Narrative Learning

Narrative Learning

Narrative Learning

Narrative Learning


What is the role of narrative in how people learn throughout their lives?

Are there different patterns and forms of narrativity? How do they influence learning?

Based on data gathered for the Learning Lives project, which sought to understand learning by questioning individuals about their life stories, this book seeks to define a new learning theory which focuses on the role of narrative and narration in learning. Through a number of detailed case-studies based on longitudinal interviews conducted over three and four-year periods with a wide range of life story informants, Narrative Learning highlights the role of narrative and narration in an individual's learning and understanding of how they act in the world. The authors explore a domain of learning and human subjectivity which is vital but currently unexplored in learning and teaching and seek to re-position learning within the ongoing preoccupation with identity and agency. The 'interior conversations' whereby a person defines their personal thoughts and courses of action and creates their own stories and life missions, is situated at the heart of a person's map of learning and understanding of their place in the world.

The insights presented seek to show that most people spend a significant amount of time rehearsing and recounting their life-story, which becomes a strong influence on their actions and agency, and an important site of learning in itself. Narrative Learning seeks to shift the focus of learning from the prescriptivism of a strongly defined curriculum to accommodate personal narrative styles and thereby encourage engagement and motivation in the learning process. Hence the book has radical and far-reaching implications for existing Governmental policies on school curriculum.

The book will be of particular interest to professionals, educational researchers, policy-makers, undergraduate and postgraduate learners and all of those involved with education theory, CPD, adult education and lifelong learning.


The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard has famously said that life must be lived forwards but can only be understood backwards. The question we ask in this book is how people come to develop such understandings and what the significance of such understandings is for how they live their lives. The focus of this book is on stories: on the stories people tell about their lives and the stories they tell about themselves. Such stories are not entirely optional. It is not that we can simply choose to have or not to have them. In a very fundamental sense we exist and live our lives ‘in’ and ‘through’ stories. When we are born, we enter into a world full of stories: the stories of our parents, our generation, our culture, our nation, our civilisation, and so on. Over time we begin to add our own stories and through this may alter the stories that have been told about who and what we are. When we die the stories of our lives continue in the stories of others. Stories have the potential to provide our lives with continuity, vivacity and endurance. They can create a past of which we have memories and a future about which we have hopes and fears and can thus bring about a sense of the present in which our lives are lived. Stories can give our lives structure, coherence and meaning, or they can provide the backdrop against which we experience our lives as complex, fragmented or without meaning. Stories do not just provide us with a sense of who we are. To a large extent the stories about our lives and ourselves are who we are. Where, after all, would we be, and what would we be, without stories?

We tell stories in different contexts and settings, for different reasons and purposes and with different outcomes and effects. Many of our stories are closely interwoven with our everyday lives. They consist of brief exchanges, short anecdotes, things we want to share with others, either for a particular purpose or just for the sake of sharing. Some stories are factual and descriptive; others express our experiences and feelings. And while most stories are about something – an event, an experience, an encounter, a person – they always also express something about ourselves, even if it is only our particular perspective on the situation. Stories serve the purpose of communication . . .

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