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Formal structure and motivation

April 13th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Last weekend Martin Weller ran a marathon, in Llanelli. And as is his way, whilst running he reflected on the lessons of the marathon for learning. Generally I would agree with what he says:

  • You can make it achievable and manageable, but you can never make it easy.
  • It’s worth doing because it is tough.
  • The long haul is rewarding.
  • Experience pays off.
  • Never say never

­But I am far less convinced by his sixth assertion about formal structure. Martin says:

Formal structure is essential for motivation. If something is tough then you really need to be forced to do it. I could have just run my own marathon, so why pay to go to an event? Because it is a definite goal that becomes difficult to justify giving up on. For all the wonders of informal, DIY learning, the formal course provides this same legitimising and motivating structure.

My first difficulty is what he means by formal. What might be non formal or informal structure” Surely all structuring involves a degree of formalisation and yes we seek structures for iunderstanding learning and scaffolding our knowledge. But I don’t think Martin really does mean formal structure here. He seems to be referring to ‘external stuctures’ – to structures imposed form outside. Now Martin paid to go to an event, but that does nots top thousands of people, every day, structuring their own exercise and running programmes without the need for such an event. And the lack of an external course, does not stop people outside the ‘formal education system’ structuring their own learning, be it from the home, the community or in the workplace. That is not to denigrate the value of institutional courses. But “legitimising and motivating” learning can take place in many different contexts and structuring learning is ulimtely an internal and not external activity.

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