“There are few educators who would disagree with the principle that lifelong learning is a good thing but the important questions are about the types of learning that the concept promotes, the life that it encourages us to lead, who benefits from this and the nature of the society that it upholds.” (Crowther, 2012, p.801)
This quote asks us to explore the social aspects and impacts of education. As a result, we must, as educators, look at lifelong learning in a broader context. By adding social context to the discussion, we can understand how a dedication to lifelong learning, reflection, and analysis can impact the social fabric of a society and effect real social change. But how does that change transpire? Does a society committed to lifelong learning look at education as a means for social change, or is social change a result of educated and actively engaged citizens who are committed to actively improve their world and the world around them? Crowther’s debate explores whether or not lifelong learning whose purpose is to create individuals who are self-sufficient in many ways – self directed, self interested, and self-funded (Crowther, 2012), will ultimately result in changes to a system that was built on the concept of providing free and accessible education and other services to its citizens.
As a result, as teachers we have to look at how we see the impact of learning on the outside world. Is our role to guide our students to adapt to the world that is or to give them the tools and skills to create the world that will be? Much depends on the students themselves, their stages of life, and the learning itself. Increasingly, we see multi-generational and multicultural workplaces and classrooms, and cohorts that include individuals who have yet to embark on a working career and those who are just winding down from one. This dynamic requires the instructor to adapt and an opportunity to use the variety of experiences and points of view the learners bring to enrich the context of the course beyond the curriculum.
Critical to the examination of the net beneficiary of lifelong learning as a concept is the realization that social change and a critically thinking society are deeply connected. Without continual learning and adapting, society is condemned to an endless status quo, which benefits only those who have little to gain from any meaningful change and creates a climate of apathy. In an age where Yong Zhou states, “education has been preparing our students for an economy that no longer exists” (2014) change, both within and outside the formal education system seems inevitable. This can be evidenced by the increased focus on personalized learning and a different set of skills such as adaptability and thinking outside the box as being seen as keys to success in today’s world.
In looking at how to adapt this to the training I have a hand in delivering, I have realized that learning, regardless of the subject matter can have a net impact on society as a whole. Whether it be from teaching sustainability to a culinary student or presenting reflective exercises that offer students the opportunity to explore how they view a problem from many angles, including the social context can lead to students approaching what they have learned with a slightly different perspective than perhaps we as teachers did when presenting. In addition, the concept that society benefits from an educated population seems not to be in question, but rather that what the benefits are vary as greatly as those we encounter in our classrooms and workplaces.
Crowther, J. (2012) ‘Really Useful Knowledge’ or ‘Merely Useful’ Lifelong Learning’. In Aspin, D., Chapman, J., Evans, K., & Bagnall, R. (Eds.) (2012). Second International Handbook of Lifelong Learning: Part 1 and Part 2. (Springer International Handbooks of Education; Vol. 26). Dordrecht, Heidelberg, London, New York: Springer.
Zhao, Y (2014, July 2) College Ready or Out-of-Basement Ready: Shifting the Education Paradigm. In Education in the Age of Globalization. Retrieved from: http://zhaolearning.com/2014/07/02/college-ready-vs-out-of-basement-ready-shifting-the-education-paradigm/