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Succeed with learning
Succeed with learning

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1.1 Case study 1: Jim’s story

Drawing of man’s head, with optimistic expression.
Figure 2 Jim

Jim is finding that his work as a carpenter is affecting his health. He is beginning to think that he should find a different line of work, so he has decided to build on what he already knows about computers. He has enrolled in a class, Introduction to Computers, at his local college.

Jim takes up the story:

The class I had signed up for, ‘Introduction to Computers’, took place at my local college. It was years since I had been there, and it had changed a lot.

Even though I went online and found a map of the campus, I still could not find the building and the room. I asked a man for directions. He said he was the instructor for the ‘Introduction to Computers’ course, and that he would take me to the classroom. He gave me his name, which I forgot. He also asked me if I had received his introductory email. I had not looked at my email for several days. I think I must have been nervous about starting the course (although I thought that I had been fairly relaxed about it all). I’m always forgetting names – especially of people who are new to me.

When I got to the classroom, I found that it was called something like the ‘Learning Resources Centre’ and that it was filled with dozens of brightly lit computers. My instructor (I still could not remember his name) led me over to one corner. ‘Here’s your group,’ he said. And he started to introduce me to a dozen people. ‘This is Avril, this is Jade, this is Zoë, this is Steve …’ I was feeling worse and worse. I had forgotten the teacher’s name and now I had even more names to remember.

‘You can use this computer, Jim,’ said the teacher. I was really pleased to be able to sit down in front of it so I did not have to talk to any of the people whose names I had forgotten. The teacher gave me a sheet with a word-processing exercise that looked like something I could manage. What a relief this was. It was so much easier than having to talk to these people I had never met before.

However, after a few minutes, I realised that most of the other students in what was supposed to be my group were all talking to each other. Some had met in another course last year and had decided to take this course together. And they all knew each other’s names!

I slid slightly further down in my chair and concentrated on the screen in front of me.

Activity 1 In what ways is Jim already a learner?

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes for this activity.

The story you have just read focuses on what happened when Jim went back to college. Have a think about the following questions:

  1. What is Jim learning from this new experience?
  2. Try to find clues about what he has learned in the past too.
  3. Do they get in the way of his learning, or are they helpful?

Jot down your thoughts.


There are many points you could have selected. Here are a few. It’s fine if you picked different ones.

  1. He is learning about computing, especially word-processing. He has also learned who his tutor is and where he will be studying.
  2. In the past, he has learned carpentry skills. He has also learned that he isn’t great at remembering names and he maybe gets rather nervous about new things. Did you notice he also already has some computer skills, and could perhaps be self-taught in this area? He has learned that he is comfortable using a computer, even if his skills aren’t as developed as he would like.
  3. So some of these past learning experiences may get in the way a little, some not seem particularly relevant at the moment, but some – such as having already gained some confidence in computing – seem clearly to be a positive influence on his new learning experience.

Jim’s story focused on a college course, and so was an example of ‘formal’ learning. However, some less formal learning was going on too. Succeed with learning takes a very straightforward view about learning:

Learning is involved in everything that happens to people and in everything they do.

Most of us will have had considerable experience of classrooms, and some people have great memories of school or college – they have learned that it is a good experience.

For others, this experience can be unhelpful or can have quite negative results. They learn that they are no good at learning, or that college can be an unpleasant or scary place. This can create a barrier to future learning, causing people to lose confidence in themselves and preventing them from fulfilling their potential.

Can you see how this shows that learning is always shaped by our experiences? It is also shaped by how we think about our experiences. So, if your school experiences led you to think that you are a poor learner, it may make it feel harder to study the next time you try. But, if you have learned to be a great parent (for example), you may develop enough confidence in your learning ability to think that you could be a successful learner in other areas too.

In the next case study, Angela shows how learning is still going on when courses or college are not part of the story. Read through Angela’s story. As you read, reflect on whether you can see features that you can identify with from your own experience.