For the past few years, the cutting edge talk has been about informal learning and the death of formal courses and formal educational institutions, now that the internet can provide a learner with so much information to study and so many other learners to whom to connect. This year, with the rise of the MOOC (Massive Online Open Course - see review by John Daniels), the trending talk seems to be swinging back towards the traditional course, even if not the traditional institution.
So I was amused to re-discover, while clearing out my clipping collection, a brilliant statement of the case for traditional formal learning, made by a 16-year-old schoolgirl in 2005.
Millie Wilcox (aged 16, from Birmingham), was asked by a Guardian journalist whether she thought English at school should be about classics such as Chaucer or about writing skills. Her answer included the following.
The really good thing about doing literature in school is that often you have a book and you think "Oh no" but once you've been through it in class and it's been explained to you, you realise it's really good. We've done Pride and Prejudice and when I saw how long it was, I thought it would be really dull and boring. But in fact it's better than the TV programme. Some bits of Shakespeare are good, too. There are some books you just read for fun, but some you need help to get into.
All of which could be (and has been) said at much greater length by learning theorists and by learning and teaching consultants (such as Clive Shepherd). But I prefer Millie's down-to-earth and learner-centred formulation. The case (or place) for formal learning is for those things you just wouldn't study on your own ("you think 'Oh no'", "really dull and boring"), but when you have studied them thanks to the compulsion of a formal programme you're glad you did ("better than the TV").
Get that: "better than the TV programme". Respect, teacher. Respect, Austen. And respect, Millie.
Reference: The Guardian, 26 April 2005, "Multiple choice: should we study classics such as Chaucer, or concentrate on writing skills?"