Current schooled learners are ‘done to’…caged, controlled and coerced. They mature into dependent learners, unsure and lacking in experience of real issues. They are ill-equipped for the present let alone for lifelong adaptive learning. A learning system where the learner takes responsibility in his / her life is a more effective option.

It will be apparent that one of the key issues with recycling schools and the wider re-conceptualisation of our learning systems is the position of the learner. Essentially we currently problematise them at every opportunity. From the moment of entry into schools children are a deficit community. Indeed, within the UK the opinion is now clear that they are a problem even in the womb. No one can deny that certain young people begin life with a range of extreme social, emotional, physical and learning challenges but this mindset is not helpful in shifting our thinking.

Looking at it quite bluntly we consign our youngsters to ‘day prisons’ – some more convivial than others, but all subject to the same limitations and inflexibilities. Stripped of rights we place them in an environment that is the antithesis of our declared values. Controlled and coerced they learn the hidden curriculum of schooling.

Abbott (1999) and Abbott and Ryan (2000) amongst others have written about how the schooling cultivates dependency…a damning indictment of a system declaring to enable people to live their lives. John Abbott pointedly asks: ‘Do we want our children to grow up as battery hens or free range chickens?’(Abbott, J. 1999)
Our rapidly growing understanding of brain science and how we learn only serves to confirm what some have long known intuitively or through reflection and practice. The facts are people are pre- programmed to learn within a nurturing context and where they have control over their lives. Some would have us believe huge numbers are pathologically predisposed not to learn and to rebel against it. What they fail to take on board is that virtually all serious attempts at working with challenged and excluded learners succeed where they empower the learner. What they also avoid acknowledging is the catastrophic failure and fall out of the schooling system. The detractors would do well to take a serious look at some of these projects, at informal learning and home-based learning, and they might be less committed to swear blind allegiance to the schooling model.

The notion of learner–researcher is a useful concept and describes a clear shift in the relationship to learning and power structures. It is often talked about in relation to children in the early years where there remains some insight into learning (even within mainstream schools). It is also to be found as a central tenet of the Inclusion Trust, a virtual online learning community The Inclusion Trust is focused on learners disengaged from schools. It is a ‘last resort’ designed to re-engage them in learning. Its learner-led approaches have been proven effective even with the most challenged learners.

The Self-managed Learning College(SMLC) has demonstrated its worth globally with business, commerce and the public sector. SML translates just as successfully with children and young people. The college also works with secondary and primary schools and home-based learners. The SMLC works with youngsters with wide-ranging challenges and those without. There is a well-verified tradition with some home-based educators for this more autonomous approach (see Meighan, R. 2005; Fortune-Wood, J. 2000). It is often the ‘default’ position although they can explore democratic learning co-operatives with other families and opt for authoritarian experiences from the available catalogue of curriculum offers (see Meighan, R. 2005).

The learner–researcher-traveller model can vary and manifestly there are limitations to its use within schooling. Despite the work claiming to be taking such thinking on board, ultimately choice is superficial and played out in an inflexible, impositional context.

Within the personalised educational landscape we propose the model comes into its own. The learner maintains choice and invites learning and assessment along his (or her) chosen pathway. Inevitably, family, friends, guides, mentors, coaches, teachers and tutors take part in the dialogue (offering support and challenge) about those choices but they are invited and not imposed. Leadbeater’s co-construction / co-creation of learning becomes a reality. These conversations are influenced by factors like the learner’s career aspirations, skills, understandings and needs for accreditation.

Where a learner works autonomously and from freely available resources their plans and commitments may be as loosely or tightly mapped as they prefer. Where resources are drawn in from others within the landscape commitments will necessarily be required and then planning agreements will need to be articulated. There is plenty of experience in drawing up Personal Learning Plans. These set the scene for specific learning experiences and can be contextualised within broader and longer term plans when and if they are clear to the learner.

Other tools come to the fore with this approach. Learner-researchers freed from the necessity to follow established routes and timescales will ideally need some form of portfolio to track their invited learning and assessments, their outcomes and accreditations. These become the broader more holistic ‘currency’ of experience and achievement. Again, this is not a vast new area yet to be explored. Those who have been educated beyond the mainstream schooling system have deployed such approaches for many years. What will have an important impact will be the digital environment particularly the Personalised Learning Environments (PLEs) and Web 2.0 tools (Attwell, G. 2007).

Our view of recycling schools is underpinned by a view of the learner as researcher-traveller who has control over: when, where, what, who, how and why to learn.

Meighan (2005 and 2007) discusses the various types of educational ideology that lead to authoritarian, democratic and autonomous learning systems. We recommend the reader familiarise themselves with these differences as space prevents us covering them here. Essentially, Meighan argues that in a mature complex modern society we actually need to have people educated in all three ideological behaviours and disciplines. However, critically the default position would always be democratic or autonomous.



Abbott, J. (1999) The Child is Father of the Man: Bath. The 21st Century Learning Initiative.

Abbott, J. and Ryan, T. (2000) The Unfinished Revolution: Stafford. The Network Educational Press.

Attwell, G. (2007) The Personalised Learning Environments – the future of eLearning? eLearning Papers, Vol 2 no.1. ISSN:1887-1542 www.elearningpapers.eu

Fortune-Wood, J. (2000) Doing it their way: Home-based education and autonomous learning: Nottingham. Educational Heretics Press.

Leadbeater, C. (2004) Learning About Personalisation: London. Demos.

Leadbeater, C. (2005) Personalisation Through Participation: A New Script for Public Services. London. Demos.

Meighan, R. (2005) Comparing Learning Systems: the good, the bad, the ugly and the counter-productive: Nottingham. Educational Heretics Press.

Meighan, R. and Harber, C. (2007) A Sociology of Educating: London. Continuum.



At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done
Then they begin to hope it can be done
Then they see it can be done
Then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.
Frances Hodgson Burnett

What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge – not knowledge in pursuit of the child.
George Bernard Shaw

The Learner’s Charter for a Personalised Learning Environment.
– The Core Group from the seminar series ‘Beyond the Blackboard: Digital Technologies and Learner Voice’.

This charter gives very useful insights into the learner’s perspective and is relevant for any personalised learning setting.

As a learner I expect:


• To be considered as an individual with wide-reaching potential irrespective of age,
gender, disability, ethnicity or
socio-economic status.

• To take joint responsibility for and be seen
as an active agent in determining my own learning priorities.

• To understand and critically engage with the
choices open to me in the education process.

• To understand the potential implications of
these choices personally, socially and economically.

• To develop the personal and social skills
and attributes necessary to make these
choices and to engage with the people and
resources of the education process.

Skills and knowledge

• To be supported to co-design my own
curriculum and learning goals.

• To draw upon and make connections
between the expertise and competencies
I develop across all areas of my life.

• To develop my expertise and understanding
in knowledge domains that are of personal
significance to me.

• To be supported to take risks and develop
understanding in unfamiliar knowledge

• To have access to learning which will
prepare me well as a member of the
adult population.
Appropriate learning environments

• To have access to different teaching and
learning approaches and resources that
meet my needs.

• To have access to people who are able to
extend and develop my understanding in my
chosen areas.

• To have access to learning environments
and resources that enable me to develop my
understanding and experience in authentic
and appropriate contexts.


• To use diverse assessment tools to enable
me to reflect upon and develop my own
learning at times and in sites appropriate
for me and in ways which inform decisions
about my future learning.

• To have access to a diverse range of
assessment mechanisms and media that
are appropriate to the activity I am
participating in.

• To achieve recognition for learning
irrespective of the context of my learning (in
home, in school, in workplace, in

• To achieve recognition for learning that
enables me to progress within the
wider community.

• To participate in assessment activities that
provide feedback to the education system
and are used to improve the learning
environments in which I learn.

The seminar series was held by NESTA Futurelab, Demos, Becta and Toshiba. A report Personalisation and Digital Technologies was authored by the Core Group Hannah Green (Demos) Keri Facer & Dr Tim Rudd (NESTA Futurelab) Prof Patrick Dillon (Exeter University) and Peter Humphreys (The Centre for Personalised Education-Personalised Education Now).


Declaration of
Learner’s Rights and Responsibilities.

1. As a learner I have the right to allow my own experience and enthusiasm to guide my learning

2. As a learner I have the right to choose and direct the nature and conditions of my learning experience. As a learner I am responsible for the results I create.

3. As a learner I have the right to perfect the skills to be a conscious, self confident and resourceful individual.

4. As a learner I have the right to be held in respect. It is my responsibility to hold others in respect.

5. As a learner I have the right to a nurturing and supportive family and community. My family and community have the right and responsibility to be my primary resource.

6. As a learner I have the right and responsibility to enter into relationships based on mutual choice, collaborative effort, challenge and mutual gain.

7. As a learner I have the right to be exposed to a diverse array of ideas, experiences, environments, and possibilities. This exposure is the responsibility of myself, my parents and my mentors.

8. As a learner I have the right to evaluate my learning according to my own sensibilities. I have the right to request and the responsibility to include the evaluations of my mentors.

9. As a learner I have the right to co-create decisions that involve and concern me.

10. As a learner I have the right and responsibility to openly consider and respect the ideas of others, whether or not I accept these ideas.

11. As a learner I have the right to enter a learning organization which offers, spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical support, and operates in an open and inclusive manner.

12. As a learner I have the right of equal access to resources, information and funding.

This document was created by a group of individuals (ages 15-17) Serena Staples, Gregory Dean, Ilana Cameron, David Muncaster, Jesse Blum and Sarah Partridge, with the help of Brent Cameron and other Wondertree mentors
© 1995 All Rights Reserved Wondertree Foundation for Natural Learning, Box 74560, Kitsilano PO, Vancouver, BC V6K 4P4


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