Is there incompatibility between participatory learning and the structure of schools as they typically exist? My answer is: yes. The follow up questions is: Can this incompatibility be overcome? My answer to this question is: Yes butit is not an easy task or certain to be accomplished if we are speaking of this on a wide scale district level basis rather than as individual schools here and there. This leads to three more focused questions: What does
and where we learn. All sectors of society have been profoundly affected with the exception of formal education. While economic status still affects accessibility, there has never been a era in human civilization with as much widespread access to the intellectual or learning resources of the culture than there is at this moment. It is perversely ironic that so many young people in our society continue to have more access to vibrant learning experiences via the Internet in their lives outside of school than they do when they are in school.
There are a number of definitions of participatory learning. All definitions of participatory
learning are stipulative. As such, there is no correct or incorrect definition but, that does not
mean that one definition is as good as any other. The criterion for assessing the quality of a
given definition is the extent to whichit is grounded in sound learning research and theory
andlor the extent to which it contributes to establishing good schooling practices. Several
papers have been helpful to me in forming my thinking about participatory learning (A listing of
them is in the bibliography of this paper.) andIbelieve the definitionI offer fits with what is
Is intrinsically motivated to learn and engaged in the learning process.
Actively pursues a personal, rather than imposed, agenda for learning based on their
own needs, interests, capabilities, and goals.
Makes abundant and effective use of Collaboration and involvement in learning
Encounters learning in tasks that have meaning and relevance for the learner by
connecting the learning to their own frame of reference and to "real world" physical,
social, and cultural contexts
Constructs their knowledge and competencies experientially through authentic engagements with objects, persons, ideas and other cultural artifacts rather than through didactic instruction
What is new is that ICT has provided resources that make such learning environments in
schools not only far more plausible than has even been the case but also enable schools to be
congruent with the texture of contemporary culture which is increasingly participatory.
school reformers, Horace Mann, James Carter, Henry Barnard, who established the type of we have were not factory builders; they were System thinkers. In the wake of the industrial revolution their metaphor was the machine. Machines were systems comprised of well
timed class periods, formal teacher training, and a bureaucratized organizational structure. Those components are well articulated with one another and together maintain homeostasis for the system.
The key aspects of a participatory learning environment in the above definition are discordant
with the nature of the schooling system as it has existed since thel g mcentury. Also, the
curriculum has become increasingly over-burdened; time is a scarce commodity in schools.
When we move from "covering content" to creating a situation where kids come to understand
and even appreciate what they are learning, the time that is needed is determined by the
learning situation rather than by a pre-set time allocation.
wisdom, schools actually have rather pemeable boundaries with regard to innovations. The list of innovations that schools have adopted over the years is long but, innovations that are accepted tend to be tuned to the existing school system structure. Schools do not reject innovations: they "tame" them. Innovations get "blended in" with prevailing practices in a manner which does not alter the basic nature and functioning of schools. Every school can point to instances, some more than others, where the elements of participatory learning are
schools. The2009 Phi Delta Kappa Gallup poll reported that25% of Americans rated the Nation's schools as poor or failing. Parents were more satisfied with the school their child attended with only8 % giving the school a poor or failing grade. These data do not indicate that the public supports major changes in our schools.
Provoke revisions in the federal, state, and local school policies that are inimical to best practice in establishing the learning environments that our children need and deserve. Enlist the active involvement in such efforts of teachers and administrators who working to create participatory learning environments for their students.
Embrace the realization that the hegemony of formal education in the learning domain
no longer exists and that the distinction between formal and informal education is invalid
in the learning lives of our children and dysfunctional in establishing appropriate
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