Barefoot Learning

Ever since helping to run a drama club for juniors while at high school, learning has been my passion. I love learning and I love accompanying others as they learn. Ideas excite me and especially that sweet moment when the neurons of the brain have been connecting and suddenly it all falls into place – that “aha” moment.

So I have spent a happy working lifetime practising and studying learning in various contexts. On the way I have collected a basket of metaphors to explain what learning is all about.

Learning as liberation

Working with artists and activists from the ANC during the early 80s, I was introduced to the work of Paolo Freire and the concepts he articulated in Pedagogy of the oppressed. Today his practice is not without some justifiable criticism.

What impressed me then was the liberation of thinking from right or wrong answers (as defined by the powerful.)  In the process of acting, painting or relating their story, Black South Afrikans shared with us an emancipatory journey that used the process of learning to raise awareness and ultimately shape a new nation.

I have just got involved in a local community in El Salvador, where emancipatory learning has been a significant feature in the history of civil rights. Today community leaders have been talking about English and Computer studies as leading their children into wider opportunities. Does all learning have the potential to be liberating?

Learning as play

As a youth and children’s worker, it was easy to discover that we learn best through multi-sensory experiences and through rehearsing or simulating new practices. In effect we learn best though play. Most creative is free play, Montessori style, that presents stimuli and materials and lets each person respond in their own way. Playful learning is experimental, scientific if you like, forming and testing hypotheses rather than just memorising other’s results.

Learning as therapy

Through community education, social work and foster care, I unwittingly adopted my own simple practice of social pedagogy, where learning and care meet. Here is learning that happens in community, embodying a concern for the individual that enables both growth and healing. I experienced this myself as a survivor of abuse, in a peer community of survivors. Through our transformation project Survivors Voices we continue this practice of learning about what heals and through sharing our learning, progressing our own healing journeys.

So how can this help to understand learning? I began to look for a definition of learning, to study the documented best theories of learning but I realised that is the wrong quest. Like spirituality, it is more important to understand the practice of learning than to pin it down. So I have started using the metaphor of “barefoot learning” to try to narrate an understanding of the core of creative, transformative learning – what We Learn We Change is all about.

To me Barefoot learning is the process of transformation as new ideas and practices are assimilated and become fluent. It doesn’t rely on technology or gimmicks, or professionals or even intentions. It can happen anywhere, any time, and often especially when you don’t expect it.

What are your favourite images of learning? And what does Barefoot learning mean to you?

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