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Edge Hill University research explores informal learning in music education

December 7, 2022

Research conducted at Edge Hill University used classroom-based research methods to assess whether informal learning methods help or hinder music education.

Dr Anna Mariguddi’s research looked at informal learning in music education which is based on the practices of popular musicians. It focuses on student choice, working in friendship groups, and learning by ear.

Her findings suggest that informal learning offers many benefits to school music lessons, but can also create some tensions for schools and teachers.

A picture of Dr Anna Mariguddi.

Dr Mariguddi said: “Over the last 20 years, the Office for Standards, Education, Children’s Services and Skills have often reported a bleak picture of music education, suggesting poor motivation and behaviour in some lessons.”

“To combat some of the problems with music education, there was a large-scale attempt to implement the research-informed Informal Learning approach promoted by Musical Futures (ILMF). This approach is still adopted in many countries around the world, including Australia, Brazil, Cyprus, Canada and Singapore.”

Dr Mariguddi’s research was conducted in secondary schools in England where ILMF had been implemented and used for several years. 

“ILMF was suggested as a way of making learning more fun and, by giving pupils increased choice of genre and instruments to play, it gave them a deeper connection to what they were learning.

“However, some teachers encountered power struggles whilst striving for the utopia of freedom in more formal school contexts. Informal learning can seem more haphazard in comparison to more structured lessons.”

The problems presented by traditional music teaching methods are of international concern, with declining motivation to study music and reduction in competence levels evident in studies in eight countries. Informal learning has been used to address these issues with schools reporting many positive effects.

Dr Mariguddi explained: “Teachers I spoke to said that the ILMF is more focussed on the students themselves and what they enjoy doing. By giving them increased autonomy in their music education, it encouraged previously disinterested pupils to engage with music in the classroom, encouraging wider and increased participation.”

These positive results are not universal and, in some settings, the move to informal learning has caused tension.

“My research reveals tensions and issues showing informal learning as a problem magnifier for a minority of teachers in the research. While ILMF is understood as a revolution in music education, practitioners’ and students’ perceptions of ‘revolution’ can sometimes inspire fear rather than confidence. However, once this fear has been overcome, teachers reported positive impact.”

“I suggest that making teachers and educators aware of the tensions and issues present in ILMF has the potential to enlighten practice, inspire solutions within the field and allow teachers to make informed decisions as to how they might adapt ILMF to suit their own context.”

Dr Mariguddi was supported in her professional development by the BERA Career Development Fellowship, which is a flexible package of benefits intended to support early career researchers (ECRs) in the first three years following the completion of their doctoral thesis.

Dr Anna Mariguddi said: “Post-PhD, I was juggling the care of two young children while trying to find my footing in academia. I experienced simultaneous feelings of shock and gratitude upon receiving the award, but also a strong sense of responsibility to make the best possible use of this experience.

“Most importantly, since receiving the award I have been able to learn from and engage with other colleagues working at the forefront of the discipline area. The juggling remains but with an increased sense of direction, wider support network, and achievement.”

The full research paper can be viewed in British Educational Research Journal

To discover more about courses at Edge Hill University, please visit ehu.ac.uk/study

December 7, 2022

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