Cultural learning: key terms and definitions

Cultural learning is an active engagement with the creation of our arts and heritage.

  • The arts’ is a broad term that includes a wide range of disciplines from theatre, dance, literature, storytelling, music, craft and visual arts to film, spoken word, digital media, photography and beyond.
  • The term ‘heritage’ encompasses an individual’s understanding of themselves, their material culture and the world around them. Cultural organisations and specialists such as museums, libraries, archives, archaeological sites, historic houses and other built environment institutions safeguard and contribute to this knowledge and understanding.

Culture, in all its richness and diversity, can be experienced as listening, playing, seeing, watching and interacting, performing, devising, designing and composing, making, writing and doing.

Arts and cultural subjects in schools include; English, Drama, Art and Design, Music, Dance, History and Performing Arts. Good cultural learning takes place across all subjects, including science and the humanities, and through technology. Cultural learning involves both learning through culture, and learning about culture. It involves critical thinking, creativity and the development of original ideas and action.

The CLA uses the term ‘children and young people’ to mean individuals from 0-19 years of age. It also includes young people from 19-25 who do not have the opportunity to access cultural learning independently. Equality of access to cultural learning does not involve every child accessing the same thing: it involves every child experiencing a parity of access to regular, ongoing opportunities for meaningful engagement.

Young people, teachers, families and communities can create, participate in – or be audiences for – culture: they are its makers and consumers. Cultural learning leaders practise at all levels in organisations and communities. They innovate and drive cultural learning. These leaders include young people, parents, professionals, artists, volunteers and practitioners. 

The term ‘cultural learning settings’ encompasses a wide range of provision, including: formal and informal youth and early years settings and services; local authority provision; voluntary, community and private sector provision; services for vulnerable young people, disabled young people, looked-after children and those at risk; cultural organisations and their initiatives; children’s centres, education settings; FE provision, universities and schools.