Friday, February 24, 2006

Feral learning (2)

In a comment added to my earlier post on Feral Learning (February 24, 2006), Yusra Visser refers to the need for actors in a structured learning environment, such as is typically the case in an instructional context, to be able to cope with ambiguity, challenge and frustration. I imagine that an animal that escapes from domestication faces a similarly uncertain world as do learners (and their teachers) when they decide to depart from the beaten track, the given curriculum, to walk out and to walk on. The more rigorously a set curriculum is being imposed, the less it will leave scope for innovation and for the pursuit of individual pathways to learning. The curriculum, the way it is regularly interpreted as a linear sequence of knowledge and skills areas ordered according to some logical principle, however much sense that principle may make, has also a deadening influence on those who learn and teach if there is no vision present in the learning environment that allows the given curriculum to be seen as just one option and not necessarily the best one in all circumstances for all people. Flexibility is thus required in any instructional context whose primary aim is the growth of those who participate in it in accordance with their evolving needs. Thus, if feral learning is to emerge from an instructional context, the process will be enormously helped if it is accompanied by feral teaching. Few schools, whether at the K-12 or higher level, appreciate such flexibility, though. Many school administrators and deans frown on feral teachers. Indeed, as the comment states, flexibility implies trust among those who collaborative learn and those who guide and facilitate that process. Such trust is often hard to be found in schools. It is also a notion largely absent in the scholarly literature in the field of education.

Mary Hall's reflective journal on instructional design for flexible learning, started, I believe, as a course-based activity, is in and of itself an encouraging example of how a given course structure can lead someone to walk off in directions that the curriculum may not have foreseen, provided of course that the right conditions are in place. Besides, Mary's blog is an excellent resource for thoughts, experiences, findings, and links to relevant papers about feral learning. It is highly recommended.

1 comment:

Mary said...

Thanks for your recommendation, Jan.

You make an important point about "feral teaching", and the role of trust in the relationship between teachers and learners. This is where mutual respect becomes crucial.

I love Yusra's image of the cat depositing the mangled carcas of a bird at its human's doorstep - it speaks to me not only of the successful hunter, but also of the difficulty many learners and teachers have in capturing "living" ideas. How sad when the empty shell on our doorstep is all we ever see!

The issue that these postings raise for me - of developing an educational culture where mainstream educators can understand and promote feral learning - is a hard one. How far is directive "teaching" to a curriculum compatible with feral learning? I think Yusra may have given me the answer.

Imagine the cat inside for the moment - and birds coming to feed from the seed-cake hanging from a tree in the yard as we watch from the window. Perhaps this is the future of teaching in the C21st? To me this suggests that the instructional designer's role - creating and hanging the seed-cake - may become more important in this context, while the traditional delivery role - trying to hand-feed them - may erode, just as the birds come more often when the garden is empty of people (and cats).