Academic learning

There seems to be an awful lot of talk about academic learning these days. What does it mean? and for whom is academic learning important?

Michael Gove spoke yesterday and suggested that many young people are being denied the opportunity to excel in academic skills and that the curriculum should therefore change to put that right. Furthermore, he was lambasted by a caller on Radio 5, about his rigid view of educational reform.

This government, with Gove as Education Secretary, seem to value academic excellence above all else.

But what does academic mean? I get the sense that it means being in the top ten of any world-wide comparison of educational league tables. But that doesn’t address the needs of our country today or, by extension the needs of our learners.

What kind of degree does the butcher, the baker, the plumber, the HGV driver, the electrician, the shopkeeper, the gardener, the taxi driver, the hairdresser (etc.) need? What kind of academic excellence does the guy you call out on Christmas Eve to mend the frozen pipes need to respond to your call? In the main – none at all. Don’t misunderstand me, many of these tradesmen and women will undertake academic courses to better perform their business, but in the main, the courses they will seek out – but not easily find these days – are those that advance their skills; their vocational skills!

Why are vocational skills so undervalued? I know that I’d rather have someone come to fix my pipes who knows how to effect the repair and make it (and me) safe than someone who comes along and tells me where the copper is mined, at what temperature it melts, how the pipe is extruded and why solder is better than rubber at sealing pipes. We need to value vocational excellence as much as academic skills – neither should be paramount.

My wife teaches foundation degree to early years workers. In the main these students are adults managing early years settings. They are NOT stupid. However, the academic rigour imposed by the authenticating university leads them to believe that they are. The foundation degree is the only qualification available to them that offers progression: But progression towards what? If they were to undertake a course that developed their skills in the management and safety of their setting they would be delighted and would devour the course – but given the need to ‘write in an academic way’, something they have never done before is demoralising.

We shouldn’t forget that many learners choose a vocational route because that is what interests them and it is what they become good at. Many others choose such a route because academia is simply beyond them. Educational institutions, despite laws made to change this, simply cannot cope with dyslexics, or similarly capable adults who cannot ‘do’ academic.


Experiential Learning

“Rather than treat pedagogy as the transfer of knowledge from teachers who are experts to students who are receptacles, educators should consider more hands-on and informal types of learning.”

John Seeley Brown [Dec. 2006] reported by Martin LaMonica [Staff Writer, CNET News]. Accessed at:,-think-Web-2.0/2100-1032_3-6140175.html on 21/02/10

I’ve been interested for a very long time now in the exploration of pedagogical uses for modern (‘m’) tools and technologies. I hazard to say techniques at this stage, because it is in fact the techniques which need to be pedagogically planned. I’m also interested in the social implications of ‘m’ and how these might be brought to bear on the way we enable learning to take place.

An earlier blog post []  discusses my use of Bloom’s Taxonomy as an introduction to the development of ‘m’ techniques. I use this taxonomy in the preparation of (and as part of) my workshops. Hitherto, Blooms’ has been the bedrock of my exploration and development.

However, there are other theories that lend themselves to being re-visited with one eye on the tools and technologies of 2010 and beyond. Others have begun this and the foremost seems to be:


I’m quite interested in the way we might revisit Maslow, with an eye on the social and economic changes that are happening around us. I think there’s a real need now to recognise how the (especially) lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy are changing. Young learners now have technological needs that the original paper preceded. As Dan Bevarly (@dbevarly) says: “You can’t engage if you can’t connect”. I am working on this, but as with everything else (and work etc), it’s a slow process.

Some others I have also explored are:


  1. Sizing up the situation at hand through objective observation.
  2. Drawing forth knowledge about such situations by recalling similar past experiences (both your own and those of the people around you).
  3. Judging how to proceed, based on this knowledge (Makes a start on Web 2.0 with Dewey at the root.)




I liked:

“He who learns but does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.”
(Lunyu 2.15) from: [accessed: 19/02/10]

and to this Confucian quote I would add:

“he who teaches but does not learn – is a fool”

Yet none have addressed, as far as my brief desk-search can see, the tools and technologies of 2010. These must surely change the way we accommodate all of the well-grounded theories and although I’m certain that there are scholars out there who are re-visiting them, these are not yet easily found.


I will however revisit Kolb as I can, like Bloom’s Taxonomy, put his theories to good use straight away.

  1. Concrete Experience – (a new experience of situation is encountered, or a reinterpretation of existing experience)
  2. Reflective Observation (of the new experience. Of particular importance are any inconsistencies between experience and understanding)
  3. Abstract Conceptualisation (Reflection gives rise to a new idea, or a modification of an existing abstract concept)
  4. Active Experimentation (the learner applies them to the world around them to see what results)

I will post my reflections over time by taking each stage of the above and suggesting ways of employing ‘m’ tools, technologies and techniques to the cycle.

I’d love to hear of any existing examples.

Theories of learning, need and motivation

Maslows hierarchy of needs

Maslows hierarchy of needs

I’m currently working on the development of a week-long course to be delivered in June, to about 16 European ‘partner’ delegates. The course will take place in Leeds (so not far for me to go then!) and investigate theories that underpin adult learning. It will also  introduce participants to the potential of Web 2.0 for enhancing the learning process.

I thought I’d make a few notes here; not just for my benefit – but for the benefit of anyone who’s interested (after all my notes need not be secret).

Much of what I will personally deliver is scattered around my various laptops and memory media, but what I’m noting here is what my co-presetner will lead on. I’m making sure that all my revision notes are in one place!

I’m not working alone, it’s not my project, but I’ve been asked along to help – partly for my T & L knowledge but mainly for my ‘e’ knowledge.

Day 2 is an interesting day with lots of input and activities around various theoretical approaches to adult learning:

Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs (above) is just one. We will also be investigating:

The idea will be to introduce the theories and to set active-learning tasks for the participants to develop a deeper understanding of  how the various theories interlock.

For example ARCS v Gagne

Attention Matches Gagne’s 1) Gain attention

Relevance Could match 2) Inform learners of objectives + 3) Stimulate recall of prior learning and 4) Present the content – all of which could be designed to ensure relevance.

Confidence Could come from 5) the provision of “learning guidance”, 6) the actual performance of practice which enhances the ‘encoding and verification of learning. 7) Feedback – if given positively also helps confidence

Satisfaction Might be gained from the satisfactory 8) assessment of performance. 9) Retrieval and generalisation of the new skill can then be applied to a new situation.

Anyway – must get on …