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To learn – to find and follow a track

September 24th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

Jenny Hughes has been undertaking the thankless task of trying to edit (or more to rewrite) an article of mine on Personal Learning Environments as part of a handbook for teachers for the Taccle project.

I am intrigued by her reference ot the orgins of the words ‘curriculum’ and ‘learning’ in this excerpt from the draft:

“Traditionally, knowledge has been conceived of something possed by ‘experts’ . The formal education curriculum is based on the idea that learning can be neatly and conveniently divided into subject areas which in turn are based on traditional university disciplines.  The people who have the knowledge (the teachers) are accorded higher status than those that do not (the learners) and although all good teachers maintain that they learn a lot from their pupils, the passage of information is conceived as being one-way. There are desgnated places (schools) where learning officially takes place, where learning is tested and  which control access to the next stage or level of learning

The new technologies have challenged this status quo.  The explosion of freely available sources of information has increased the range of knowledge available to people and has made it accessible when and where they want it, in bite sized chunks that do not necessarily form a coherent subject discipline.

We are moving from the idea of knowledge being developed and controlled by experts to collaborative knowledge construction which can be facilitated by the use of social software, as we describe above. Even more importantly, we are starting to rethink what qualifies as ‘knowledge’.  Instead of the ‘curriculum’ being defined by experts, communities of people interested in the same things – or even just by being part of a community – are acting as a curriculum.

Interestingly, the word curriculum comes from the latin ‘currere’, which means to run or race and ‘curriculum’ was a race or racecourse. It is easy to see how this was adopted to describe a learning course which had a starting point, travelled along a straight route and reached a finishing point with competitors battling with each other to finish first or to be the best.

Maybe for the first time learning has stopped being a race course. Conversely ‘to learn’ originally meant ‘to find and follow a track’  and this seems to sum up rather well the current shift in emphasis from formal curriculum to informal learning.

This changing model requires not only different approaches but different technologies and implicit is the change from an institutional approach to learning to a more learner centred approach.”


  1. […] nothing else, uncovering and articulating assumed understandings about what a “course” looks like, whether in agreement or in contrast, seems to be very important for understanding […]

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    Open Educational Resources

    BYU researcher John Hilton has published a new study on OER, student efficacy, and user perceptions – a synthesis of research published between 2015 and 2018. Looking at sixteen efficacy and twenty perception studies involving over 120,000 students or faculty, the study’s results suggest that students achieve the same or better learning outcomes when using OER while saving a significant amount of money, and that the majority of faculty and students who’ve used OER had a positive experience and would do so again.

    Digital Literacy

    A National Survey fin Wales in 2017-18 showed that 15% of adults (aged 16 and over) in Wales do not regularly use the internet. However, this figure is much higher (26%) amongst people with a limiting long-standing illness, disability or infirmity.

    A new Welsh Government programme has been launched which will work with organisations across Wales, in order to help people increase their confidence using digital technology, with the aim of helping them improve and manage their health and well-being.

    Digital Communities Wales: Digital Confidence, Health and Well-being, follows on from the initial Digital Communities Wales (DCW) programme which enabled 62,500 people to reap the benefits of going online in the last two years.

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    Zero Hours Contracts

    Figures from the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency show that in total almost 11,500 people – both academics and support staff – working in universities on a standard basis were on a zero-hours contract in 2017-18, out of a total staff head count of about 430,000, reports the Times Higher Education.  Zero-hours contract means the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours

    Separate figures that only look at the number of people who are employed on “atypical” academic contracts (such as people working on projects) show that 23 per cent of them, or just over 16,000, had a zero-hours contract.

    Resistance decreases over time

    Interesting research on student centered learning and student buy in, as picked up by an article in Inside Higher Ed. A new study published in PLOS ONE, called “Knowing Is Half the Battle: Assessments of Both Student Perception and Performance Are Necessary to Successfully Evaluate Curricular Transformation finds that student resistance to curriculum innovation decreases over time as it becomes the institutional norm, and that students increasingly link active learning to their learning gains over time

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