The right blend: formal/informal learning

I just started taking the MIT Media Lab Massive Open Online Course (MOOC): Learning Creative Learning. I will be updating the blog periodically about it. [p.s. there are slots open for the Viewpoints workshop I’m teaching the next 2 Sundays – CLICK HERE for more.]

In the first week, thinking about interest based learning,
I am thinking about my theatre training at Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts and since. Which I think is very good training.

Part 1

Like much arts training, there was a lot of master/student instruction of craft and technique with strict parameters and restrictions. It involved tight rules, long hours, intense focus and very clear distinction of roles.

This discipline was very important to me as a student. It gave me something to rebel against and to rely on.

There was also a profound amount of freedom outside of the classroom and inside the actual studio work. We were encouraged to identify and follow interests and passions. In the evenings, after a long day of committed studio time, we made work in order to learn how to make work. There was little supervision and an expectation to break any rules we were taught during the day, if we had good enough reason.

This blend was all important – to have both formal and informal modes of learning.[1] To recognize there are times and places to be in one mode or the other. Sometimes within a single day this can or must shift. [2]

Part 2

Anne Bogart, theatre director, describes a similar formal / informal blend in talking about the 2 training frameworks SITI Company uses. She describes Suzuki Training as the vertical (videophilosophy) and Viewpoints as the horizontal (wikipediaphilosophy)

I love Suzuki training because of the strictness and discipline. It’s a discipline very hard to find inside North American actor training that I find just very delightful. And I don’t think I’m alone in my reasons.[3]

Without form, I have no space for the informal. I’m looking for a fluid space where slipping from craftsperson to hacker to philosopher to entertainer and back again is possible. Very formal structures help me avoid the anomic paralysis produced by the gap between the “infinite becoming” of what is possible and my clearly finite human nature.

I see others approaching a similar fluid space from a different direction. Moving from the alienation of a specific genre of knowledge work and specific forms of education and social structures inside the wealthy western world. I recognize (or project) it because that’s where I’m coming from. I hope we can meet in that space.

What is a good blend? Given that it’s probably different for each of us, what are helpful values?

  1. Using the language from the course. ↩
  2. The power structures in the formal mode – often way more hierarchical than in informal modes – are not permanent nor ontological. They are consensual agreements of accomplices for benefit of mutual and individual interests. If either party can’t walk away and say no, there is a problem. But there can be more knowing and less knowing and attention can be directed and rigour instilled. This can be good for everyone.  ↩
  3. Many dancers I know have the opposite reaction. They revolt against all the yelling and stick hitting and straight lines. That is the model of the emotionally abusive ballet teacher and so has become much less useful. Avoiding such relationships are often how dancers find themselves in the contemporary. So they have a hard time going back. This makes total sense to me. ↩

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