There are two reasons why I have chosen to focus on the Learning campaign in this blog post. The first is that, perhaps more than any of the other campaigns or cross-cutting themes in the Edgeryders project, issues connected with learning, knowing, experiencing and understanding seem to be at the heart of the challenges and opportunities participants describe. Secondly, I was prompted by a mission report by Renato, Skills of an independent working life, in which he asks what sort of learning Edgeryders need for a “new kind of working life”. To me, this seems to connect with the core aims of the Edgeryders project – to understand how young people are navigating the transition to an independent, if at times precarious, working life. Here, I reflect on some of the views shared by Edgeryders about their own experiences of learning, and what these suggest about what and how contemporary young people want to learn in order to support their transitions.
There is a widely-cited frustration with formal education systems in both the Learning campaign and others, particularly Making A Living. Edgeryders suggest that formal education in its current form often fails to explore the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ behind what they are taught, let alone all the other ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ that intrigue and potentially capture young people’s imaginations. As such, school and university education is seen as inhibiting creative learning. There is little scope for young people to find their passions and work out how to develop them, nor does it offer opportunities to engage in the complex problem solving typical of everyday life. Instead, Edgeryders suggest that the most useful skills are developed through life experience and everyday interactions – often on the basis of their own initiative.
Indeed, Edgeryders’ own initiatives to address the perceived shortcomings of formal education are featured in several mission reports, including, amongst others, benvickers’ Professional Reality Development and higiacomo’s Passion -> Volunteer -> Job -> Passion again? The fact that so many Edgeryders’ personal projects are internet-based peer-to-peer learning/sharing environments is, I think, revealing. Not only does it draw attention to the skills/knowledge gaps that young people leave formal education with, but, more importantly, to the fact that they have the willingness and the ability (learned or innate) to be able to fill these gaps themselves, potentially supporting countless peers in the process. As a result, Edgeryders are developing new cultures of learning by appropriating virtual spaces and constructing their own effective and efficient means of learning, exploring and sharing alongside peers. These virtual spaces and online tools are dynamic and responsive to individuals’ present needs (for instance, allowing users to learn at their own pace or gain tailored, real-time support from community members), and their development is arguably more likely to result in a generation of young people who are themselves dynamic and responsive in the ways they go about addressing contemporary social challenges.
There is considerable scope for online resources to fulfil some of the learning needs that Edgeryders feel are missing from formal education, but there are also questions worthy of consideration around the scope of these tools and the ways in which this sort of learning is perceived within work places and working cultures that, as the Making A Living campaign suggests, can still be suspicious of innovation and entrepreneurialism amongst the young. First, on the subject of scope, it might be pertinent to ask whether online peer-to-peer learning is useful only as a way of developing an existing knowledge base, for example, strengthening existing abilities in mathematics or languages; or could some knowledge or skills be learned ab initio? Perhaps Edgeryders have examples already that might respond to this question.
The second area that requires consideration is how new youth-led learning cultures are responded to by both formal education providers and employers/collaborators. Will schools and universities step up to better prepare their students for the “real world” or will students continue to be left to self-teach? One of the most significant barriers within formal education seems to be the discomfort associated with collaborative working – or, perhaps more accurately, the administrative difficulties of fairly grading students working together on group projects. Can the educational establishment innovate and develop more creative, dynamic forms of learning that still allow administrative boxes to be ticked?
It isn’t all about education systems, however. The workplace also needs to be receptive to, and collaborate in, new ways of working and new ways of thinking about skills and employability. While many university courses now offer opportunities for work experience as part of the course, this is by no means true across the board, particularly for less vocational subjects in the arts, humanities and social sciences. The benefits of these opportunities, however, are manifold – and not only to students. Employers, too, stand to gain from being forced to rethink their attitudes to recruitment and young people’s skills sets. As Adria suggests in her mission report, There’s gonna be some changes made, it may only be with hindsight that learning from university and the workplace make sense when both are reflected on together, but having the opportunity to reflect on these parallel learning experiences may contribute to the self efficacy Edgeryders rightly seek.
In essence, if working life is set to become increasingly individualised – that is, characterised by non-standard, portfolio careers – then education needs to prepare young people for this “new kind of working life”. Edgeryders demonstrably want to be able to pursue their passions in ways that support their communities and create positive change, but also offer them a sense of achievement, recognition and self efficacy. What would an education system look like that can act as a solid preparation for a workplace that is in constant flux and, at present, full of uncertainty? Would it be formal, informal, or both? And to what extent will young people themselves be knowledge producers and communicators, as well as consumers?
[Photo: Jonathan Ah Kit, via Flickr]