The relationship between theory and its practical applications has been at the top of the education and training agenda for a decade or so. Traditionally, teachers have seen it as their job to teach learners how to apply theory, which they may well have learned in a very different context, either on the job, or in some practically contrived context which simulates aspects of the real world experience.

However, as this manual suggests, this may be to put the cart before the horse, since many, if not most, learners seem to benefit from being able to draw on their experience through opportunities for reflection and concept development, and to reapply to new experience what has become a much clearer understanding based on competence of which they can truly claim ownership. The suggestion is therefore that learners ought to be using practice in order to develop and test theory and not the other way round.

It is further suggested that most learners have a wealth of experience to draw on, which, however much lip-service is paid to it, tends to get sadly neglected even in the most carefully designed learning programmes. This is of course particularly true of adult learning programmes of all kinds, including staff development.

In the light of the current debate about the acquisition of competence in the workplace, this manual raises afresh some interesting questions about the merits of real versus simulated experience, and about the role of further education and training in the process of developing learners. It suggests a multitude of ways in which open-minded teachers can try out for themselves the merits of the experiential approach. It allows newcomers to the field to dip their big toes gently in the water, without feeling that a total conversion process is all that will achieve results. It allows teachers accustomed to a classroom and workshop context an opportunity to extend their practice little by little, so that they may begin to approach the perhaps new role of workplace tutor and assessor with confidence. It also offers some insight into the evaluation of such learning and testing processes, a topic likely to occupy educationalists considerably in the next few years.

The manual is likely to be of particular interest to staff developers and tutors in further education and training .

FEU will be interested to receive feedback from any colleges which decide to trial-test the contents.

It remains to express our thanks to the Birmingham Polytechnic EDU team who developed the manual with the able support of Graham Gibbs, whose capacity for creative thinking contributed substantially to the finished result.

Elizabeth Simpson
Development Officer, FEU

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Page created 10 January 2001