What is education? (Part 2)
In part 1 of this thread I sketched out the idea that when we try to say what education is, one way of considering this is the context involved, leading to a brief consideration of formal, non-formal and informal education. As suggested, framing education in these ways leads to further questions.
1. If we only include formal education, what are the processes which occur outside of this narrow sphere?
If we only equate education with formal education, we are narrowing our view of what education is. In essence, it becomes synonymous with schooling, FE/apprenticeships and higher education. This leads to education as a formal structure which is driven by certification, and which on the whole leads to traditional processes involving a teacher and a learner. In most cases, the teacher has some form of expertise in the area being taught, and the learner is assumed to know less than the teacher and is to have knowledge and skills transferred from the teacher to them. This is a gross simplification of the spectrum of activities and approaches taken in formal education settings, but as a basic outline it gives an essential idea of what is involved.
However, is it sustainable to define the complete spectrum of education in this way? We might argue that education encompasses all those processes which involve learning in some way, be it formal or not. In addition, if we take a very wide view of education, and see it as the process by which people develop their understanding of the world and how to act within it, then suggesting education is merely formal is far too restrictive.
2. If we include these wider processes what implications are there for the processes and position of formal education in relation to this more holistic context?
Perhaps one way of understanding what we believe education to be is to reflect on a core process. Education can only take place if it involves learning of some kind. It is learning which will bring individual change and a change in the way we act in and on the world. It has to be stressed that this is not to diminish the importance of teaching, but perhaps we need an equally broad way of defining this as a process.
If we begin by thinking about learning, it is useful to give a basic idea of what the dimensions of learning are. Illeris (2003) offers a model of learning, involving three dimensions.
I see this as a central diagram in education, and it will no doubt crop up again in future posts. Illeris is arguing that learning has three dimensions. Within the individual there are two dimensions, the cognitive and the emotional. These are crucial for an individual to learn as firstly they need to be cognitively ready to learn, for example in terms of attention, and in terms of how the new knowledge they are engaging with fits with what they already know (e.g. schema theory) to name just two elements. Emotion is also crucial. If an individual is anxious, or tired, they might not be emotionally receptive, but it they are relaxed, motivated and challenged at the right level, they will engage far more easily. The interplay of these two dimensions leads to the process of acquisition and is the core of the learning process. However, it is incomplete without a social dimension as the interaction of the individual with others, with artefacts etc is a crucial element of learning; learning always takes place in a context and in the vast majority of cases learning is something that is done with the aid of others. Even if I am sitting at home in a comfy chair and reading a book, I am interacting with another person, it is just happening asynchronously.
If we accept this model of dimensions of learning and see this as the core of the notion of education, then formal education as the limit of the process is seemingly far too restrictive. We can learn through these dimensions in many contexts outside that of formal educative structures. As suggested in part 1 what-is-education-part-1.html, learning can take place in families and communities, through dialogue, through copying what others do and learning from them, e.g. learning how to help put up a fence.
Therefore, when we try to define what education is, we need to ensure that we allow for a wide range of contexts, well beyond the formal education system, as learning can occur in a wide spectrum of environments and can be supported by others in many different ways. This then suggests that in trying to define education, the nature of the ‘teacher’ becomes equally diverse.
And it is a reflection on the teacher that I’ll consider in my next post.
Illeris, K. (2003) Workplace Learning and Learning Theory Journal of workplace Learning 15:4. (link)
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This is a blog which hopes to explore and navigate a different way of doing education