Here follows an extract from a talk I gave a few weeks back, which I have been asked to post up for reference purposes:
The development of communication through the ages has transformed the way in which we have provided learning opportunities. From primitive mans first attempt at drawing on the cave wall with charcoal, we now find ourselves in a time where people can collaborate synchronously around the world, creating, articulating, refining and publishing new knowledge irrespective or geographical location, cultural/language differences or time zones or of their position in society. In the past, as communication has developed, ‘Authoritative Knowledge’ has grown with it, being “socially sanctioned, consequential, [and made] official” (Jorden, 1992, p.1) by the privileged few through religious orders, societal leaders, universities and printing processes. Concurrent to this, practitioners and craftsmen have developed an oral tradition which, although has been harder to distribute across societies, has also served to educate new generations.
Although the earliest schools can be traced back as far as 1500 - 1000BC (Gillard, 2011), the model of what many of us in the Western world have come to think of as ‘school’, gained through our own experiences of it, has only been around since the Age of Enlightenment when schools developed outside of church control. At this time, universal education was introduced across Europe. Alongside this, theories of learning to support such education also grew. Schools were used as a way of educating our children, to provide a literate workforce for the approaching industrial age and the manufacturing empires of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries (Robinson & Wise, 2009, in Puttnam et al.) and to a large extent this model of school is little changed (Robinson, 2010).
Up until the 18th century, society had changed very little for the previous 100’s of years. As Sturdy (1971) suggests, if you had transported a man back in time from 1800 to 1500, he would have seen little change in society, however if you transported him in other direction, society would have changed beyond recognition. It is perhaps no coincidence that the recent radical change in society has coincided with universal education.
However, in 1968 Hutchins suggested that current systems of education could no longer support society. In answer to this problem, he proposed that societies needed to change and that learning was central to this - thus the ‘Learning Society’. This idea was also articulated in the 1972 UNESCO report, where the chairman, Edgar Faure writes in his opening letter,
We should no longer assiduously acquire knowledge once and for all, but learn how to build up a continually evolving body of knowledge all through life—’learn to be’.
He went on to suggest that,
If learning involves all of one’s life, in the sense of both time-span and diversity, and all of society, including its social and economic as well as its educational resources, then we must go even further than the necessary overhaul of ‘educational systems’ until we reach the stage of a learning society.
Ransom (1998) asks however, is a learning society concerned with developing new ways for individuals to learn, or is the emphasis on how new societies are created? The notion of a Learning Society is thus discussed by both those who find it useful (e.g. Skilbeck, 2001) and those who find it ambiguous (e.g. Coffield, 2000). Jarvis (2006) suggests that this dichotomy comes from a lack of clear definition. Having reviewed the work of others he postulates that a Learning Society does exist and contains 4 key characteristics - vision, planning, reflexivity and market.
In creating the term ‘Learning Society’, it could be argued that the focus of learning becomes that of society, rather than of the individual. Indeed many academics and leading thinkers (Bentley, 1999; Guile, 2001; Facer, 2011; Puttnam, 2011; Heppell, 2011) are talking of the centrality of education and learning within society as a whole. In a recent publication discussing the future of learning, Facer (2011) sees education at the centre of an interplay between the emerging complexity of systems, the growth of a knowledge economy, changing demographics and ongoing climatic disruption. She predicts massive challenges in the 21st century as a result of this interplay and argues that education needs a radical rethink if we are to address the ensuing developments, problems and changes.
Running parallel to this, a variety of authors (Freison, 2009; Jones et al, 2009; Oblinger, 2005; Seely Brown, 2002; Prensky, 2001) are in agreement that, we have arrived at a renaissance period in the way learners learn.
Still others support these assertions (Small & Leaton Gray 2009; in Puttnam et al.) asking how adaptable are our youngsters going to be in 5, 10, 20 even 30 years time to adapt to new jobs and technologies, solving problems we can not even imagine at this point in time. The modern world is changing. Global economies are now based on a rapidly developing landscape and the skills people require, need to be relevant to this shifting environment and the resultant changing job market. 1978, US Department of Labour statistics suggested that by the age of 38, US citizens would have had between 7 and 8 jobs and have changed career, around 3 times (Arbeiter, et al., 1978, cited in Kolb, 1984). This figure had grown by 2010, with US Department of Labour statistics suggesting that people of the same age will have had between 10 - 14 different jobs (Fisch et al, 2010). Richard Riley, former US Education Secretary stated that the top 10 jobs in demand in 2010, did not exist in 2004. However the quantum leap in formal education that is required to meet these challenges has not yet happened (Wales, 2011). To prepare youngsters for this constantly emerging world, the model of school as we used to know it, needs to change and along with it the theories of learning that underpin it, need to be developed anew.
Sarah Jones 2011
Tags: innovation · learning societies · pedagogy