Blogs

Am I learning yet?

Both teachers and learners need to understand that when a student can't perform, it's often the assessment itself that's the problem, not the student

You may have heard the terms formal learning and informal learning. Formal learning is what happens when we enrol in a course, attend classes either face-to-face or online, and consciously participate in learning. It's what we normally think about as Education.

But guess what - most of our learning isn't done this way. Informal learning is what happens when we talk with our friends, watch movies, walk in the park, read a novel. Basically anything else we do with our time, where we aren't consciously engaging in "education". But we are still, in fact, learning stuff.

[quote]Informal learning probably accounts for about 80% or more of our learning. And yet, when we are assessed for knowledge, it is generally only the formal learning that is assessed, and it is often assessed in a very formal way that is quite unrealistic.[/quote]

Here's an example: A friend's daughter is currently in her HSC year. She is understandably quite nervous about the whole thing, knowing that she has a limited time in which to learn and perform, during which time she'll be judged as either worthy or not worthy of entering particular courses at university.

She is so nervous, in fact, that she often finds herself freezing and unable to submit assessments. This doesn't mean that she doesn't know the work. On the contrary, I was chatting with her recently, after she failed to write an assignment on legal aspects of arbitrary detention in the Southern Sudan in Africa. She couldn't submit the assignment, but was able to share with me in a casual conversation all the relevant United Nations policies, the laws and parts of the African and Sudanese constitution that relate to the topic, case studies and human rights perspectives on policies and actions of the relevant parties - in fact, she proved to be an expert who would be hired at a moment's notice to participate in UN Policy discussions. In an informal setting, she was able to articulate everything that had stumped her in the formal setting.

Both teachers and learners need to understand that when a student can't perform, it's often the assessment itself that's the problem, not the student. We don't want to create citizens who are great at recalling and reciting facts and figures - we want people who can work in teams, who can solve problems, who can work out why things are the way they are and try to make them better.

Remember this as you engage in your formal education - it's often what you aren't formally taught that will often be the most useful stuff in the future - so talking to that person in the canteen might prove to be the most important part of your day…