Lifelong learning, the recognition that learning may stretch out across a lifetime – is the new educational reality.
And what of ‘learning’? Learning is much bigger than education. Humans are born with an innate capacity to learn, and over the span of a life time learning never stops. Learning simply happens as people engage with each other, interact with the natural world and move about in the world they have built. Indeed, one of the things that make us distinctly human is our enormous capacity to learn (Kalantzis & cope 2010). The human brain is taken to constitute a new ‘grey capital’ to be set alongside the more familiar resources of land, labour and finance (Field 2006).
The development of influential educational thinking
The term ‘lifelong learning’ has been the most influential educational thinking for more than a century. Still today the debate surrounding, lifelong learning is complex, multi-layered and contentious. Everyday learning happens naturally, everywhere and all the time. Education – the institution, its curriculum and its pedagogies is learning by design. Educational policy makers, ONESCO and OECD (Knoll, 1998) among others, have endeavoured to embrace a societies educational need, economic growth and social inclusion through the rhetoric and encompassing the umbrella term ‘lifelong learning’. Within educational policy, ‘lifelong learning’ aims to encapsulate the challenges of economic regeneration and social cohesion (Ranson 2001). The term, predates the upsurge of interest in the 1960’s and 1970’s (Field 2006). The idea can be traced back to debate over the extension of citizenship, the rights of women and working class men, an educational committee in Britain argued in 1919 that:
Adult education must not be regarded as a luxury for a few exceptional persons her and there, nor as a thing which concerns only a short span of early adulthood, but it is a permanent national necessity, an inseparable aspect of citizenship, and therefore should be both universal and lifelong. (Adult education Committee of the Ministry of Reconstruction, 1919, 5)
Educational debate of the 1970’s were both far reaching and in the long term influential. The framework of the intergovernmental bodies such as the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) preserved the debate over lifelong learning and in 1972 UNESCO fostered the global debate, leading to the publication of Learning to Be, chaired by Edgar Faure, a former French Prime Minister and Minister for Education (Faure 1972).
For many generations the sole purpose of education was to transmit values, knowledge and skills which the adult world recommended to, or forced on young people, in order to incorporate them in its society; hence, education could be wholly included in the State’s duties towards citizens, the school master’s transmission of knowledge to his pupils and the child’s relationship with its parents in the family.
The present-day world no longer warrants this confidence of a by gone age. If it be our hope at once to fulfill the promises of democracy and to establish man firmly in the scientific and technical revolution, both now and in the future, education cannot be entrenched within any particular social classes or age groups, or divided up into independent levels or streams; nor can it be reduced to a mere matter of State grants and family traditions. It must ensure a constant exchange of ideas between man and his social environment, and offer to everyone the opportunities of the learning society. The age, which Valery called that of the finite world, can but be the age of the complete man.
(International Commission on the Development of Education, presided by Edgar Faure 1972)
The Faure report was a turning point. Its essential humanistic concern, the ‘fulfillment of man’, flexible organisation of learning levels, recognition and widening of informal and formal access to higher levels of education, new curricular concerns; health, environment, cultural and the view that learning should last the whole life, not tacked on to a school or university. This broad visionary outcome became the basis for learning age, where the investment in skills and knowledge was moved in policy to ‘our whole workforce’ (Field 2006).
The 1990’s saw a global policy consensus for the concept ‘life long learning’ and entered the mainstream political debate. This was embedded in one form or another in a number of policy documents and strategies across the globe; Jacques Delors, white Paper on competitiveness and economic growth (Commission of the European Communities (CEC 1994); 1996 European Year of Lifelong Learning; Appointment of Dr. Kim Howells as the first British Minister for Lifelong Learning; 1998 Green paper and White paper (Learning to Succeed) for post-education and training in England; series of policy initiatives to refashion the supply of educational and training opportunities to adults (Taylor 2005).
Changing course of life: New Education, Learning and economic growth conflict
From 1990’s to today, it is argued that ‘lifelong learning’ is little but ‘human resource development’ (HRD) in drag’ (Boshier, 1998, et al Field 2006). The political rhetoric of lifelong learning is largely driven by economic pre occupations. Lifelong learning has come to mean human capital thinking and primarily thought as an economic source of competitive advantage (Field 2006). In the Australian context, policy has delivered this message for our Educational future strategies as stated in the 2007 Education revolution, stating that there is a growing consensus on the economic imperative of investing in human capital (Rudd & Smith 2007). A substantial and growing body of international research shows that investment in human capital – educational programs from early childhood through to mature age workers – offers substantial social and economic returns for economies as well as individuals (Rudd and Smith 2007).
Beyond the economic changes and challenges, there has been an overwhelming rapid social change, which is having an undeniably significant consequence for learning and education systems. Where policy focuses on the economic concerns of lifelong learning, the theoretical and academic debate focuses on lifelong learning as emancipatory. The transformation of work in modern society has been profound and the implications for education and training- potentially and actual- are far reaching.
Today the world of work is significantly affected by social change; the very meaning of work has changed.
Social change in the last 20 years has been exponential (CSIRO 2010);
- Occupations are less stable and predictable
- We spend less time in paid work
- Work is not central to ones identity
- Ageing population
- Life expectancies, workers stay in the workforce longer
- Lifecycle is not linear (marriage, children, single households)
- Variance in family structures
- Women in the workforce
- Impact of information technology
- Transient population
- Resource and environmental sustainability
In the 1990’s Gail Sheehy published a best seller called ‘Passages’, with the revealing subtitle: ‘Predictable crisis of adult life’ Sheehy, 1976. In this book, Sheehy endeavoured to identify common characteristics in particular stages in life, this theory was aptly named the ‘the life cycle’ theory, for example on moving into adulthood, this coincided with marriage, homebuilding, consolidation of a career, search for career stability, children and evaluation of relationship etc. Sheehy was interested in identifying moments of predicable crisis for couples. Twenty years on from ‘Passages’ Sheehy’s new book showed how the boundaries between age and life stage had become completely jumbled up, stretched and pluralised (Field 2006). The overlap in the world of work, life journey, adulthood, retirement, periods of education, family structures, relationships, and complexity of the workplace scenarios, including casual employment, temporary employment, contract work and women in the work place.
The destruction of the set lifecycle had a particularly resonant effect on education. Much of the lifecycle theory underpinned formal adult education. The foundation of adult education is underpinned and dominated by economic and vocational concerns. Lifelong learning theory shatters the role of supporting learners into a thousand pieces (Field 2006). In particular if we think in terms of the broad definition: ‘Lifelong learning’ includes people of all ages learning in a variety of contexts – educational institutions, at work, at home and through leisure activities.
The practice of life long learning: Proposals and Practice
Current approaches to lifelong learning aims to meet the twin challenges of economic regeneration and social cohesion (Ranson 2001). Lifelong learning is presented as having the potential to maximise the proportion of citizens able to contribute to their society’s economic and political well-being’ (Cohen and Leicester 2000). The mainstreaming of lifelong learning, the discussions and the policies are based on two main forms, Learning for work and Learning for citizenship (Rogers 2006). The recommendations from the ‘Inquiry into the future of Lifelong learning’ (Schuller & Watson 2007) based on the study of the UK’s current system of lifelong learning made 10 recommendations to meet the challenges of a lifelong learning strategy. The recommendations endeavour to respond to the major demographic challenge of an ageing society, and to the variety of employment patterns as young people take longer to settle into jobs and older people take longer to leave work.
- Base lifelong learning policy on a new model of the educational life course, with four key stages (up to 25, 25-50, 50-75 and 75 +).
- Rebalance resources fairly and sensibly across the different life stages.
- Build a set of learning entitlements
- Engineer flexibility: a system of credit and encouraging part-timers
- Improve the quality of work
- Construct a curriculum framework for citizens’ capabilities
- Broaden and strengthen the capacity of the lifelong learning workforce
- Revive local responsibility.
- Build local responsibility within national frameworks
- Make the system intelligent by information and evaluation, which is consistent, broad and rigorous, and open debate about the implications.
The practice of life long learning: Proposals and Practice in the Australian Context
Social and economic changes that have occurred over the last quarter of a century in Australia have far-reaching implications for education, learning and lifelong learning; our context is not dissimilar to other western countries. The requirement for ongoing learning is immediate and the Australian context mirrors the global trends (Wyn 2009):
- Pace of change has meant that new skills need to be learned, with an increasing frequency, adapting regularly to new circumstances.
- Digital technologies have enhanced our capacity to access information and have created the expectation that individuals will learn how to use successive waves of new applications and forms of new technologies in personal life and in work settings.
- Challenges to sustainable lives with climate and environmental change.
- Flexible and precarious work options to survive
- Requirement for perpetual learning at all stages of life
In Australia, the idea of a totally pedagogised society (Berstein 2001) is taken for granted by many young people and they actively seek to learn from their experiences, regardless of the setting.
- Formal education is only one site of learning
- Developing repertoire of learning approaches and sites.
- Young people have begun to transform the contemporary meaning of formal education and its relation to informal learning.
- All areas of life are learning opportunities
With this in mind the conclusion, for establishing policy around ‘lifelong learning’ in the Australian context appears to be grim. The acknowledgement that institutionalised, predictable connections between formal education and post-educational outcomes are increasingly non-existent and have become less relevant to young people. Taking a snapshot of a section of our educational landscape, in regards to young people.
The elements of the education system in Australia that are currently taken for granted are becoming out moded (Wyn 2009) and appear to undermine the ‘lifelong learning’ model, nor do they endeavour to address the social challenges and changes in 21st century, as outlined in the CSIRO 2010 report. This was reiterated at the ACER Research Conference (2008) Touching the Future: Building skills for life and work (brought together researchers, policy makers, teachers, and other stake holders from around Australia);
- Education systems have been slow to respond to changes in young people’s learning needs.
- Some trends in contemporary educational approaches have further isolated education from broader social trends
- Policies which contain standardised testing are flawed
- Ranking of school performance have encouraged the school system to adopt an inward looking focus, rather than focusing on the relationships with other schools, communities, diverse needs and other educational institutions.
- Initiatives such as ‘school improvement’ movement disavow the relationship between schools and their social and economic context
- Narrow notion of academic outcomes
- New patterns of inequality outcomes based on class, gender, geographic location are formed, as some groups are able to draw on cultural and economic resources than others to secure success.
In concluding, educational policies have recognised the need for education to respond to social change, however they still tend to rest on traditional assumptions about preparation of young people to serve the economy. This focus has created a disjuncture between educational policies that continue to frame education within an industrial model (instrumental and vocationalist) and requirements that young people and learners themselves have for the capacity to be good navigators through new economies to live well and to engage with complexity and diversity (Wyn 2009).
- CSIRO 2010. Our Future World, http://www.csiro.au/resources/Our-Future-World.html
- Cohen, J. and Leicester, M. (2000) The evolution of the learning Society. In J. Field and M. Leicester (eds) Life Learning: Education across the life span (London: Routledge Falmer (65-74)
- Edwards,R. (1997) Changing Places? Flexibility, lifelong learning and a learning society (London:Routledge).
- Field, J. 2006 Lifelong Learning: a design for the future, in Lifelong Learning and the educational order, Stoke on Trent: Trentham books, 9-45.
- Henry, K. 2009, The shape of things to come: Long Run forces Affecting the Australian Economy in coming Decades, speech to the Queensland University of Technology Business Leaders’ Forum, 22 October.
- Kalantzis, M. and Cope, B. 2008.New Learning : Elements of a Science of Education, New Learning. pp 3-68. Cambridge Press, New York.
- 7. Kalantzis, M. and Cope, B. 2008. New Learning; Web Source
http://newlearningonline.com/new-learning/chapter-2-life-in-schools/keywords/ viewed 20th August 2011
- Rogers, A.(2003) What is the difference? A new critique of adult learning and teaching (Leiceter: NIACE)
- Rogers, A (2006) Lifelong learning and the absence of gender. International Journal of Educational Development 26 (2). Special Issue on Gender and Adult Education. 198-206.
- Rudd, K. & Smith,S 2007, The Australian economy needs and education revolution: new directions Paper on the critical link between long term prosperity, productivity growth and human capital investment. Australian Labour Party 2007.
- Schuller,Tom. & Watson,D. 2009, Summary of the ‘Learning through Life’ Summary:Inquiry into the future for Life Long learning (UK), NIACE, www.niace.co.uk
- Sheehy, G., Passages: Predictable Crisis of Adult life. 1976. Random House. New York.
- United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO. 1972, Learning to Be, The world of education: Today and Tomorrow. Faure,E., Herrera, F., Kaddoura,A.R., Lopes,H., Petrovsky,A.R., Majid Rahnema, Ward,F.C., Paris,1972.
- Wyn, J. (2009), Touching the Future: Building skills for life and work, Australian Education Review report (exerpts) http://research.acer.edu.au/aer/9