This post is a quick reflection on a form I was asked to fill in this week.
I have just started a course (Jazz harmony, ear training and ensemble playing) at the excellent City Lit adult learning college here in London. At the first session I was asked to fill in an 'individual record of learning' form, and one of the questions was: What are your specific learning goals?" This is how I responded:
I don't wish to sound difficult, but I do not find the concept of 'specific learning goals' a useful way of getting to grips with the complexity of human learning. The world is surely over-populated with 'learning objectives' and 'learning outcomes'. What I believe the keen learner should seek out are 'environments conducive to things happening'. I trust that the course will provide just such an environment. At the moment my main focus is to develop my ability to improvise, but who knows what I might learn in a suitably conducive musical environment:-)
Now anybody who decides to commit to a substantial programme of learning (4 hours per week for 31 weeks in this case) must have some notion of what they hope to get out of it. But it is, I suggest, a mistake to think that this notion has to consist of a set of clearly formulated learning goals. And there is surely a danger that if both teachers and learners are encouraged to focus too much on reductionist learning goals this will actually limit the possibilities for real learning. I am all in favour of people reflecting on their learning and using refleciton as the basis for making plans for future learning, but this does not have to be framed in terms of 'bullet point' learning goals/objectives/outcomes. Focusing our attention on learning goals tends to narrow our vision of what can be learned. But what is exciting about starting on a programme of learning is that the learner cannot know what is going to happen and cannot know how s/he will be changed by the experience. Rather than obsessing about specific learning goals we need to open our hearts and minds to the possibilities of the unexpected that can occur in any learning encounter.