Observational Learning through Professional Studio Practice

Alma Boyes, Cynthia Cousens

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNConference contribution with ISSN or ISBNpeer-review


This research explores the value for students in learning practical technical skills by the direct observation of an expert making in a professional workshop. Curriculum design for teaching and learning of practical skills in practice-based courses in art and design have traditionally followed the ‘technical demonstration’ mode of delivery. This normally involves students observing demonstrations of specific techniques given by academic or technical staff sited in University workshops. Our research project Learning and Teaching Through Practice (Boyes, Cousens and Stuart 2008) found value in live performance in respect of virtual representation, and the richness of non-verbal communication but raised questions about the limitations of demonstrating a specific technique out of context of the whole creative process. Particularly the difficulty of reflecting the true time span of processes and the rhythm of making. This research will address these issues by learning techniques as part of the entire process of the production of an artifact within a professional context and looks at how curriculum design could be developed to incorporate this method of learning in addition to traditional demonstrations. Through using the method of student learning through observation it may connect more directly with the tacit knowledge essential in practical disciplines. It brings ‘real life’ experience and links work-related learning with student learning experience in the acquisition of technical skills and processes. The research has been undertaken and data collected from students within a multidisciplinary course and findings will have relevance to learning in many practice-based subjects within art and design as well as others outside such as nursing, midwifery, culinary arts and sciences. research methods The project is essentially a case study of level 2, 3 and 4 3D Materials Practice students at the University of Brighton. There were 2 studio visits to internationally acclaimed professional makers in ceramics and metals. This research project is predominantly qualitative using semi structured interviews and student journals and some quantitative data produced through self-completing questionnaires. We also collected data by unobtrusive observation and video-audio recording of the visits. findings The main findings to be explored in this work-in-progress session at the conference are: • the value of non-verbal communication • the holistic view of a technical skill or process within the entire creative process • setting a technique or process within a professional context • insight into speed and activity of making • understanding of the rhythm of creating through the materials and processes • the learning of skills through international experts of the highest level This research has been funded by the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning through Design, at the University of Brighton, which focuses on themes of practice-based learning and object scholarship.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication5th International Conference Challenging the curriculum: exploring the discipline boundaries in art, design and media
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010
Event5th International Conference Challenging the curriculum: exploring the discipline boundaries in art, design and media - Berlin, Germany
Duration: 1 Apr 2010 → …


Conference5th International Conference Challenging the curriculum: exploring the discipline boundaries in art, design and media
Period1/04/10 → …


  • Observational Learning
  • Professional Practice
  • Craft Practice
  • Skills, Live Performance, Non-verbal communication
  • tacit knowledge
  • Work-related Learning
  • Pedagogy
  • Practice-based Disciplines


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