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working with process

The idea of 'working with'. Exploring education as process and product. Support page for chapter 5 of Informal Education
working with
education as product
the process of informal education
parker j palmer: community, knowing and spirituality in education


Here we explore three aspects:

working with - the idea that we have to work with, rather than on, people.

education as product - looking to the outcome of the work and what this means for curriculum construction.

the process of informal education - informal education is driven by conversation. But what does this mean?

Check out the Informal Education forum and discussion page.

Some questions to consider

At the end of the chapter we give you some questions to think about - and we want to look briefly at each.

1. There will probably be aspects of your work that are more product oriented, others process oriented. Review your work - see what fits where.

2. Are there particular reasons or pressures that these pieces of work are oriented the way they are?

3. Are there changes that you want to make?

These three questions belong together. We would expect informal educators to be more process-oriented. Our belief in conversation and to working with people means that we can have difficulties with product approaches. This is because they involve starting out with a fixed idea of the changes that we want to achieve in another person. What is more, looking to product can lead us to organize and control the environment in a way that does not allow much room for participants to bring their interests and issues into play.

Yet, if we look informal education programmes, we can find lots of examples of product approaches. We can see it, for example, in the way schemes like the Duke of Edinburgh's Award have been set out; or the use of competencies (i.e. statements of the skills they expect people to gain). Why has this happened?

The first thing to say is that the product way of looking at things has become so much a part of commercial and industrial life that we tend to take it for granted. We can easily take it on without thinking.

Second, the product approach with its stress on clear objectives and step by step organization makes less demand on educators. The process approach involves us in making tricky decisions on our feet as to how we want to proceed. Mediocre educators are more likely to go 'wrong' in such approaches.

Third, it has to be said that there are times when it is helpful to use a product approach. Where we need to gain specific skills, for example, in relation to first aid, it may be right to organize our work around their achievement.

So do you have the right balance? Part of the issue here may be to do with the way in which you enter conversations. Do you regularly begin with a fixed idea of what you want to achieve? If you do then there is a need for some reflection.

Another aspect is how you organize the more formal parts of your work. Which of the curriculum approaches do you use?


Take a particular piece of formal work that you want or need to plan.

First, try planning it according to the seven stages listed in Figure 5.2.

diagnose need - what is the problem that you want to address?

set objectives - what is it you want to achieve. Remember an objective involves a clear statement of the change to be achieved, and a timescale for its completion.

select content - what areas do you want to cover.

organize content - is there a good order to tackle things in? Here it is important to think of the learners' experience. What is the best way of tackling things so that they may learn?

selection of learning experiences - what activities, exercises, inputs are needed?

organize learning experiences - looking at the content, your objectives and the activities you want to use, is there a sound order? Is there anything you need to book, plan or set up?

agree and organize evaluation - how are you going to make judgements about outcomes?

Second, approach it as a process. This involves thinking about:

aim. Remember here that aims are broader than objectives - they concern the purpose or direction of the work rather than specific changes to be achieved.

planning principles. This involves looking at many of the things we have already listed above - how content is be selected; how is learning to be facilitated; and what order should things be taken in. However, rather than focus on outcome, think about process. How may you help to create environments that foster conversation and that connect with the aim?

principles concerning process and evaluation. How is participants' progress is to be assessed; how is our development as educators to evaluated; how are we to make judgements about process?


© Tony Jeffs and Mark K. Smith
First published August 7, 1997.