Understanding Life Learning
by Wendy Priesnitz, 2005
Life learning is based on the idea that learning is not difficult, that people learn things quite easily if they’re not compelled and coerced, if they see a need to learn something, and if they are trusted and respected enough to learn it on their own timetable, at their own speed, in their own way. They know that learning cannot be produced in us and that we cannot produce it in others – no matter what age and no matter if we’re at school or at home.
They understand that the tools used in schools, such as text books, lesson plans, testing, grading, report cards, course requirements, motivating students, homework assignments, blackboard writing, bulletin board decorating, schedules and attendance regulations, are all designed to manage or account for the efficient delivery of information in a publicly funded setting. They have little to do with how people actually learn.
Life learning happens independent of time, location or the presence of a teacher. It does not require mom or dad to teach, or kids to work in workbooks at the kitchen table from 9 to noon from September to June. Instead, parents provide real-life experiences that enable their children to understand the world and their culture and to interact with it.
Life learning is learner driven. It is about exploring, questioning, experimenting, making messes, taking risks without fear of ridicule, making mistakes and trying again.
Life learning does not involve memorized theory so much as it requires applying knowledge. And that often means moving around, talking, experimenting, thinking, jumping up and down...and sometimes appearing not to be doing anything at all. It allows flexibility, independence and freedom from all the school-type interferences that can get in the way of real learning.
Life learning recognizes that kids are natural scientists and don’t need to be taught science. They are also natural mathematicians and don’t need to be told how to count things. Developmental psychologist and Harvard professor Robert White calls this instinct to learn, to manipulate, to master an “urge toward competence.” What he means is that we are born with not just a desire, but the need to have an impact on our surroundings, to control and understand the world in which we live.
So life learning is about trusting kids to learn what they need to know and about helping them to learn and grow in their own ways. It is not a method of education, nor are there any step-by-step guidelines or rules for doing it the right way. It is a way of life, a way of looking at the world and at children. It is about self-direction, about learning from life and throughout life. It is about kids, families and communities regaining control over their days, their learning, their money, their resources and their ability to direct and manage themselves.
Wendy is the editor of Life Learning the International Magazine of Self-Directed Learning: LifeLearningMagazine.com
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