Lifelong Learning or Learning for Life?

Published 06 Dec 2016

The changing world is so competitive in which the potential learners for lifelong learning in fact live. The perspective for thinking concerning any form of post-school earning has changed so radically over the past twenty-five years that whatever it is that can make a difference has revolutionized too; and essentially so. Every feasible aspect of society is different from what it was a moderately short time ago. Work, home, family, leisure, and all the adult roles within them, are as different as chalk from cheese. It all tells the same story (Brown, 2002, 44).

More and more people are taking more accountability for what happens in their own lives as they live them, taking a greater concern in matters which can affect them, from food, how to grow it, shop for it, cook it, eat it to global warming, from obesity to simulated insemination. What is more, the opportunities for people to learn have extended exponentially. Television, radio, Web access is now accessible to knowledge and information for huge numbers of people who really wants it.

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And the shelves of self-help books in bookshops, hot lines for a range of people who are in pain for one reason or another, all point in the same direction. Learning has become an inpidual doings for inpiduals as never before. What is more, the sheer variety of topics on any list of what people are learning these days would have seemed ludicrous to former generations. But maybe the most significant aspect of all this is that most people would not illustrate what they are doing as learning as they look for to master whatever topic they keep with.

Overall, therefore, a persity of social trends has enlarged the attractiveness and perceived significance of university for a far larger part of the population than in the past. Many analyses of these social changes in modern society, which are broadly mirrored in other Western societies, go on to argue that the more varied, flexible and atomized nature of society must be viewed within the framework of post-modernism.

Everything is comparative, there are no universal laws, no ‘meta-narratives’, and certainly no place for ideological frameworks such as liberalism or collectivism. One of the various glaring fallacies of post-modernism is, as Peter Osborne has noted, its failure to distinguish that ‘the narrative of the death of meta-narrative is itself grander than most of the narratives it would relegate to oblivion’ (Osborne in Eagleton, 1996, p. 34).

University, in this climate of post-modernism, has comprehensive roles, but the customary liberal framework is certainly challenged. A part of the post-modernist assault has been to refute the validity or even the prospect of academic objectivity. ‘…The possibility of securing objective knowledge and of pursuing truth in an impartial way can no longer be assumed’ as of what Ron Barnett has termed the ‘epistemological undermining’ (Barnett, 1990, p. 189) of the bases of moderation.

If the liberal basis of university is thus under attack, how much more so is the social principle perspective of continuing education. Yet this should be a key element of the Lifelong Learning. A defining trait of lifelong learning has to be a disquiet with and commitment to the widest possible contribution of the adult population in PCET, in order to put in to the development of a democratic, participative society and culture. This can be, and has been, articulated in a persity of liberal and socialist frameworks. However, they all have in general the a priori contention of the need for a value framework. Defining the knowledge and learning ‘suitable to a university’ is no longer the exclusive conserve of the universities themselves.

Several other agencies are concerned such as government, employers, professional bodies and, not least, the students themselves. Modularity and credit systems are breaking down the old punitive empires, but this challenge is also the upshot of the ideological pressure from these exterior forces. Academic curricula and concerns require reflecting the realities of the outer world. Thus inter-disciplinary, problem or area based studies are often seen as much more pertinent than university-defined single punitive areas.

In many ways, the ideological as well as cultural traditions of informal learning are thus informing the new world of prospective mass university. Adult education has always had to, and certainly wanted to, respond to student perspectives and to exterior partners. It has also had little consideration to the inflexibilities of corrective boundaries. Cultural studies, and to a degree industrial studies and regional studies, for instance, had their origins in adult education provision.

Perhaps more considerably, the general trend within mass systems is to focus less upon knowledge-based, corrective expertise and rather more upon vocationally on the one hand and the development of basic skills on the other. Again, this represents partly a return to the culture of the informal learning environment and a recognition both that the university does not subsist in a social vacuum and that it no longer has, if it ever did, the control on the definition and rights of the learning process in higher education.

If universities move away into defensive mode and try to keep their pre-existing structures and cultures, they could be overtaken by the larger forces of the learning society. If they adapt to and work in partnership with the new agencies of lifelong learning development then they might become centrally important agencies of change and development. Certainly, this latter path has significant political dangers, not least the probable erosion of university autonomy, and a downgrading or even desertion of critical thinking and some commitment to social purpose, as vocational and instrumental pressures raise and as ‘credentials’ threatens to destabilize liberal educational objectives.

Thus, the changing pattern of employment is that effort to think of lifelong learning on a bulk stipulation basis collides with the way more and more people are in fact living out their lives. For many, portfolios of employment fit better beside a personal pick-and-mix approach to any further learning which can be undertaken rather than formal courses listed in a college prospectus (Brighouse, 2002, 53).

Tension between plans for improving lifelong learning through formal institutions and the way people are now leading their lives which so far does not appear to have been taken into concern when White Papers appear for discussion as precursors to Acts of Parliament. Indeed, it is almost satirical how lifelong learning is used in the rhetoric as something which can assist sustains a rational society when much of that society is moving in the opposite direction. It is as if the increasing inpidualization of society is happening anywhere else. But it is not. It is here with us now. It is another challenge. And it is hard to see why this propensity will not grow stronger, leading to changes in society which can simply be guessed at. There could be a premium on connections between prosperous lifelong learning and a strong democracy.

This is perhaps why public oratory does not get transposed in public action which is tuned to present conditions. Perhaps tackling that tension is too hot a matter for politicians to grapple with. Cynics might say that just as schooling can be construed over the years as a means of wielding a form of social control, so talking concerning lifelong learning in terms of formal provision which is under tight control by government can also be a covert and conceivably nervous way of trying to do the same things with adults. If so, then lifelong learning could make to contain some rather inopportune social time bombs. Subsequently there could be much of rediscovery.

Perhaps, too, there is a simpler explanation: that for all its good purpose the government has no clear idea of what it believes lifelong learning to mean. So many phrases get bandied around. Sometimes there is the ‘true purpose of learning’, the approach to learning’. It would be a motivating exercise to set a test for the civil servants accountable for the use of these phrases, requiring them to eloquent clearly the meaning of each one of them and to portray the differences which those meanings are anticipated to convey.

This muddled thinking could rest on what Sally Tomlinson claims concerning education change in general: There is also confusion regarding political focus and ideological purpose behind educational change. This is partially due to rhetoric that the state has given more autonomy to inpiduals while in actuality central control has tightened (Tomlinson 2001, 54).

Work Cited

  • Barnett, R. (1990) The Idea of Higher Education, Milton Keynes: SRHE and Open University Press.
  • Brown, K. (2002) The Right to Learn: Alternatives for a Learning Society, London: RoutledgeFalmer.
  • Osborne, P. (1995) ‘The politics of time’ cited in EAGLETON, T. (1996) The Illusions of Post-Modernism, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Tomlinson, S. (2001) Education in a Post Welfare Society, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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