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Durham University

School of Education

Research Projects

Thinking about Learning: Learning to Learn in...,

A research project of the School of Education.

Background

The project led by Dr Kate Wall at Durham University included partners from the Research Centre for Learning and Teaching, Newcastle University (Dr Pam Woolner and Mr Carl Towler) and the Campaign for Learning and Northumberland and Lewisham Further Education Colleges.

It developed a network of practitioners all of whom used ‘Learning to Learn’ approaches to make the process of learning explicit. Teachers from diverse settings in two large general FE Colleges undertook enquiries supported by university researchers and demonstrated impact on learners’ attitudes and dispositions. There was also wider impact at college level including enhanced collaboration between colleges. A wider network was initiated through a nationwide series of dissemination events and online publication of the enquiries written by participants.

Funding

The project is funded by the following grant.

  • Thinking About Learning: Learning To Learn In Further Education (£2497.05 from Learning and Skills Improvement Service)

Aims

The Learning to Learn network includes practitioners from schools, Further Education colleges and Higher Education across England. It aimed to support participants in developing and evaluating pedagogic innovation, and facilitates critical reflection and strategic action to support effective learning. This project extended the Further Education sector element of this network and in particular provides for increased dissemination of the outcomes to the FE sector more generally.

The approach centred on understanding the process of learning and supporting practitioner enquiry in FE contexts. Classroom innovations, designed by the teacher, focus on making learning explicit and are written up as action research case studies to be shared within, and beyond, the teacher-researchers. This is a process of professional reflection where teachers aim to improve both their practice and the learner experience through investigation and acting upon the results.

The intention was to facilitate innovation and reflection on the part of individual FE teachers, through their participation in action research, supported by meetings with their peers and guidance from university researchers. It was anticipated that students would benefit from these teachers’ involvement with research both through participating in particular innovations but also through the subsequent development of an evidence base for learning approaches for post-16 settings. This second, broader but more powerful, aim depended on changing attitudes within the participating FE colleges and on disseminating findings and ideas to a wider audience. Overall, the approach taken is innovative in terms of sector practice since it brings together teachers from diverse curriculum areas across a college, established genuine collaborative links between FE colleges and emphasised the relationship between teaching practices and education research.

In conjunction with the Learning to Learn in School Phase 4 Project the project aims to:

  • To develop understanding of progression in learning to learn – knowledge, skills, dispositions and the development of learners’ autonomy
  • To investigate issues in both scaling up and sustaining Learning to Learn as a development approach in schools/ colleges (drawing FE colleges into the existing network of L2L schools)
  • To further understand the role of enquiry in teachers’ and students’ learning
  • To develop the role of an Higher Education Institution as a co-learner in this process and supporting schools/ colleges in networks
  • To look at the potential influence of the family and the community on the development of pupils as lifelong learners
  • To look at the relative importance of different learning to learn approaches in raising standards.
  • To investigate the potential of L2L approaches in raising achievement across the academic ability range, and in particular in inclusion and learner support.
  • To understand any differential impact on the learning of distinct groups of learners.

Methods

Sharing with school and HE colleagues involved in parallel research at Learning to Learn programme residential training sessions and INSET days, and at Steering Group meetings Development of a project website as part of the Campaign for Learning’s Learning to Learn site (at www.campaignforlearning.org.uk/learningtolearn), hosting project descriptions, case studies, information from dissemination events and video footage of participant staff from both Colleges describing their involvement in the project and its impact on them and their students.

Findings

Learning to Learn approaches to raising achievement, building learning skills and developing learner autonomy across the academic ability range were developed in two large general FE Colleges. The colleges are located in different parts of the country with clear differences in their situations and in some characteristics of their students. The practitioners involved were a mixture of colleagues who had been involved in previous L2L cycles and a number of new recruits. They were based in a range of different settings within each college:

Northumberland College

Lewisham College

Access and Education 

Early Years

Engineering 

Hair and Beauty 

Health, Access and Social Care

Essential skills

Teacher education

Construction

Foundation Skills

College Quality and Assessment

Learning Centre

Health and Social Care

Visual Arts

Most of the research projects undertaken were based on innovations aimed at particular cohorts of students, either pedagogical innovations or the development of student involvement and participation in learning. There was one project, conducted through the Quality department, which centred on the development of teacher learning and one of the projects extended an approach to reflection about learning which had previously been developed with college learning support staff.

Project findings have been shared in a range of ways, which have included:

DfE dissemination seminar to a range of policy makers: 9th June 2011

Sharing with school and HE colleagues involved in parallel research at Learning to Learn programme residential training sessions and INSET days, and at Steering Group meetings Development of a project website as part of the Campaign for Learning’s Learning to Learn site (at www.campaignforlearning.org.uk/learningtolearn), hosting project descriptions, case studies, information from dissemination events and video footage of participant staff from both Colleges describing their involvement in the project and its impact on them and their students.

Publications

Thomas, U., Tiplady, L. & Wall, K. (2013). Stories of Practitioner Enquiry: Using Narrative Interviews to explore Teachers' Perspectives of Learning to Learn. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education

Towler, C., Wooler, P. & Wall, K. (2011). Exploring Teachers' and Students' Conceptions of Learning in Two Further Education Colleges. Journal of Further and Higher Education 35(4): 501-520.

Wall, K. Hall, E., Baumfield, V. Higgins, S., Rafferty, V., Remedios, R. , Thomas, U., Tiplady, L. Towler, C. & Woolner, P. (2010). Learning to learn in schools phase 4 and Learning to learn in further education. Newcastle

Wall, K., Hall, E., Higgins, S., Leat, D., Thomas, U., Tiplady, L., Towle, C. & Woolner, P. (2009). Learning to Learn in Schools Phase 4 Year One Report. Campaign for Learning

Staff

From other departments

Related links