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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.”

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  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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