Imagine if when we went to work every morning, we walked into a room full of people who just happened to be the same age as us, who were working under supervision on the same tasks as everyone else for the entire day. Surely this would make our work take much longer than it does because we would constantly have to adapt our pace to that of other people (whether they were faster or slower). Wouldn’t we get far less done and be unhappy in a situation like this? This is exactly the situation faced by the majority of learners. What can we do to move away from implementing sameness towards creating the possibilities in which learners can undertake the tasks that they choose at their own speed and in their own style of learning?
More and more schools, universities and further education programs are relying on self-organised learning. Essentially, this means that learners undertake specific tasks on certain issues, but that they do so at their own speed. Even though this means that learning paths become highly individualised, the learning process still takes place in conjunction with others and involves supporting other learners; in addition, teachers are still available to provide guidance and advice.
Everyone has their own learning style
Self-organised learning is conducted to different degrees and in varying formats, and even these can be chosen by the learners themselves. Sometimes this involves working through set tasks that need to be conducted in a particular sequence. In these cases, learners ‘only’ have the choice of the speed at which they undertake the tasks. In other contexts, however, learners are able to select the topic on which they work. Frequently, and this is particularly the case in schools, the topics are based on a number of set tasks that have to be completed within a particular time; however, the students can still decide what they want to work on and how they wish to do so. In other contexts, groups can also select their own topics.
The tasks are often divided into different types in order to meet the needs of individual learning styles. Some learners prefer to work alone; some prefer to work in groups, and others are more practical or theoretical. Sometimes, all that is needed to set self-organisation in motion is a learning space, the tasks in need of completion, and the necessary requisites to do so.
Nevertheless, opinions on this quickly growing trend are divided. Self-organised learning has been described as merely enabling children to do what they want. Other critics question whether children will have learned enough by the end of the course to pass the exams. They believe that expecting children to develop a working culture at such a young age may be overwhelming. Importantly, these points mean that self-organised learning must be accompanied and documented. On the one hand, it means that transparency is essential and that learners need to think about their own learning processes, but it also means that a partner always needs to be available to provide support along the way. This form of learning may appear strange to adults today, but it comes quite naturally to children. It also demonstrates the need for adults and young people to deploy the same almost intuitive capacity to learn that all children seem to have.