One quite popular model of lifelong learning activity these days is one we could call the ‘pool-together’ model. It is not insititution-based, but may well have originated through a formal set-up. Essentially, a group of individuals each pay a little each time and their money covers the cost of a venue and a tutor. This informal model is usually arrived at through mutual consent and goodwill, co-operation and generally good relationships between those immediately involved, with either the tutor or one of the participants usually taking a role of co-ordinator. However, the model is low-overhead and low-resource, with all participants within easy contact with each other through a chain of contact.
Some discrete advantages of this model are:
- Regular activity achieved at a minimum cost with direct costs split between participants and diverted straight to tutor and venue
- Mutual activity through a social grouping, enhanced by a popular tutor’s influence
- No pressures of obligations to institution
- Venue is usually a community facility convenient for the group
- It can develop purely through word of mouth without costly marketing
- Group size is influenced by circumstances
- Social structure is based solely upon a mutual interest and underpins the whole group
- Seen as an on-going activity, rather than an isolated, time-limited course
Some possible disadvantages are:
- Centres around an established cohort of people, so might not be ‘open’ to newcomers
- Tutor rate may be low as it is a mutual agreement ‘through friends’
- Individuals who miss a session do not usually pay, so costs may not always be covered
- Maintenance of good relationships depends upon the tutor’s professionalism and skill
- Group size is limited to the circle of friends of those involved
- Venue hire costs have to be covered before tutor is paid, so group size is important
Often, this kind of model takes advantage of its simplicity to last a long time, since it is based upon people who have the desire to be involved. It represents a workable solution when either there is no local alternative or as a useful addition to what else is available.
Art is a popular discipline for this kind of model. Each participant brings their own equipment (which anyone serious about doing are will gradually acquire anyway) and pays a proportion of the direct costs (usually just a small amount). There is no wish for accreditation or onerous curriculum scheme or work, but the tutor is relied upon to guide the individuals in the group through the activities. Worries about quality are not so much of an issue, since people will probably vote with their feet if it is not any good. A skilled tutor will know this and will use their talents to ensure sessions are stimulating, progression is built in and, because their little bit of income comes directly from those attending, will adjust to suit feelings and aspirations of the students.
Some criticism for this model comes from the ‘closed’ nature of such groups, where it might not be easy to find out about them and to join as a new member. However, this is arguably true of any setup, and over emphasis on inclusion policies and a utopian spirit of pretending everybody is catered for is perhaps unrealistic. What is important is that this kind of engagement makes it possible for people to organise things themselves, without needing to rely upon organisations. Done in the right way, with the right tutor and the right co-ordinator, they can be extremely successful and are especially popular with older adults, who have the time to get organised and to keep things going. Sadly, this kind of activity is not likely to bring a great income in for a tutor, but it does illustrate the basic framework and economic skeleton required for some kind of formal learning outside of the established system. If we consider its advantages to the people involved and its contribution to the community and society, we can establish a clearer picture of what small things can be achieved with minimal resources.