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Narrative Theory

Narrative Learning

Towards a Theory of Narrative Learning

At its best narrative learning provides a suitable model for learning through the life-course, for the development of a nuanced and flexible response to the challenges and changes which life brings. Strategies to facilitate narrative learning are currently unexplored and hence underdeveloped. To explore its potential will require an urgent and overdue examination for new learning resources and new learning environments. For all those interested in education as a route to self development and social purpose narrative learning would seem to offer a promising gateway.

Whilst we have not interrogated the social pattern of narrative learning we are aware of the different social contexts in which such learning is embedded. Like other forms of learning people are differentially resourced and located with regard to narrative learning. What we have shown is that narrative learning goes on in the lives of people, is significant for them, and can be an important vehicle for personal agency and identity construction. In this regard we not only present a new way to understand learning, but through this are able to identify learning processes that are highly significant for individuals and the ways they act in society. Narrative learning is a way to understand learning that instead of dealing with the acquisition of externally prescribed content (such as a defined curriculum) explores the learning which is involved in the construction and ongoing maintenance of stories about one’s life. Our case studies indicate that a substantial number of people spend time rehearsing and recounting their life story in a way that is a highly significant part of their actions and agency. Narratives and narration reveal themselves as potentially important tools and sites of learning with substantial implications for subsequent action. Since people themselves are engaged in the construction of the narrative there is not the problem that so often troubles learning in relation to externally prescribed curricula, i.e., that of ensuring engagement. Narrative learning seeks to shift the focus to an area where from the beginning there is engagement and motivation in place.

The Learning Lives project started trying to understand learning from a different position to that which is normally taken. We started by asking people about their life histories and began to focus down on the main learning incidents in their life. Significantly for many people this did not involve externally mandated curriculum but grew from internally generated narrative activity. Often people are engaged in what we have called ‘an interior conversation’ where they work out their position on things; define courses of action; create stories and life missions. We take this as an important part of a person’s map of learning and way of understanding of how they act in the world. There is, however, a danger involved in making such processes – which first and foremost are personal processes that have meaning for individuals in the ways in which they make sense of self and life – visible. The danger is that what starts out as something that is personally significant becomes colonized by educational, economic and social systems. While in this book we have tried to indicate how learning through narrative and narration ‘works’ and how it can be significant for some individuals in the ways in which they live their lives, we have not only emphasized that narrative learning is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for leading a happy and rewarding life; we also wish to emphasize that the very thing that should not happen on the basis of our exploration of narrative learning is to demand from individuals – either within school contexts or as so-called ‘lifelong learners’ – that they engage in narrative learning or become ‘narrative learners.’ Narrative learning is a highly personal form of learning. It is one that people can decide to engage in more explicitly or not, but it is not something that can or should be demanded from anyone, nor should it be seen as a panacea for the problems that educational institutions are currently faced with. Narrative learning belongs to the domain in which, as Carl Rogers (Carl Rogers, 1969) has put it, individuals have a freedom to learn. Narrative learning provides one avenue through which people can pursue this freedom to learn in a rigorous and vigorous manner throughout their life course.

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Narrative Learning
  • Date of publication: 24/02/2010
  • Number of pages (as Word doc): 140
  • Publisher: Routledge
  • Co-author: Goodson, I. F., Biesta, G., Tedder, M., & Adair, N.
  • Subject:
    Narrative Theory
  • Available in:
  • Appears in:
    Narrative Learning
  • Number of editions: 1
  • Paperback
  • Price of book: £24.99
  • ISBN: 978-0-415-48894-5
  • E-book
  • Price of e-book: £20.18
  • E-book ISBN: 978-0-203-85688-8
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