Saturday, 26 April 2008

focus groups and learning

For the adult learning research we will be using focus groups as well as one-to-one semi-structured interviews. A focus group means getting together with a group of people who share the same interest(s), live in the same area or have a common goal. And to focus or discuss in particular one topic, in this case 'adult learning'.

As there are groups already meeting in the Fairfield and Muirton areas it makes sense to join them and to find out their ideas and opinions about the learning they have experienced or would like to access locally. The advantage of being a 'stranger' is that I can see the group with fresh eyes, observe the processes and interactions, and hopefully ask questions that will result in new avenues for learning. Of course the community workers have laid the foundations for the research to be possible and the residents are the important people in this equation. They are striving to make their communities welcoming places, encouraging neighbourhood participation and safe practices.

I've already been invited to some groups and enjoyed the company and chat. And I have heard from people regarding their learning hopes, including

community activism - becoming a local councillor
counselling studies - another type of counsellor, training to help other people
marketing - being able to write stories for the local press and to promote the project
IT skills - with qualifications as an end result

I'm looking forward to doing the focus groups, with help from a postgraduate community education student, and hearing about people's hopes regarding learning.

I received an Email from a friend recently that had some words about learning spoken by Maya Angelou (apparently to Oprah Winfrey on american TV) which I found quite moving and could identify with:

"I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on and it will be better tomorrow.

I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle these three things - a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights.

I've learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents you'll miss them when they're gone from your life.

I've learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life.

I've learned that sometimes life gives you a second chance.

I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw some things back.

I've learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart I usually make the right decision.

I've learned that even when I have pains I don't have to be one.

I've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone, people love a warm hug or just a friendly pat on the back.

I've learned that I still have a lot to learn.

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

(Dr Maya Angelou is a poet, educator, historian, best-selling author, actress, playwright, civil-rights activist, producer and director )

Sunday, 20 April 2008

lifelong learning

Getting back to learning, and the phrase 'lifelong learning' that is used in the community context (in P&K council there is a committee dedicated to this) and the expression "it's never too soon or too late for learning" which throws the saying "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" out the door (

>all learning activity undertaken throughout life whether formal or informal .... learning is a process of active engagement with experience ....... it is what people do when they want to make sense of the world (I like this one)

The lifelong learning agenda or movement is not just local or national, Scottish Government says it's about 'personal fulfilment and enterprise' ( , but global - it's been given a high priority in the EU which adopted a Communication in October 2006 to put lifelong learning at the core.

I think that people sometimes equate learning with education, and if they've had a negative experience at school it might put them off 'learning'. Because of the emphasis on academic achievements, exams and reading books, many will have chosen practical or manual employment. And some may have got the academic qualifications but have really wanted to be doing things rather than reading about doing it.

I know that schools now do not support competition and say it's the taking part that counts but no-one likes to be last in a race, at least I don't! I never liked taking part if I didn't think I had a chance, if ever so slight, of winning the race, award or of giving it a good shot. I remember at secondary school that I was always asked to make up the numbers for the relay race, this was at Perth Academy in the 60's, and many of the girls didn't want to run because of self-consciousness, what they looked like in the gym shorts etc. Well I usually was persuaded to by tactics like "if you don't do it we won't have a team", running in third relay position, but always struggled as I wasn't that good a runner and others easily passed me by. And as a final humiliation I ended up very red-faced with the exertion, not the best advert for appearing 'cool' to any 'talent' going by....

I've probably strayed a bit from the learning discussion but could say that for me this was a learning situation - I learnt that I didn't like taking part in some things if it made me feel embarassed, disempowered, not at my best. Recently a friend wanted me to accompany her on the 'Race for Life' the Cancer Research fundraising campaign but I didn't really fancy it. I still don't much enjoy running and would prefer other ways of being involved or getting fit. The difference is that now I can say 'no' to what I don't like and consider other possibilities, and I don't feel bad about it. Through the learning journey I've travelled there's been an increase in self-confidence, self-awareness and self-worth.