How the idea of Life-Based Learning came about

My name is Michael Mac and I am the creator/author of the life-based approach to learning. Thank you for showing an interest in the concept of Life-Based Learning.

The curriculum adopted in most countries consists of a number of subjects to be learned. Mastery of these leads to the individual contributing to society in various types of employment usually highly dependent on qualifications obtained and experience gained.

However, there are many urgent challenges to individuals, society and the environment which are not being dealt with by this subject-based approach to learning.

This systemic failing led me to pose the question:

What if curriculum content was organised not as a collection of subjects to be taught, such as English, mathematics, science, history and so on, but organised to teach children about life?

I researched various learning theories in education, easily accessible through internet search. Their focus is on how children learn, not on what to learn. I found examples of different approaches influencing what to learn, such as Forest Schools (nature-based communities), Montessori (order and structure a key component), or the IB Primary Years Programme (six subjects and six transdisciplinary themes). Whilst there are attractive elements to these different systems of education, they did not for me provide the focus I was looking for.

To provide the focus, the solution was quite simple in the end: teach all subjects through a more developed understanding of personal, social and environmental education.

Why take this approach? Because a more fully developed understanding of PSEE encompasses what a human being’s life is about.

A person’s life consists of the person as an individual, the person interacting with other people and the person living on the physical, material planet

Michael Mac

This description of the person’s life provided me with the three interconnected life areas around which a curriculum might be constructed:

  1. The individual (SELF)
  2. Other people (SOCIETY)
  3. The world around us (WORLD)

A learning framework emerges

It took a while to ensure the learning framework would indeed cover each life area comprehensively.

I propose the following learning framework, with its nine learning themes, comprehensively covering all aspects of what a human being’s life is about.

The concept of Life-Based Learning still involves children learning the content of traditional subjects. However, they learn the content through the above nine themes. This approach brings greater meaning to children’s learning. It uses the subject content to develop knowledge, skills and attitudes that help children to look after themselves better, to improve relationships and community participation and to live more sustainable lives.

The final test was to see if an existing subject-based curriculum model could be accommodated within my alternative life-based model. I rearranged the content of the national curriculum in England, the curriculum with which I am most familiar.

The subjects of the national curriculum in England are English, mathematics, science, design and technology, history, geography, art and design, music, physical education, computing, a foreign language and PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education).

I found that the national curriculum in England is comprehensively accommodated by the life-based approach, but that life-based learning opened up important additional learning material.

When the national curriculum content is reconstituted to provide a life-based focus to learning, it opens up the curriculum to new thinking, knowledge, skills, attitudes, values and perspectives for young children to learn in crucially important and exciting ways.

Michael MaC

This is why I have created the Forum for Life-Based Learning. My aim is to enable others who are concerned about our children’s future to express their interest by joining the Forum and sharing in the development and progress of life-based learning.

Michael Mac
Creator, Life-Based Learning

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