Professor Stephen Billett
What we can learn about learning before there was mass education
Presenter: Professor Stephen Billett, Education and Professional Studies
Living in schooled societies where education is compulsory and ubiquitous, can make it difficult to realise that across most of learning across human history, and probably individual lives arises without educational provisions and direct teaching. Indeed, across the vast majority of human history, educational provisions were only for a tiny minority of privileged individuals. Teaching, as we know, has only existed for a couple of hundred years. So, given that the many developments, innovations and contributions that have arisen across human history have not been restricted to school societies and the era of teaching raises questions about how that learning has arisen and what lessons does this offer for contemporary times, and, for instance, the lifelong learning agenda or the role of educational institutions and that of educators.
Drawing upon a current research project which examines the development of occupational capacities across cultures and history, it has been noted that the development largely occurred through individuals learning, rather than being taught. Indeed, the onus for, impetus by and process through which that learning occurred was and is personally-mediated. Processes of mimesis (observation, imitation and practice) are probably the key mechanisms that have been deployed by humans across the history. In essence, that learning has arisen through an interdependence between the person and the circumstances in which they engage, but only rarely supported directly (as in teaching) by a more expert counterpart.
Dr Stephen Billett is Professor of Adult and Vocational Education in the School of Education and Professional Studies at Griffith University, and an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow. He has worked as a vocational educator, educational administrator, teacher educator, professional development practitioner and policy developer in the Australian vocational education system and as a teacher and researcher at Griffith University. A Fulbright Professional Scholar in 1999, he had an Associate Teaching Fellowship of the Carrick Institute on student agency in 2008, he was awarded a 2009-2010 Australian Learning and Teaching Council National Teaching Fellowship to identify principles and practices to effectively integrate learning experiences in practice and academic settings. Since 2011, he has held an ARC Future Fellowship on learning through practice.
In 2013, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Jyvasksla University (Finland) for his contributions to educational science and in 2015 elected Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences of Australia.
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