March 20, 2016

Hello, my name is Phillip and I don’t teach, I help people to learn – so if you feel you don’t want to learn now, go home and come back when you’re ready. See the explanation of Extrinsic, and Intrinsic, Motivation at the end of this lesson.

Get into groups of three or four and help each other to answer the following questions:

  1. What are your short term, and long term, aims in life?
  2. What do you need to learn to achieve these aims?
  3. Is there a particular order you need, or would wish, to learn these things in?
  4. Are there things in your list which you find easier, and more difficult, to learn?
  5. Are there means of learning which you find more adapted to your personality and habits?
  6. Are there other things that need to be taken into account?

– Now, discuss your responses with all the other groups and together as a class.

–After this discussion, see if you wish to regroup (always 3-4):

Are there others who share your aims? Who have strengths where you are less strong? With who you have things in common or who make an interesting contrast?

–Now, with your group, make a map of the learning journey you are about to make: try to imagine the order of your exploration and to estimate the amount of time you will require for each ‘visit’.

– I will discuss the plan with each group individually and then present my general comments to you. I am going to be your guide, travelling with you and providing new sources when needed, answering your questions and carrying you when you get tired!

– Your homework will be to create a Facebook group for your group, and to include me in it! Also to map out your first journey, estimate the time that it will take and research the available material for mastering it and planning the order of the paths.

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation

School is often about passing tests or getting good grades so that one can move on to the next stage; this is called ‘extrinsic motivation’. However, much research has shown that the best results are achieved from ‘intrinsic motivation: you are really good at snowboarding: because you really love it! I have a former student who has won prizes for her animations because she had a real passion for these. Also successful filmmakers and a couple that married and started their own successful business; she was a graphic designer and he more a technical computer programmer. When I went to art school, it was the period of manifestos and I arrived at school with one along with my pan for the three years learning – the teachers said “ok”, and left me free to follow my own program. In the end I got the best degree of the whole school, with a special commendation – because I was completely intrinsically motivated.

itscool résumé

November 15, 2015

My project ‘its cool!’ is about replacing control with structure in education: based on research into values, the positive effect of autonomy on intrinsic motivation and the vital importance of social networks and connectedness in schooling.

In the last hundred years over 900 studies have shown that people learn best in situations of collaborative learning without the external control system of the traditional school that diminishes motivation.

If the evidence is so overwhelming, why is the method not more generally put into practice? Because school is not about education as I understand it: that is to develop autonomous free-thinking, questioning individuals, but rather to socialize individuals to accept their place within an existing system and to uphold the status quo.

The free access to unlimited information and social networks on the Web creates an opportunity to put in place a system where students become the central dynamic force, responsible for their own learning and power and control is replaced by a facilitating structure.

Dewey wrote that “there is no game without rules”. However those rules are those that allow the game to be played and are observed out of mutual respect and cooperation of the players.

He also wrote that “freedom is the operation of intelligent observation and judgment by which purpose is developed”; if the removal of a control system to which students have been accustomed throughout their schooling leads to them being dictated by their immediate whims and caprices, then they just fall into another dangerous form of external control.

Thus the emphasis of my system is on the harnessing of personal motivation, the power of collaborative learning and the potential of learning provided by the Web while providing the structure necessary for efficient advancement and putting emphasis on the development of the thinking skills necessary for developing the judgment and self-control that Dewey defined as the central necessities of learning.

The present system makes students the passive receptors of spoon-fed information, rather than the planners of menus and cooks. If ceasing to spoon-feed them only results in them eating McDonalds every day, then they are no better off; they have to be able to judge what is a healthy and varied diet and learn to prepare and digest the food.

To quote one of my students:

“I would like to encourage this approach because it is like a real group project in a real situation and we learned more in a week than we usually learn in a month”.

Something Important

September 27, 2015

My new book, ‘Something Important’ is available on my web site in the project / ‘its cool’ section:

“The single most important thing we can do is educate our children well…”

“I’m sorry I missed your class last week sir; I had something important to do.”  One of my students.


March 18, 2014

The role of a teacher might be compared with that of the conductor of an orchestra; one is not playing all the instruments but one has to create an energy, a harmony and keep the appropriate rhythm moving forward. Creating the ambiance within which each may give of his best, creating harmony between sections of the orchestra, allowing the creativity of each member while keeping the whole on course with an overall vision of the work in progress.

The balance of guidance to personal liberty is an ongoing central discourse to education and management. There is much research that indicates the best work comes from conditions of autonomy and collaboration yet mostly conditions are put in place that emphasize control and individuality.

Without structure there is no symphony; each playing alone in the corner without clear goal and with the ever increasing distraction of the telephone and computer, perhaps not even picking up the instrument.

Creating inspiration and motivation and a dynamic of energy is central to the success of a class while keeping a clear vision of where we are going alive in the class. Creating a rhythm and changing the tempo with the energy of the class and to give variety and interest that helps the class to advance. Also creating links associations that allow different instruments play together in harmony and invent their own interaction that adds richness to the orchestration.

The Use of Roads…

February 22, 2014

It seems to me that these observations about Typography by Robert Bringhurst could equally be applied to learning, and school, in general: the necessary balance between freedom an structure: rules and freedom:

“When all right-thinking human beings are struggling to remember that other men and women are free to be different, and free to become more different still, how can one honestly write a rulebook? What reason and authority exist for those commandments, suggestions and instructions? Surely typographers, like others, ought to be at liberty to follow or to blaze the trails they choose.

Typography thrives as a shared concern – and there are no paths at all w here there are no shared desires and directions. A typographer determined to forge new routes must move, like other solitary travellers, through uninhabited country and against the grain of the land, crossing common thoroughfares in the silence before dawn. The subject of this book is not typographic solitude, but the old, well-travelled roads at the core of the tradition: paths that each of us is free to follow or not, and to enter and leave when we choose – if only we know the paths are there and have a sense of where they lead. That freedom is denied us if the tradition is concealed or left for dead. Originality is everywhere, but much originality is blocked if the way back to earlier discoveries is cut or overgrown.

If you use this book as a guide, by all means leave the road when you wish. That is precisely the use of a road: to reach individually chosen points of departure. By all means break the rules, and break them beautifully, deliberately and well. That is one of the ends for which they exist.”

The Elements of Typographic Style, Robert Bringhurst

Thus the delicate balance between structured guidance and autonomy; not mindless copying and passive acceptance, but the creative application of fundamental principles with intelligent reference to what has already been achieved through the history of man. Rules should not be there to control, but to help develop the intellectual the tools to achieve freedom.

To evolve…

January 20, 2014

Teaching used to be about transferring facts and techniques. In our modern world all this information is available online. However, information is not understanding, which requires structure and the building of relations between information: what becomes essential is your ability to use this information intelligently, your capacity to organize, collaborate and to think and articulate clearly for yourselves. Autonomy arises when you take yourself in hand, fix your goals and apply self-discipline and rigor: to not be manipulated by outside pressure, whether that be the power system within which you live or the social pressure to comply to certain norms. Think things through yourself and do not fall into the passivity of the seductive simplicity of formula.

To evolve you must understand the limitations of your, and everyone’s, perception that exists within a context of time, place and culture: the aim is not to judge, but to understand, and respect, different viewpoints: be able to compare realities and grow.

The aim of this course…

December 17, 2013

The aim of this course is to develop in you real thinking skills, to be able to pass “the huge wall of ‘that is how it is’”: to see beyond the limitation of self and the domination of our own ego, which would reduce the world to that limitation, and understand the relative nature of all perception so that we might replace judgement with understanding and respect:

 “The wise man knows he does not know: the fool does not know he does not know”.

Lao Tsu

This you cannot achieve unless you are able to clearly articulate what you, and others, think and the information, context and relations that give rise to it.

Creativity is the ability to see differently and play with ideas, not fix them.

The schooling system does not encourage this: it requires ‘the right answer’ and judges this, not the process of thinking, and judges the work against norms; yet truly innovative work questions, and breaks, rules and norms.

The digital world is changing the nature of thinking and knowing, yet to see this you need to be able to enter into other worlds and perceptions through a sensitive and open exploration of art and literature. Without this knowledge we remain blind to who, what and why we are, trapped in this instance of time and allowing the egotistical stupidity of domination, power and control for individualistic gratification and momentary celebrity to continue to destroy us. The biggest danger arises from those who think they have the answer.

Collaborative Learning

October 1, 2012

Today I took a class, who are usually glued to their computer screen, into a room without computers. I got them to form groups of four, each with complementary skills and launched them on developing ideas for a project with paper and pencils.

I am really impressed by the change in dynamic this brings about: they are all absorbed and productive. Usually they are isolated before their screens: caught between the work in hand and Facebook and Utube and online games. Here they are engaged. Collaborative learning really works!

Learning is not linear

July 5, 2012

There are three simple and central truths at the centre of learning:

“We have to shake off the ancient tyranny of two misconceptions about education; that what is taught is learned, and what is not taught is not learned.”

Daniel Federman

“Learning is not linear.”

Neil Postman

 You cannot teach something that a student does not want to learn and that the moment that a subject becomes necessary or interesting, or both, we learn amazingly fast. Being interested; understanding, means finding a connection; a spark, a link between our own notion of what the world is and what we are experiencing. If we do not find that link we have no motivation and become bored.  It is a simple truth: education means to lead out, not to stuff in.

Phillip Pulfrey

The fact that these realities are not taken into account by the educational system lead to the conclusion that, like the economic system, it is not about human good, but the control of resources by a limited minority that sell slavery as freedom and a specific vision as the only workable paradigm.

To the CM 410

April 26, 2012

The idea of my courses is to render you free; so you work for yourselves, not the teacher or the grade. So that you do not rest passive before the system but become independent, questioning and creative.

This requires a lot of work: more engagement and discipline. You have to be exigent with yourself. You have to be organized., rigorous and target your own aims, that will send you further and higher than those of the school system.

Always have an eye on yourself: look at your habits; where you are efficient and where you waste time or are not precise in your work or thinking. What you have mastered and what you need to learn.

I always have the impression that you are good, motivated and engaged, but that there is a lack of discipline and efficiency in many of you.

To be really good, and satisfied, you have to work on this level.

Go for it: fly!