In my last post I mentioned that I am studying an MA in Art History. This is not an area I know much about, not one I can even slide into easily. I don’t have much of the vocabulary, the skills of artistic analysis, the basic knowledge of art. So, I feel a bit lost much of the time. But it’s a well structured course, and I’m enjoying it.
This sense of being a bit out of my depth reminded me of George Siemens statement that learning is a vulnerable process. I think much of the learning experience is about negotiating that vulnerability. The problem is that by the time you get to be an educator you’ve largely forgotten what that vulnerability is like. I think it’s probably impossible to fully recapture what it is like to be an undergraduate, particularly if you’re a first generation student, and not sure if you belong here.
But studying a subject you don’t know much about at least captures a bit of that sense of vulnerability. I have many of the generic skills that much of a Masters is spent on building – critical reading, writing, organisation. But I don’t have the background knowledge in the subject itself. I chose a subject that was deliberately nothing to do with work, because I wanted it to be a break from work. But in doing so, I have also become aware of all those things that are important for unsure learners: clear structure, useful assessment, good signposting, technology that works, etc.
This has made me reflect that often when people ask their institution to fund a place on a course for them as part of staff development, they are required to indicate how it will relate to their work. They are encouraged to choose subjects that can be directly linked to work – an MBA, or education course, say. Now, I think there is lots of merit in studying those courses (I work on an MA in Online and Distance Education after all), but I also feel there is real value in studying something that is completely unrelated, and that gives you some sense of that vulnerability again. There is much of value for an educator in appreciating that anew.