Working with Experience: Animating Learning

Working with Experience: Animating Learning

Working with Experience: Animating Learning

Working with Experience: Animating Learning


While much is known about teaching and being taught, far less attention has been given to learning in context - in particular, to learning outside the classroom. Yet this is where most learning takes place.


Every day, we are confronted with problems and challenges which we address by drawing on our experience and by using this experience to find ways of learning what to do in new circumstances. The knowledge and skills we need to make our way through the world may include those in buying a car, administering an office filing system or getting on with a partner. We rarely enrol in a course or take a class or consult a teacher as part of these learning projects. Learning through experience is the normal, commonplace approach to learning, and we take it for granted.

When we learn, we engage in a complex process which draws on the behaviour, knowledge and skills of people around us as well as on the material and informational resources of the world we live in, such as bus timetables, library books, television programmes and the Internet. But we also use and build upon our own personal foundation of experience. Our learning is grounded in prior experience. It is profoundly influenced by this experience as well as the context in which we operate. The decision to engage in a learning project is governed by a mix of demands and expectations—from colleagues, from family, from customers, from other learners, from those who can influence us—and by our own needs and desires, which stem from our experience and what we believe to be possible in the situation in which we find ourselves.

A great deal is known about teaching and being taught. These processes have been the subject of numerous research studies in many contexts and countries. There is a substantial literature presenting findings derived from this research and from the wisdom distilled from the professional experience of teachers. However, much less attention has been given to learning in context, and in particular little is known about learning in settings outside the classroom. Yet the larger part of the learning undertaken in the world takes place under these circumstances.

Some important work focusing on this wider view of learning has emerged in recent years, although unfortunately much of it is not widely appreciated outside the particular tradition in which it was undertaken. Different approaches are represented, for example, by Paulo Freire (1972) who explored popular education and the vital role of learning in social

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