Working life and learning
Working life and learning

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3 Where is the learning?

What we call ‘learning’ has three very important characteristics. These are:

  • learning is an ongoing process
  • learning is linked to experience
  • learning is the development of skills and new approaches to what we do.

Learning as a process

Learning is an ongoing process and not simply a one-off experience. In this way, learning may be seen as a journey from one particular point in our lives to another. Perhaps it would be a good idea to see these journeys as connecting into a much longer process of lifelong learning.

Of course what we learn changes with the different phases of our physical and mental development as well as events that affect our lives. So, for example, as a baby we may learn to walk and talk as our physical development allows it. At particular stages in our childhood we learn to read, write and manipulate numbers and, as these skills develop, we learn about the things we are interested in from physics to pop music.

As we enter work we tend to learn things that will help us keep our jobs, perform them more effectively and hopefully gain us additional benefits like praise, promotion or (if we are self-employed) profits. The point is that learning of one form or another is part of all these phases and events.

Learning as experience

Learning is also closely connected with our everyday experience and in particular with our own decisions and actions – what we call practice. We learn things more readily because we can and because we either need to or want to, not because someone tells us we have to.

Most of what we learn isn’t formally taught or studied in school, college or university but is drawn from our experience of life and our attempts to control or direct aspects of it. In our adult lives, work is the context of quite a significant amount of our experiences and practice, which is why we think it is the best starting point for the more formal learning undertaken through university study.

As we grow older and gain more life experience, we become more aware of and seek new ideas to compare and test against our own experiences and practices. These may change the way we view our experiences or the way we do things.

However, we also need to become more aware not just of what we learn but of how we learn. We can begin this by becoming aware of how we prefer to learn. We will look at this later in the module when we ask you to consider your preferred approach to learning.

Learning as skill development

Learning can be improved through the development of skills and new approaches. Whilst we may have a preferred approach to learning, we can still improve our learning skills so that we can learn effectively in a variety of ways. Examples of learning skills include:

  • reading
  • note taking
  • communicating your ideas
  • evaluating information.

Further study will help you to use more effectively those skills in which you already feel confident and to develop those in which you feel less confident.

One particular approach to learning we will introduce you to is reflection. This simply means looking back over your own experience and trying to make sense of what has happened. The purpose of this is to enable you to draw lessons from that experience, which you use to help you manage your work or other aspects of your life in the present and the future.


Activity 3 Recognising the three characteristics of learning

Timing: Allow about 40 minutes

Think about some learning you have done recently, perhaps about new skills, tools or ideas. Take a few minutes to make some notes about this learning and to see if any of it relates to the three different characteristics of learning described above.

For example, perhaps you have recently done some skill development through a training course, or you may have learned something through experience. Maybe you have built on prior knowledge and have taken a step further in your learning journey. Any of these might apply.

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One of the authors of this material reflected on the idea of learning as a journey, which could include aspects of process, experience and skill development:

Recently I watched a film called Touching the Void, which dramatised the true story of a mountaineer who had fallen and was left injured and stranded halfway down the mountain he had just climbed.

As the story unfolded I became fascinated by his determination to survive and how he tackled the seemingly impossible obstacles in his path back to his base camp. First he visualised his route down the mountain in his own mind, in terms of the different terrain he would have to cross – snowfield, glacier and boulders. He then sighted a path through the terrain that he would aim to follow. Finally, he broke down his journey into smaller tasks by identifying a particular landmark feature, which he felt he could reach and, despite his badly broken leg, he set himself a time to reach.

From time to time he would stop to rest, assess his progress and adjust his direction. As he moved from one terrain to another, he adjusted his equipment, improvising what he needed and discarding what he didn’t. Four days after starting out he reached base camp and survived. Incredibly, he returned to climbing afterwards!

Of course, while getting a university-level qualification may be very important to you, study is nowhere near as frightening a journey as the mountaineer’s. Nevertheless there may be several things about it that seem daunting to you. Questions like ‘How difficult is university study and am I up to it?’, ‘How long will it take me to get my qualification?’ and ‘How do I get started?’ may be troubling you. One of aims of this course is to show you that, in fact, university study is really only a stage in a much longer journey of learning we all undertake throughout our lives, most of which doesn’t get recognised in a qualification.

Your learning journey

We want you to recognise the progress you have already made in your journey prior to this course through the skills you have accumulated in your working life and the learning experiences you have had.

This course offers you an opportunity to assess that progress, confirm or re-establish your direction and re-equip yourself with new knowledge and skills for the next stage of the journey – much as the mountaineer did in his more perilous journey. However, just as he adopted a process of adjusting and repeating as he moved from one landmark to another, you may find that you repeat the process of learning from reflection on experience, new ideas and action as you move from topic to topic. This is called an ‘iterative’ approach, which encourages you to view your learning (and your practice) as developing with each iteration.

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