Personalised learning and autonomous education: the differences between the two
Here's a short excerpt from Barbara's comment:
In my experience negotiation and seduction are not tolerant of autonomy and intrinsic motivation. Negotiation and seduction do not respect the self direction of individuals but seek to influence it for other purposes. It can easily be a form of coercion.
- and I would agree wholeheartedly with that. I get the impression that personalised learning, for some people, effectively means: "Choose how and what you want to learn, and then negotiate a contract with me/us to help you to achieve your outcome."
But in my opinion and experience, that's actually not conducive to good education. I can't see how contracts with preset outcomes could possibly fit well with the natural mechanism of learning: it simply doesn't work like that.
Barbara also mentions degrees of autonomy in her comment:
Is it possible to have a degree of autonomy? I think it would be if it is also possible, for example, to be in some degree, pregnant. I have heard it said that a person was a "little bit" pregnant, which I thought was to misunderstand the nature of pregnancy.
- again, hitting the nail right on the head. 'Degrees of autonomy' also imply contracts and negotiations.
But what's to negotiate? If somebody wants to learn something, they will learn it, and if they have helpful parents and/or mentors then so much the better for them, but the parents and/or mentors should not be trying to drive the learning process because to keep supplying extrinsic motivation is to repeatedly frustrate and circumvent the process of the intrinsic variety. ("Intrinsic motivation is far stronger a motivator than extrinsic motivation, yet external motivation can easily act to displace intrinsic motivation," as the linked page says.)
In elective home education, many of us see no need for negotiation or contracts. Some of us might have tried to introduce some and found it interfered with the natural learning process; others probably never saw a need to try. When you're not under pressure to produce results from within a set range of outcomes, you can be free to respect and honour your child's amazing process of intrinsic motivation in learning and it's not until you actually live like this with someone that you realise how innately powerful and effortlessly superior a process it is.
Intrinsic motivation can't be tied down to a negotiated contract of learning. It doesn't follow preplanned outcomes, either internal or external ones. Yes, it can achieve what it sets out to achieve, but it can also get gloriously sidetracked, often into something that turns out to have been even more valuable and it needs to be free to do so without even a moment's notice.
Negotiation (as well as 'degrees of autonomy') means shared power. More often than not, it means: "I'm in charge really, but I want to appear to be reasonable and flexible so that you will continue to engage with this process that I'm running," because most people have realised by now that overtly dictatorial management of people breeds rebellion and discontent. But people who facilitate genuinely autonomous learning know above all that they are not in charge of the process or it would be a contradiction in terms, so there's nothing to negotiate. No question that the power or control is being shared. My learning is my learning, and your learning is your learning.
So why might someone want to set up a contract, to negotiate and to seduce? I can only think of one reason: because they wish to capitalise on the outcome.
Is that a fair way to treat other human beings? Personally, I think not.
PS: I've recently come across an organisation called School of Everything, and wonder what other people think of the idea. Has anyone tried it? I learned about it from this blog post, which cropped up on one of my Google alerts. "Our goal is to do for education what YouTube has done for television." Hmmm! And yet, according to Shirl, YouTube already did it for education too!