Creative Learning in higher education Rosie Burt and Janet Mills Royal College of Music
The TLRP’s Learning to Perform project is an example of good practice in what the 14-19 White Paper refers to as ‘a range of different learning styles’. It focuses on vocational learning within a four-year undergraduate degree programme which is undertaken by BMus students at the Royal College of Music.
With very few exceptions, undergraduates enter the RCM as accomplished specialists on one musical instrument. Early findings from Learning to Perform show that virtually all undergraduates (at least 97 per cent) enter the RCM intending to work in music on graduation. Two years later, four fifths of third year students hope particularly to become performers or composers. The College’s Working in Music project found that on graduation, over 80 per cent of students go on to spend all their working time in music and only 6 per cent leave music.
Undergraduates develop the musicianship on which they will base their careers mainly through the medium of their chosen instrument. They have weekly individual lessons from a distinguished professional performer, frequently handpicked from those available. They are auditioned for places in orchestras, where they work with international conductors, under the coaching of section leaders from London orchestras, to rehearsal schedules that are structured as within the profession. They are placed in schools, orchestras or the community, or start to build up their own instrumental teaching practices, either as part of their course, or because they have decided that the experience would be helpful to them.
It is clear that individual support from within their faculties, including through the academic staff, helps the students to develop the skills needed to cope with the professional expectations of their work. Students regularly perform in, and organize, professional concerts during their time at college. The Woodhouse Centre at the college provides drop-in and targeted vocational support to undergraduate students and to alumni for their first five years after graduation.
Of course, learning to be a performer in music may be regarded as rather specialist, but what is of wider interest is the way that great effort is placed upon getting suitable work placements for learners, how they get explicit coaching and support for learning development at work and how their tutors regularly review their performance, learning and development across different learning arenas. Such support means that these learning environments can be seen as conducive to what Fuller and Unwin (2003a) term ‘expansive learning’.