Integrated Learning

Abstract: Integrated Learning rejects the government-imposed separation of education from work, travel, leisure, housekeeping and other daily-life activities. By isolating children from society, school destroys essential ingredients for learning, such as building up practical experience, developing interest in matters from personal preferences and having an open-minded, creative and independent personality. School mainly concentrates on routines taught by repetition and imitation, on memorizing 'facts', and on keeping discipline.

This article argues that learning should not be seen as something that occurs at school and is supervised by a teacher. Instead, learning should be regarded as an integral part of daily life. School cannot match the rewards, satisfaction, intensity, pleasure and experience that daily-life situations can offer in regard to learning. Integrated Learning promotes learning by choice, recognizing that interest and a desire to learn precede understanding. Integrated Learning integrates education with practice in a pleasant way, i.e. not by imposing a disciplinary "master-slave" relation, but by offering options, from the perspective that the values of the future will be characterized by concepts such as improvisation, creativity, versatility and optionality.

A. Student to teacher ratios

School is not the best environment to learn, as has been described in many articles that have appeared in earlier issues of this magazine. At school, a teacher typically has to address a great number of children simultaneously, while there are many distractions taking place in the classroom. School expects children to behave uniformly and they are disciplined accordingly, but learning is much more an individual than a social experience.

Some schools have more respect for the individual. At Montessori schools, each child is given some individual attention and children can proceed at different speeds for different subjects; but they are often kept occupied with writing or maths exercises. And when the teacher later corrects any mistakes, the focus is on spelling mistakes and calculation errors; by that time, the child is less involved in any earlier problems and does not ask for explanations.

High student to teacher ratios make that schoolteachers resort to methods aimed more at keeping children quiet, than at learning. Typical exercises are colouring in, reading from the blackboard, dictation and mental arithmetic. Typical tests are filling in names of capital cities and countries on a blank world map and quoting years in which historical battles took place. Children have to learn all kinds of silly facts by heart.

Learning all such facts by heart is of little use to children in their later life. It is simply a gigantic waste of their talents. Most facts can easily be found in books, so why bother to learn them by heart? Today, there are pocket calculators, pocket translators, etc; notebook computers can come complete with spelling checkers, grammatical software and a built-in printer. There are encyclopedias on CD-ROM. Who needs school?

B. Schools that are different

There are schools with a somewhat different approach, such as international schools where children are taught in different languages. There are also schools that have lower student to teacher ratios, mostly schools for children with special needs, such as autism, dyslexia, physical disabilities and behavioural problems. But, generally, all these schools stick to the same curriculum as other schools, they all put subjects such as reading, writing and arithmetic on a pedestal.

There are a few exceptions, where schools are different in what they present to children. The most notable ones are the Rudolf Steiner or Waldorf schools, that believe children can tap into a universal source to develop their talents, without having to receive facts and instructions from teachers. And there are the so-called 'free schools', where children vote to decide how the school is run and where children have a great amount of freedom to choose what to do.

C. All Schools are artificial

The problem with any school is, however, that children are put in an environment that is not conducive to learning. Schools are more into child-minding than into learning. The sheer number of children makes it hard for anyone to concentrate on any problem. Thinking things over, considering alternatives and imagining solutions, these are all processes that require a degree of privacy that school does not provide. Contemplation is ruled out by the constant presence of children who make noisy sounds, music, wild movements and other distractions.

Schools do not offer children many incentives to learn, there is not much of a reward for excellence in school. The subject matter offered by school is not much fun either, children would rather watch TV if given a choice. But most of all, subject matter presented at school is separated from objects and situations they refer to. Teachers may talk about science, nature and social skills, but school is an artificial, sterile environment, isolated from daily life.

D. Learning in daily life

It is much easier for children to develop an understanding of size, length, shape, etc, when they are practically and physically involved. Children love to do all kinds of things in the company of their parents. There are many examples of situations in daily life from which children can learn if they are given the opportunity.

Making a pie is a good example; let children find a recipe and let them buy the ingredients and learn about nutritional values, prices, paying procedures, barcodes, etc. Let them measure volumes and weights and set the oven temperature. And finally, let them cut the pie in equal parts.

As another example, let children decide where to eat, tell them to make inquiries over the phone using the streetmap and phone directory first and let them find out how to get there; let them order food and pay in a restaurant. If the children are worried they'll miss out on their favorite TV-programs when eating out, give children their own video-casettes to record such programs. When programming a VCR they will learn about calendars and clocks. There are numerous other examples.

E. Learning outside School

With Integrated Learning, learning is an integral part of daily life activities. One encounters many situations during the day, each of which may pose different challenges. If one is instructed by a parent or teacher how to tackle each situation, one does not learn, one imitates. In order to learn and really understand the situation, one must first struggle with the problems, try out various options to see which ones work better than others and get a grip on the situation. If one really gets stuck, one can always ask for assistance from someone else; but it gives much more satisfaction, if one can come up with solutions oneself.

There are various methods for homeschooling, such as correspondence school, personal tutoring and ACE (Accellerated Christian Education), but they generally stick to the traditional teaching model of giving children verbal instructions and checking exercises and tests created by teachers.

One method that is radically different is the so-called natural learning method, as developed by John Holt and others. Natural learning believes that children do not need such traditional tuition, but that in time children naturally develop the necessary abilities. Even if children do not spend any time on reading, writing or arithmetic until they are say twelve-years-old, natural learning argues that children at that age can develop literacy and numeracy abilities very quickly and even surpass those who have been taught such subjects from early childhood.

Natural learning believes that children should not be pushed into subjects they are not yet ready for. Much of the theory behind natural learning comes from the psychologist Fiaget, who argued that children grow up in specific stages and that children are not ready for specific tasks if they have not yet reached a given stage in their development. Natural learning has many good aspects, but one problem is that children do not tend to learn much if they are not given anything to do. When left on their own, children may develop good skills in riding bicycles or climbing trees, but they do not encounter many situations in which they learn anything new.

F. Integrated Learning

The problem of today's society is that children have few opportunities to learn, as they are not allowed to work. The best way to learn is by practical experience; earning income in the process can give one the incentive to make an extra effort. In a work situation, one encounters many problems, one more challenging than the other, but nevertheless, one has to cope with them. That is when learning takes place. One has not only the financial incentive to do a good job. One also fulfills a real demand, which gives even more satisfaction if one likes the work and is good at it. If one gets sufficient freedom to decide how to do the job, one also gets the intrinsic incentive to outdo oneself, by finding a method to do the job faster, more efficiently or qualitatively better.

Many believe that work is the opposite of fun and pleasure. But the distinction between work and leisure activities is one that is created by the Government, that has enslaved large parts of society. Work itself can be a pleasure and give more satisfaction, self-esteem and feelings of achievement than going on a holiday. An interesting phenomenon is that colleagues who go on holiday together often do not talk about anything else but work. This is nothing bad, such reflections on work while taking a break may lead to possible ways to improve the work situation. Integrated learning encourages the artificial boundaries between working, education and leisure activities to blur.

Boundaries between education and leisure activities are artificial and have been put in place by the Government to be able to control society more easily. At school, children are forced to listen to instructions by the teacher. They have to make exercises, even when they do not want to. They are told that, after school, they can do the things they enjoy. The result is that children regard learning as something that is the opposite of what they want to.

G. Learning should also be fun

This is also the problem in vocational training and in education following apprenticeship-models. There is a master-slave relationship between the boss and the child. The boss tells the child what to do and in return, the child gets a bit of money. It may give children practical experience and money, but what is lacking is fun. Children are told what to do, but cannot be creative, innovative or experiment.

Integrated learning rejects concepts such as education, work and leisure activities, because such concepts reflect the artificial distinctions that are enforced by the rule of law. Learning is not something that one does exclusively at educational institutions. Integrated learning says that one not only learns better in the prospect of rewards, but also when it is fun.

Note that fun has a special meaning at school. At school, the teacher who falls from the steps is funny. The unexpected spelling mistake that turns out to be a dirty word is funny. In that context, fun itself becomes a dirty word, as the kind of fun that schoolchildren are after is destructive - anything is funny that breaks the monotomy of school. By contrast, Integrated Learning gives pleasure because it is something one sets out to do. Because one wants to do something, one figures out ways to do it and one is pleased when that works.

Appendix: The Integrated Learning Foundation

The Integrated Learning Foundation was set up in 1994 by Quintessence to analyze, document and promote "Integrated Learning" as a method of learning. Integrated Learning does not separate education from leisure, work, travel, housekeeping and other daily-life activities. For more information, see the Integrated Learning group at MSN.

Names, logos and trademarks associated with Integrated Learning, the Integrated Learning Foundation and Optionality are each owned by their respective proprietors.

Editorial Postscript: The Integrated Learning Foundation stopped giving presentations and distributing articles in 1995, after a mixed reception. Some regarded the ILF as too radical. Some others found that the word learning was too much associated with school and the conventional education system, thus defying the idea of integration as the message behind the foundation.

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