmes. The university route allows up to half the points to be gained by accreditation of prior learning. The GTC Scotland route, apart from the compulsory module 1, is by accreditation for prior learning. Successful claims cover a wide range of projects which reflect the amazing diversity of just what good teachers do.

Many new chartered teachers feel that reflecting on their own practice in a structured way has made them more skilled and confident teachers. If we want pupils to be enthusiastic about lifelong learning, we have to be learners too. We are role models for them.

Lifelong learning is all the different kinds of learning that take place in any individual's life. It's about equipping our pupils with the skills and more importantly the enthusiasm for their future learning. It's about building on the curiosity and need to learn that is in every child.

Learning is part of being human: look at the amount that is learnt in the first five years of life. We put a lot of time, energy and resources into our own learning and that of our children.

And, yes, lifelong learning can be fun for adults. So let's scoosh it around some more.

Anne McSeveney is a chartered teacher at Braidwood Primary in Carluke, South Lanarkshire

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