At the Peel Literacy Guild we use the word "learner" to describe the adults who receive our services. Why doesn't the Guild use the word "student"?
When we hear the word student we are most likely to visualize a child or young adult. In addition, we tend to think of an educational system where the curriculum is set, the books and learning materials non-negotiable and the method of teaching under the control of the teacher or instructor. These are not the assumptions of a community-based literacy programme, however.
Most community-based literacy programmes, including the Guild, believe that adults learn best when they are learning what they want and need to learn. The Guild also believes that when you work with adults, it is important for them to have some decision-making power in how their learning will take place. These beliefs are shared by the Literacy and Basic Skills Section, our provincial funder, and are important requirements of their core quality standards for literacy programs.
The use of the word learner is meant to differentiate between a traditional model of education and a participatory, community-based model like ours that sees users of our service as equal partners in literacy. It is meant to empower the individual learner and symbolically identifies that the programme, volunteer and learner share the commitment and responsibility for the learning that takes place.
In conclusion, the Guild has made a deliberate choice to use the word learner instead of student because we think it shows respect for the adults using our services. These adults are not being acted upon, but are working together with us to "build a literate community, one person at a time".