Workplace literacy and the influences of technology between implicitness and definition challenges – recruiting as a bridging position

This text was originally handed in as my final assignment of course PDG676 H14 Literacies in a digital world within the International Master’s programme Information Technology & Learning at Gothenburg University on January 12st 2015. 

The struggle for finding a superordinate definition of literacy can be retrieved regarding workplace literacy discussions (Mikulecky, 1988; Perin, 1997; Hull 2000; Belfiore, Defoe, Folinsbee, Hunter, and Jackson, 2004) and the influences of technology, being of interest for the workplace as a transforming key factor (Reinking, 1998). When literacy is seen as an age-independent continuum, distinguishing sharply between young and adult learners becomes hindering (UNESCO, 2009). In addition, the traditional dichotomy between literate-illiterate slows down the acknowledgement of lifelong learning (UNESCO, 2013). Rather, literacy is synonymous with “fundamental components of a complex set of foundational skills (or basic competencies), which require sustained learning and updating” (UNESCO, 2013, p. 17) to function as an empowering tool enriched by literate environments (UIL, 2010). The workplace connects various age groups with an enriched literate environment, where a social practice view of literacy is appropriate. When literacy is perceived as context-specific (UNESCO, 2005), a context definition backs the detection of skills and competencies for successful participation. Recruiting as a potential interface bridging literacy and context contributes by specifying required competencies to apply functional literacy in the work context. However, the expansion of literacy concepts complicates analysing it and distinguishing from “expressions such as knowledge, competence and learning” (Säljö, 2012, p. 6).

Literacy discussions incorporate technological influences slowly (UNESCO, 2013). The relation of literacy and technology can be described by the three frameworks learning, change and power (Warschauer and Ware, 2008). These frameworks can be relocated in the context of adult education, linking the fields of literacy, adult education and workplace environments. Warschauer and Ware (2008) see “literacies as plural, consisting of multiple competencies and practises, each shaped by different contexts, purposes and uses” (p. 215). They argue that a more narrow definition is limiting in a world with emerging digital media. In regard to their three-category framework, McCaffery, Merrifield and Millican (2007) focus on adult education and regard literacy as having several layers with its roots in reading and writing skills and as being contextualised in a social environment. The framework of Warschauer and Ware is related to McCaffery et al. (2007) and UNESCO (2013) to support the statement, that the change framework suits well to the workplace environment. The learning framework (competency approach; literacy as skills) focuses on how technology is used for learning and how it has an impact on learning outcomes. The change framework (social practice approach) considers technology as embodied in literacy, society and culture. ICT (information and communications technology) is compared to other means of communication, challenging traditional schooling due to its incapacity to keep up with rapid changes. Literacy represents how people use texts and make meaning out of it. However, the mere exposure to new literacies is not equated with benefitting from or engaging with them. Tightly connected with this framework are the results of the New London Group (1996) and the field of “new literacy studies” (Warschauer & Ware, 2008, p. 227). The power framework (radical approach; literacy as a tool for critical reflection and action for social change) has in common with the change framework the rapid flux of literacies whereas literacy practises are more closly connected to achieving social, economical and/or educational power. With the learning framework it shares the acknowledgement of educational achievement while the focus is on how students’ context shape access.

Focusing on the change framework seems particularly supporting in the workplace context where the general idea of reading and writing has to be applied to specific contexts. Furthermore, the research interest of describing the relation between home and school literacy practises can be extended by workplace practises. New literacy studies might be able to answer the call for a social practice view of literacy which „shows not just how people use texts socially, but how the meanings they give to texts […] are socially shaped“ (Belfiore et al, 2004). They focus on reading and writing in the social context and are grounded on social, psychological and historical aspects (Lankshear & Knobel, 2007; Barton & Lee, 2010). When it comes to literacy and new technology, it’s the “literate activities associated with new technologies” (Barton & Lee, 2010, p. 607) not the mere acquisition of computer skills. Bawden, D. (2008) coins the term “digital literacy” as a broader concepts which links ICT skills to soft-skills such as evaluating and understanding information (p. 28).

Recruiting fulfils a company’s personnel requirement, closing the capacity gap by allocating personnel (Wöhe, 2010) after screening (or assessing) potential employees. Thereby it operates as the interface between ‘literacy supply and demand’, redefining and shaping workplace requirements continuously by adjusting to labour market and personnel planning factors. One controversy in relation to literacy is the implicitness of functional literacy when defining competencies and the split between expertise (directly related to the job position) and interdisciplinary competencies (Rump, 2005). Johnson & Kress (2003) acknowledge this interwoven nature of theory, implementation and examination of new literacy studies. They distinguish between different environments (e.g. the workplace) where literacy applies but at the same time recognize the limitation of strict borders between these environments. The challenge is to define the workplace as a common environment reaching across organizations, where this can be demanding in one single organization (with diverse local cultures facing specific economical, societal and cultural influences within one corporate culture). The economical effects of globalisation are enriched by cultural effects, resulting out of (besides others) technology and automatisation (Kelly, Montigny, O’Neill & Sharpe, 1992; Reinking, 1998).

Benseman, J. (2014) describes Literacy, language and numeracy (LLN) as relatively new due to the fact that these skills are important as a prerequisite for all other forms of training. He contributes to the belief of the workplace as an enriching literate environment requiring a certain level of functional literacy. However, motivational aspects of learning to become literate are disregarded, when the context of application is unknown (D’Amico, 1997; Corus & Ozanne, 2011). In literacy conceptions, where diverse instances are contributing, the challenge of implicitness and definition can be solved by collaboration across artificially created borders between institutions, companies and others – recruiting in companies as one potential bridging position being able to support the communication process.

To improve productivity in organizations increasing skills are needed but Bensemann identifies a lack of defining these skills. The concept of employability investigate interdisciplinary qualification competencies (such as professional competence, initiative, entrepreneurial thinking) to define the ability to participate in work live (Rump, 2005) . These competencies shall be seen as a reference frame for lifelong learning and continuous personal reflection. However, they do not include critical technological awareness. Emerging technologies are perceived as tools for the workplace, implications on cognition (Säljö, 2012) and social bonds (Bazerman, 2011) are left aside. Simply using tools at home does not imply the same rules as at work (Säljö, 2012). Critical thinking is not necessarily linked to technological artifacts, where employees fail to recognise simple processes operating in personal computers. This is not a question of expertise but of how much we have to white-box the black-boxing effects emerging with technology (Säljö, 2012). Recruiting processes seem to incorporate technological components – again – implicitly without being able to define them.

To solve the “LLN-skills-demand / supply” mismatch Benseman proposes screening in the recruiting process (admitting the importance of an orderly labour market). However, there are two major limitations to be mentioned. First of all, to identify direct implication for LLN skills during the recruiting process, defining them explicitly during the selection process would be necessary. Certainly, the understanding of literacy is implicitly interwoven in required skills and competencies. For example, the request for a secondary school degree implicitly includes the ability to read and write. Secondly, to analyse the selection process, other influencing factors have to be considered to detect a correlation between companies’ skill needs and recruiting requirements. Due to the dependency on the labour market, recruiters have to adjust skills that do not necessarily meet the needs.

Recruiting is about finding the motivated; but in a broader perspective of literacy learning the question is rather what motivates people to become literate in a particular context. In fact, the focus should be on workplace literacy as expanding functional literacy by offering an enriched literate environment, which per se has the potential to motivate people to learn reading and writing. To support this motivation and to succeed in the workplace environment, identifying competencies to link literacy learning with context is necessary. Technological critical awareness is a potential interdisciplinary competency. The relation between workplace literacy and employability raises the question of who needs to read and who is motivated to engage in new literacy practises (Martin, 1998;, Scholtz & Prinsloo, 2001), how existing collaboration projects between industry and education are evaluated systematically (Leach & Zepke, 2005) and how to deal with the contradiction between the “inability to recruit employees with […] adequate skills” (Townsend & Waterhouse, 2008, p. 7) and “an increasing share of university-educated workers […] taking jobs where the average educational level has been much lower” (Brown, Hesketh, & Williams, 2004). Defining workplace literacy raises the question of responsibility for developing it (Townsend & Waterhouse, 2008). Collaboration between education, training providers and employers is seen as the key, arguing that educational and training systems are not able to stuff employers with job-ready applicants. Literacy learning thus becomes a continuum, where literacy supply are reflected by the schooling system; literacy demand by recruiting specialists. If functional literacy is seen as a foundational skill set, can we assume a transfer of knowledge to specific job training skills? How can workplace literacy be defined in a world where most of the future jobs are unknown today and position descriptions (the ‘borders’ between jobs) become more flexible?

 

References

Barton, D., Lee, C. (2010). Literacy Studies, In Wodak, R., Johnstone, B. & Kerswill, P. (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Sociolinguistics (pp. 598-611), Los Angeles: Sage Publications Ltd.

Bawden, D. (2008). Origins and concepts of Digital Literacy, In Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (Eds.), Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices (pp. 17-32), New York: Peter Lang.

Bazerman, C. (2011). Electrons Are Cheap; Society Is Dear, In Starke-Meyerring, D., Paré, A., Artemeva, N., Horne, M., & Yousoubova, L. (Eds.), Writing in Knowledge Societies. Perspectives on Writing (pp. 75-84), Fort Collins, Colorado: The WAC Clearinghouse and Parlor Press.

Belfiore, M.; Defoe, T. A.; Folinsbee, S.; Hunter, J. & Jackson, N. S. (2004). Reading Work: Literacies in the New Workplace, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Brown, P., Hesketh, A., & Williams, S. (2004), What Knowledge Economy?. In Brown, P., Hesketh, A., & Williams, S. The Mismanagement of Talent: Employability and Jobs in the Knowledge Economy,  Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Corus, C. & L. Ozanne, J. L. (2011). Critical Literacy Programs: Can Business Literacy be a Catalyst for Economic and Social Change?, Journal of macromarketing, 31, 184 – 198.

D’Amico, D. (1997). Adult education and welfare to work initiatives: a review of research, practice, and policy, Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.

Hull, G. (2000). Critical literacy at work. Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 43(7), 648.

Johnson, D., & Kress, G. (2003). Globalisation, Literacy and Society: Redesigning pedagogy and assessment, Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 10(1), 5-14.

Kelly, K., Montigny, G., O’Neill, T. & Sharpe, A. (1992). Literacy in the workplace, Perspectives on Labour and Income,  4(1).

Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2007). Sampling ‘The New’ in New Literacies, In Knobel, M. & Lankshear, C. (Eds.), A New Literacies Sampler (pp. 1-24). New York: Peter Lang.

Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2008). Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices, New York: Peter Lang.

Leach, L., & Zepke, N. (2005). Literacy in the workplace: An example of industry-university collaboration, Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 57(2), 203-217.

Martin, J. (1998). As a blue-collar worker, does Johnny need to read?, Adult Basic Education, 8(3), 139.

McCaffery, J., Merrifield, J. & Millican, J. (2007). Developing adult literacy: Approaches to planning, implementing, and delivering literacy initiates, Oxford : Oxfam GB.

Mikulecky, L. (1988), Literacy for the Workplace.

New London Group (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: designing social futures, Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92.

Perin, D. (1997). Workplace literacy assessment, Dyslexia, 3, 190–200.

Reinking, D. (1998). Changing Workplaces, Changing Classes: The New Role of Technology, In Mahwah, N. J., Handbook of Literacy and Technology. Transformations in a Post-typographic World.  L. Erlbaum Associates.

Rump, J. (2005): Employability Management, Abschlussbericht, Ludwigshafen 2005.

Scholtz, S., & Prinsloo, M. (2001). New workplaces, new literacies, new identities, Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 44(8), 710.

Säljö, R. (2012). Literacy, digital literacy and epistemic practices: The co-evaluation of hybrid minds and external memory systems, Nordic Journal of Digital Literacies, 7(1), 5-19.

Townsend, R. & Waterhouse, P. (2008). Whose responsibility? Employers‘ views on developing their workers‘ literacy, numeracy and employability skills.

UIL (2010). CONFINTEA VI: Belém Framework for Action: Harnessing the power and potential of adult learning and education for a viable future, Hamburg, UIL.

UNESCO (2005). Aspects of Literacy Assessment. Topics and issues from the UNESCO Expert Meeting, 10-12 June 2003, Paris.

UNESCO (2009). Global Report on Adult Learning and Education, Hamburg, Germany.

UNESCO (2013). 2nd Global Report on Adult Learning and Education. Rethinking Literacy, Hamburg, Germany.

Warschauer, M., & Ware, P.D. (2008). Learning, change and power: Competing frames of technology and literacy. In J. Coiro, M. Knobel, C. Lankshear, & D.J. Leu. (Eds.), Handbook of research on new literacies (pp.215-240). New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Wöhe, G. (2010). Einführung in die Allgemeine Betriebswirtschaftslehre. 24. Ed., Vahlen.

Success factors of e-learning in workplace environments

This text was originally handed in as my final assignment of course PDG083 V15 Contemporary Adult Education (Samtida vuxenutbildning) at Gothenburg University on March 30st 2015. 

Introduction

E-learning has suffered from criticism, for example by Dreyfus (2002) stating that online environments do not support learning at all as they prohibit learning commitment or by Wang, Ran, Liao, & Yang (2010) denouncing the missing motivational component of e-learning. In workplace environments, however, e-learning is still implemented frequently as it fulfills specific needs such as cost-efficiency, on-demand supply of easily updatable workforce trainings, and flexible access independently of time and place (Reynolds, Becker, & Fleming, 2014). A range of scientific fields contributes to this discussion and disagreement exists on fundamental assumptions of knowledge, pedagogy and assessment (Knight, Buckingham Shum, & Littleton, 2014). Human Resource Development (HRD) tends to frame e-learning as a training method and by saying so to create a tension between both terms training and learning. There are two main resulting challenges: firstly, the conception of learning per se and secondly, the perception of learning as being mostly formal and programme success outperforming untapping the holistic learning experience of professionals (Webster-Wright, 2009). Besides these important conceptual debates, I believe that research on success factors of e-learning implementation can be highly fruitful when taking into account a well-structured and congruent continuous learning strategy in organizations. In this paper I outline selected research on success factors for e-learning in the workplace and how these factors have been empirically investigated. Taking a socio-cultural stance on learning, I am focussing on organizational support and learners’ interaction as success-factors.

E-learning in workplace environments contextualised in the field of adult education

Organizations are one important contributor to adult education and face the steady balancing of cost-efficiency and continuing learning for the greater good. They are an important actor when it comes to integrating conceptual and experimental knowledge reaching across organizations and institutions (Gonczi, 2004). Nevertheless, calls for openness of learning activities to external participants are mostly answered by insisting on business secrets and gaining advantages over competitors. In his fourth part on vocational education, Jarvis (2014) describes the trend from developing employees for the good of the organization through initiating internal training courses and regarding the employee as human capital. Yet, numerous trainings were conducted in corporation with external providers such as universities as centres of lifelong education. Jarvis describes modularisation as a trend due to the higher demand of short courses for knowledge and practise, as well as the shift from education to learning. Consequently, conclusions in this paper cover not only the investigation of organizational support and interaction as success factors for e-learning, but also how future research could contribute to an open learning approach within and across organizations and workplaces.

Theoretical perspectives on e-learning in workplace environments

Tynjälä and Häkkinen (2005) examine theoretical perspectives on e-learning in workplaces and identify three knowledge sources for successful e-learning solutions, namely theories of the learning organization (e-learning should go beyond presenting material and supporting individual learners), sociocultural theories (e-learning should create long-term cross-functional  and authentic communities of practise) and finally cognitive theories of learning and studies on the development of expertise (e-learning should enable participants to use experiential knowledge and integrate it with conceptual knowledge) (p. 323). The authors discuss problems related to workplace learning in general and learning in a virtual environment where they emphasize the importance of the overall learning culture of an organization, the challenge to maintain a sense of community in virtual environments and the importance of linking human resource development to learning activities (pp. 325). As three main reasons why e-learning in organizations fail they name “lack of personalization, lack of collaboration and interactivity, and that e-learning has not been learner oriented.” (p. 327). In their conclusion, they add the importance of including different forms of representations (reading, writing, audio, etc.) and face-to-face learning situations. Reynolds, Becker, & Fleming (2014) summarise their recent paper on contemporary challenges in e-learning by emphasizing a critical perspective on interaction, interaction and the connection to actual learning as well as the concept of social presence.

Empirical investigations on success factors of e-learning in workplace environments

In their empirical study, Sun, Tsai, Finger, Chen, & Yeh (2008) identified learner’s computer anxiety, instructor attitude towards e-learning, e-learning course flexibility, e-learning course quality, perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use and diversity in assessment as critical factors influencing e-learner’s satisfaction. Based on a questionnaire guided survey, they resumed that 66.1% of the variance in user satisfaction is connected to the mentioned factors. Interestingly, the independent variable ”learner perceived interaction with others” was not showing a significant correlation to learner’s satisfaction.

Minhong, Weijia, Jian, & Yang (2010) concluded that e-learning should associate learning needs of individuals and the organisation, relate work and learning performance and foster social interaction among learners. They proposed a key performance indicator (KPI) approach that takes into account pedagogical, organizational and technological components to enhance the learning process. In their theoretical framework they mentioned Tynjälä and Häkkinen, to support their claim that “[…] current e-learning development tends to focus on technical issues of design and ignores pedagogical and organizational issues that are necessary for effective e-learning programs to address” (p. 167). It becomes clear, that this paper conceptualised learning in the workplace as combining work, organization and other learners, thus considering a broader perspective on the e-learning environment. In comparison to the study of Sun et al. the authors tested a KPI-system based on their theoretical conceptualization. Their results suggest that this system improved the facilitation of social learning but diminishes benefits for the organization (mostly due to monetary aspects). This indicates a possible conflict being present in workplace learning strategies: the interplay of social learning and cost efficient argumentations in the frame of e-learning solutions.

Even more recently Cheng et al. (2011) conducted a study on the acceptance of competency-based workplace e-learning systems. In their study they used a model which supported “competency-oriented, self-directed, and socially constructed online learning in the workplace” (p. 1331). As a theoretical foundation they also used the paper of Tynjälä and Häkkinen to support the social process involved in adult learning (p.1330). As challenges for workplace e-learning they see the link between individual and organizational development. The result of their study was that “perceived usefulness of work-integrated pedagogical design in terms of improving self-directed learning processes and promoting collaboration among colleagues has positive influences on employees’ behavioral intention to use the e-learning system […]” (p. 1331). This means that again, designing e-learning to foster collaboration (in the study as enhancing social ties and perceived support for promoting a norm of cooperation) correlates positively with the perceived usefulness of the system. However, perceived support for enhancing social ties was negatively correlated to the intention to use, one likely explanation being the critical perspective on engaging in social networks in the workplace. They also concluded that practical value and relevancy for the job are important components influencing the perception of e-learning systems.

Michalski (2014) explored a work-based e-learning tool, which in addition to other tools supports everyday work. By doing so, she is expanding the frame of context-based learning from learning about real-life work situations to actually learning in real-life work situations. She referred to Tynjälä and Häkkinen within her theoretical foundation, when framing social interaction and the need to address context and tools for work-based e-learning and training processes in their own right with respect to practice and research (p. 161). Her focus lies on tensions in e-learning design and the organizational frame, where she points out that e-learning tools should be seen from a broader perspective within a social context because the concept of formal learning and certification is limiting its potential. Her article focusses in the instrumentality of symbolic interaction (SI), with a central conclusion being “E-learning artefacts are intentionally and unintentionally imbued with symbolic meanings generated in the practice of everyday work. A more complex understanding of the learning context must therefore take this into account, so that the planning, introduction and ongoing adaptation of formal training and e-learning programmes can indeed become context-sensitive” (p. 146).

Conclusion

All in all, this paper revealed the multifaceted nature of success factors of e-learnings in organizations. Organizational support and learners’ interaction are operationalised and contextualised differently by researchers and it is important to recognize theoretical underpinnings in their research papers. Throughout the four papers investigated, it seems as if social factors of e-learning are becoming more relevant and are thus included in theoretical conceptions and practical implications. E-learning in the workplace is seen as a context-bound learning experience, which is more than the pure training of contents. Fostering social interactions and drawing on organizational support to enhance the learner’s perception of e-learning comes to the fore. Besides tightly connecting theoretical pedagogical stances, organizational needs and context as well as social interaction, recent research trends indicate a shift from training to learning not only about the work-context but in the work-context, further tearing down the artificial borders between informal and formal learning activities. Thus, this research contributes to the claim for viewing the holistic learning experience, avoiding false dichotomies and acknowledging the potential of technology within this setting. Taking this perspective could also support enhancing borderless learning, where learning does not stop with the borders of a individual organization but where learning can take place across organizations, recognizing existing social networks of learners and acknowledging learning as being a complex and important aspect of continuous professional development.

Resources

Cheng, B., Wang, M., Yang, S. J. H., Kinshuk, & Peng, J. (2011). Acceptance of competency-based workplace e-learning systems: Effects of individual and peer learning support. Computers & Education, 57(1), 1317-1333. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2011.01.018.

Dreyfus, H. L. (2002). Anonymity versus commitment: The dangers of education on the internet. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 34(4), 369-378. doi:10.1080/0013185022000011763.

Gonczi, A. (2004). The New Professional and Vocational Education. In Foley (Ed.) The Dimensions of Adult Education (pp. 19-34). Open University Press.

Jarvis, P. (2014). From adult education to lifelong learning and beyond. Comparative Education, 50(1), 45-57. doi:10.1080/03050068.2013.871832.

Knight, S., Buckingham Shum, S. and Littleton, K. (2014). Epistemology, assessment, pedagogy: where learning meets analytics in the middle space. Journal of Learning Analytics.

Michalski, M. P. (2014). Symbolic meanings and e-learning in the workplace: The case of an intranet-based training tool. Management Learning, 45(2), 145-166.

Minhong, W., Weijia, R., Jian, L., & Yang, S. H. (2010). A Performance-Oriented Approach to E-Learning in the Workplace. Journal Of Educational Technology & Society, 13(4), 167-179.

Reynolds, K., Becker, K. & Fleming, J. (2014), Contemporary Challenges in E-Learning, in: Harris, R. & Short, T. (Eds.) Workforce Development: Perspectives and issues. Singapore: Springer Singapore.

Sun, P., Tsai, R. J., Finger, G., Chen, Y., & Yeh, D. (2008). What drives a successful e-learning? an empirical investigation of the critical factors influencing learner satisfaction. Computers & Education, 50(4), 1183-1202. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2006.11.007.

Tynjälä, P., & Häkkinen, P. (2005). E-learning at work: Theoretical underpinnings and pedagogical challenges. Journal of Workplace Learning, 17(5/6), 318-336. doi:10.1108/13665620510606742.

Wang, M., Ran, W., Liao, J., & Yang, S. J. (2010). A performance-oriented approach to E-learning in the workplace. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 13(4), 167.

Webster-Wright, A. (2009). Reframing professional development through understanding authentic professional learning. Review of Educational Research, 79(2), 702-739. doi:10.3102/0034654308330970.

About the Learning Through Life Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning (IFLL)

This text was originally handed in as assignment 3 of course PDG083 V15 Contemporary Adult Education (Samtida vuxenutbildning) at Gothenburg University on March 1st 2015. 

In this assignment I am comparing two articles published in Volume 29 of the International Journal of Lifelong Learning in 2010: Learning through life: A response to a special issue written by Tom Schuller in Issue 6 and ‘The planet will not survive if it’s not a learning planet’: sustainable development within learning through life written by Shirley Walters in Issue 4. In my comparison I will focus on the problems discussed by the authors, how these are developed, what the conclusions are and which concepts are used. First of all, both articles refer to the Learning Through Life Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning (IFLL); a report by the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education (NIACE), which investigates lifelong learning in the UK and was published in 2009. Whereas Schuller is one of the authors and the director of the inquiry; Walters is professor and director of the Division for lifelong learning at the University of Western Cape, South Africa. Issue 4 of Volume 29 of the International Journal of Lifelong Learning is a special issue dedicated to commentaries on the IFLL report. In its introduction Jarvis closes by writing “[…] Schuller will write a response to the papers in this special issue” (p. 400). This emphasizes the intention to support the ‘style of interchange’ mentioned by Schuller, who calls for an active dialogue concerning the IFLL report (p. 757). Walters contributed her paper on the sustainable development theme to this special issue of the International Journal of Lifelong Learning and appeares as the third author in this volume.

Walters tackles the theme of sustainable development ‘from a ‘South’ perspective’ (p. 427) by criticizing the British lense as being rather a critique than a critical analysis, but finally commemorating her intention to constructively contributing to the discussion by looking for alternatives, “which can produce a more democratic, egalitarian learning planet, which can sustain life for centuries to come.”  Walters’ main critique regarding the sustainable development theme is that it firstly, reaches further than national borders and secondly, implies more than climate change. She points out a clear lack of defining the term sustainable development in the IFLL report. Furthermore, she argues that the report ignores the urgency of the “current global economic and environmental crises” (p. 430). Whereas she agrees on the four life stages developed by the report, she questions the transferability of demographics from countries of the North (e.g. the UK) to countries of the South. In addition, Walters points out the missing concept of ‘life deep learning’ (p. 432), within which learning embraces spiritual components as well. She additionally values the idea of the citizens’ curriculum, but identifies a need to elaborate it’s financial and applicable implications. Whereas she agrees with the importance of ‘joined-up cross-sectoral approaches’ (p. 434) being made by the report she identifies a need to discover the challenges of these approaches more thoroughly. All in all, she refers to Wallerstein in her final conclusion, where she evaluates the report (besides all its assets) as an interim-solution or intermediate result rather than pointing to a “‘[…] new successor system that we want’” (p. 435).

Analysing Schuller’s text, I will focus on these two text passages, which refer directly to Walters paper. However, for a general overview, in his paper he first makes some general comments on design and purpose of the IFLL and then focusses on some commentaries in the special issue, which he sees as most “fruitful” to enrich the dialogue on the report.

On page 760 Schuller acknowledges the underdevelopment of the theme sustainable development mentioned by Walters and the fact that this theme did not ‘get the weight, which it deserved’. In response to this critique, he points out three dimensions, which he sees as crucial for further investigations of the theme (and which the commission ‘would have liked to explore’ but was not in the position to). The first dimension is authority and how to select the powerful voices which influence policies. The second dimension is the connection between learning and action, in particular how awareness supports or depresses ‘people’s capacity for action’ (p. 760). As a third dimension, Schuller elaborates morality, asking “how do individuals and groups learn to grapple […], and to continue to live together even when there is no consensus?” (p. 760). All in all, Schuller stays close to the issues of climate change and global warming, contributing to Walters’ assumption that this is the perspective on sustainable development within the IFLL report.

Under the heading “A spiritual dimension” Schuller discusses commentaries from Walters, both referring to “the spiritual dimension of learning—‘life‐deep’ as Walters terms it” (p. 762). Schuller points out that by avoiding the term spirituality, the report aimed at avoiding a terminological debate. He accepts Walters’ challenging the transferability of the detected demographic trends from the UK to the South but reminds the reader that one “central thrusts of LTL is the need to take account of demographic trends in the UK” (p. 762). From Schuller’s point of view, demographic developments per se will shift the focus to a more central perspective on spirituality, where “intergenerational equity” comes into play (as opposed to individualization). More generally, it becomes important how older generations address spirituality and how they gain visibility is improving opportunities for other generations.

Hence, Schuller’s paper operates as a response to Walters’, focusing on two main commentaries (one of it being her main critique: the lack of defining the term sustainable development”). By doing so, Schuller himself fulfills his (and the IFLL report’s) claim for an ongoing constructive dialogue over the IFLL report. Both authors value each others work by evaluating as well as by giving recommendations for improvement. This is especially interesting when taking into account that the report has already been published when both papers are released. By saying so, Walters and Schuller contribute to an ongoing discussion on lifelong learning policies within the field of adult education independently of publication dates and deadlines. In addition, the authors abstain from criticising all possible aspects of the other’s work in detail but rather focus on specific themes that they find important and relevant. This offers the opportunity to evaluate the work through different lenses and thus allows an interpretation from different view angles.

 

References

Jarvis, P. (2010). Inquiry into the Future of Lifelong Learning. International Journal of Lifelong learning, 29(4), 397-400.

Schuller, T. (2010). Learning through life: A response to a special issue. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 29(6), 757-766.

Walters, S. (2010). ’The planet will not survive if it’s not a learning planet’: sustainable development within learning through life. International Journal of Lifelong learning, 29(4), 427-436