January is the month for healthy spamming. Get brilliant at everything in 5 easy steps, read them on your phone while training for that marathon and holding down third world debt. The heat is on to cheerfully shed half your body weight and ruthlessly get happy.  Hovering somewhere between taking the stairs and giving up the fags on most new year self-help checklists you will find learning. Learn a new skill and you’ll romp up the wellbeing scale. Happiness tick, as long as you’re from a totally different gene pool from me.  


I was delighted last week to experience previously undiscovered levels of vitriol when Positive Psychology and their bezzie the optimism movement took a total utter pounding. I know, not exactly mature but honestly they were begging for it.


A man called Nick Brown did a public wedgie on Barbara Frederickson, an academic who popularised the 3-to-1 ratio for happiness. In ‘Positivity’ (put the rotten fruit down) she claims that if we have 3 positive emotions to every negative one we are happy. 2.9013 actually. Like seriously, are you saying I’m just a number?


Nick is a middle aged man doing an postgraduate course at a London University, a sharp intake of break from the academics amongst you. The commodification of education has led to a bolshy ‘tude spreading like a virus amongst paying postgraduates and my first thought was Nick, relax man, you will have to learn to take ‘feedback’ from teenagers if you’re going to survive Higher Education. Still, Nick is one cool pedant because he debunked the bunkum that positive thoughts make you happy, crashing and burning a mean spirited psychology that reduces us all to numbers. As any working person can testify this model of mental health is nonsense. Whatever your optimism ranking being bullied is being bullied, happy your way out of that Seligman.



Annoying as everyone is in this number crunching scenario it was a good day for learning because it exposed the dangers of substituting actually knowing anything for a bit of neuro-linguistic programming.  


Nick has also reminded us that data, knowledge and genuine facts are still important. Revolutionary stuff in a week when teachers are told how much money they are earning on the same day that they go on strike over a living wage.  Despite teachers truly making the worst students on earth  we all have things to learn. GCSE maths to work out what went wrong with the data, a degree in labour history to learn how the unwaged movements of the 20th century set about getting a living wage and a Phd in psychology to stop repeatedly being such a chump.


The problem with grown up learning is that it requires admitting you don’t know everything and that you need someone who knows to know. Bearing embarrassment, frustration and envy and returning to a moment in ancient history when we took the time for people to finish their sentences or clicked the link entitled “actually learn something”.


Online learning is a slippery bugger. It gives us access to all manner of stuff but also taps into our inner sulky teenager totally unbothered by genuine facts. On average about 10% of us actually read the gold-dust behind the link. That’s 90% of us whose knowledge is really only appropriate for a Christmas cracker.



Now don’t roll your eyes at me, you can’t have it both ways. Facts is facts and you either need the help or not and if you do then you need experts.



Last year I had the pleasure of recording people’s experiences of learning – through Return to Learn, a massive adult education programme by a union, Unison. Say what you like but this is the only show in town when it comes to picking up the failings of our education system and 7 million  functionally illiterate adults in the UK.



Mindful that most of us won’t spend more than 20 seconds being told anything at all I have traveled across the UK eating train sandwiches and falling asleep on public transport in order to bring you undiluted genius in under 5 minutes.


You can afford to pause being a superhero for a few minutes and listen to the real experts talk about learning in a way that actually will revolutionize your life. Better than happiness, it’s about getting on with your life while falling in love again with the human race.


This is Margaret Margaret and she just knows more than us about everything  and you can learn it all in 2.12 minutes.


This is Rianne and Julie  Rianne and Julie and they will persuade you to take a chance in life in 3.05 minutes.


This is Lesley  Lesley who can definitely add things up.


To hear all the recordings about Return to Learn just go here and you’ll just know more at the end of it. 

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