Exploring the potential of informal learning in music for primary education student teachers

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


This presentation will focus upon a small-scale study that sought to explore the potential of informal learning for student teachers in primary music education. Informal education can be understood as involving a learning situation which is ‘not sequenced beforehand’ and occurs during ‘self-chosen and voluntary activity’ (Folkestad, 2006: 141). Underpinned by the ethos of informal education, Professor Lucy Green explored how popular musicians learnt in the informal realm (Green, 2002) and sought to apply her research-informed approach into school music lessons (Green, 2008). Literature on informal learning in music education argues that by adopting such an approach, increased pupil motivation, engagement and participation can result (Green, 2002, 2008). Thus, the researchers considered whether it might be beneficial for student teachers to have the opportunity to engage with informal learning during their university training to potentially facilitate the continuation of the approach in schools through the next generation of teachers. However, policy in the discipline area of music education is currently based upon more formal, ‘traditional’ approaches (for example, The Model Music Curriculum, Department for Education [2021], Research review series: Music, Ofsted [2021]) – arguably favouring Western Classical music and staff notation over informal education attributes. Thus, there is tension between an informal learning approach and the current age of pedagogic traditionalism.

An informal learning approach can be seen as a potential solution to some of the problems of school music often attributed to formal, traditional pedagogy in music education, for example, low pupil motivation and a lack of authenticity (Green, 2002). As an outcome of Green’s (ibid) study, Green developed five principles of informal learning. Green then applied the principles in 21 secondary schools in England, structured according to seven stages where at least one of these principles were present at any stage (Green, 2008). Much of the research which has explored this topic area has been conducted within secondary music education (for example, Hallam et al. [2008], Hallam, Creech and McQueen [2011]). Research on informal learning in the primary setting is limited, although Green did advocate for the approach to be adopted in primary settings. An abbreviated version of Green’s (2002, 2008) informal learning approach was utilised in this study (reasons for abbreviation included project manageability and also adaptation in reaction to perceived appropriateness for the context). Focus was placed upon pupil choice, autonomy and aural learning.

The aim of the small-scale study was to explore the perceived benefits of adopting an informal learning approach for student teachers in primary music education. To what extent the tensions between current education policy and an informal learning approach played out in this study was also of interest. To address such gaps in knowledge, a qualitative, interpretative methodological lens was adopted, drawing upon social constructionist ideas. Case study methodology was implemented to frame the approach to data collection, with the case being one small cohort of Year three student teachers who were studying on an Undergraduate Primary Education programme in a university in England, who had selected music as a minor specialist route. The study was organised into four stages:

Training session for student teachers (exploration of informal learning theory) led by the researchers.
Student teacher planning workshop (to develop an informal music teaching and learning episode for primary pupils, informed by an informal learning approach) facilitated by researchers.
Student teacher-run informal music teaching and learning episode in a local primary school.
Student teacher reflection upon informal learning pedagogy and its affordances for primary music education
Three methods of data collection were utilised to generate data for this project: observation and researcher reflections (stages one to three), student teacher reflective logs (stages two to three), and small-group semi-structured interviews (stage four). Data was analysed thematically.

Key findings of this study provide insight into how the student teachers perceived the informal learning approach, navigated their journey throughout the four stages of the project, and reflected upon the process. Potential affordances of the informal learning approach for primary music education will be highlighted, along with how the identified tensions between current education policy and an informal learning approach were played out in practice. Implications of this study for the implementation of an informal learning approach in both primary school music lessons and for student teachers studying in a Higher Education environment will be discussed. It is believed that this presentation will be of interest to researchers, practitioners and teacher educators both within the field of music and beyond, where similar tensions relating to policy and pedagogy remain unresolved.

DEPARTMENT FOR EDUCATION, 2021. The Model Music Curriculum [online]. Available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/974366/Model_Music_Curriculum_Full.pdf [Accessed 25 September 2021].
FOLKESTAD, G., 2006. Formal and informal learning situations or practices vs formal and informal ways of learning. British Journal of Music Education [online]. 23 (2), pp. 135-145. Available from: http://www.journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0265051706006887 [Accessed 3 November 2015].
GREEN, L., 2002. How popular musicians learn: a way ahead for music education. Ashgate: Aldershot.
GREEN, L., 2008. Music, informal learning and the school: a new classroom pedagogy. Ashgate: Aldershot.
HALLAM, S., CREECH, A. and MCQUEEN, H., 2011. Musical Futures: a case study investigation. Final report from Institute of Education University of London for the Paul Hamlyn Foundation [online]. Available from: http://www.musicalfutures.org/resource/institute-of-education-longitudinal-study-of-musical-futures [Accessed 16 September 2015].
HALLAM, S., CREECH, A., SANDFORD, C., RINTA, T. and SHAVE, K., 2008. Survey of Musical Futures. A report from Institute of Education University of London for the Paul Hamlyn Foundation [online]. Available from: http://www.musicalfutures.org/resource/institute-of-education-report-into-the-take-up-and-impact-of-musical-futures [Accessed 16 September 2015].
OFSTED, 2021. Research review series: Music [online]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/research-review-series-music/research-review-series-music [Accessed 25 September 2021].
Period8 Sept 2022
Event titleBERA
Event typeConference
LocationLiverpool, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational