In at the deep end with informal learning: the Musical Future?

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Lack of pupil interest in secondary school music lessons remains a contemporary problem. This is something that I have frequently encountered throughout my own musical journey as both a student and practitioner. A model of education that enables students to learn informally can be seen as a potential solution to this problem.

Informal learning is often presented as a contrast to formal learning, although the concept can be viewed as problematic as a variety of definitions exist. Informal and formal learning are sometimes explained as concepts on a continuum, which students flip between within a variety of informal, non-formal and formal educational settings. Informal learning can be understood as being a product of dialogical or conversational education occurring within a community, when no explicit intended learning outcome has been set. In practice, this idea of informal learning has the potential to inspire teachers to explore innovative pedagogical approaches and become facilitators of informal learning within their formal classroom environments. The use of this approach is being explored in various subject areas, including music.

One prominent example of informal learning in music is based upon Professor Lucy Green’s pioneering research. Green’s (2008) study of how popular musicians learn outside of the classroom enabled her to develop a pedagogic model consisting of five guiding principles:

• Students choose the music they wish to learn
• Musical recordings are copied by ear
• Students can work in their friendship groups
• Learning occurs in a haphazard way
• Listening, performing, improvising and composing are deeply integrated

The role of the teacher is to establish ground rules, set the task, and facilitate. The first stage of Green’s model is entitled ‘in at the deep end’, where students are required to emulate the real-life practices of popular musicians as closely as possible. Authenticity, pupil autonomy and accessibility are values that permeate throughout Green’s literature. A music education initiative that funded Green’s research, adopted the model as a pathfinder programme, and has continued to advocate the pedagogy is Musical Futures. Established and funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation in 2003, the vision of the project was to engage eleven to nineteen year olds in musical activities and encourage innovative practice and policy making. Musical Futures reports impressive positive impact, and the ethos of the project aligns well with contemporary efforts to remove the disconnect between in-school music and out-of-school music.

Although there is considerable discussion of informal learning within the music education literature, in-depth understanding of how the approach is actually experienced by teachers and students remains limited. Literature has raised tensions and issues which could threaten the future success and impact of informal learning in music education if not further examined and understood. This presentation will explore a selection of informal learning theories, as well as discuss some of the potential challenges that practitioners may face when implementing the approach within the formal school environment.

GREEN, L., 2008. Music, informal learning and the school: a new classroom pedagogy. Ashgate: Aldershot.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jul 2016
EventAnnual Conference for Research In Education (ACRE) - Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, United Kingdom
Duration: 12 Jul 201613 Jul 2016


ConferenceAnnual Conference for Research In Education (ACRE)
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • music


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