Posted by: Gillian | March 26, 2009

Three keys to creating adult learning economies

There are three key learning posts of the last year:  Mike Wesch’s Portal to Digital Literacy on YouTube, Stephen Downes re-post of his thesis proposal and Shift Happens, the video that was shown at the BILD in Edinburgh and reposted by Erik Duval.  Put together, these suggest a way forward for adult learning to be redesigned to support creative economies and build a way out of recession.  But how?There is no doubt that innovative teachers are really making an impact with technologies that can be lumped together under the popular title, “Web2.0”.  That encompasses a broad variety of social networking using tools such as Facebook (contacts), Slideshare (powerpoint), Flickr (photos) and Twitter (brief messages), LinkedIn (professional contacts) and is illustrated in university use by Michael Wesch.  Given mobile phones, a willing, creative, teacher and a good project title – just watch them go.  That is the input end of education.

At the output end, there is the sobering message of Shift Happens.  I have long been worried about purely competence-based learning.  Being very practical about it, one gathers together a group of experts (who must have taken some time to be expert) and take about two years from initial ‘must have a consultation’ to agree a syllabus.  Syllabus takes a year to fit through a pre-determined QA procedure.  It then gets advertised and delivered.  Shift Happens assumes that half of what is taught in Yr 1 on an ICT degree programme is out of date before the programme ends but was it in date at the start?  There are occasions when competence-based learning is important and high-end medicine, for example, can use rapid project techniques to keep absolutely up to date in assessment needs but, let’s face it, the majority of education is less critical-case driven so design and quality processes take time.

Then, there is the idea in Stephen Downes’ paper that association is more important than simple connection or cognition.  If human beings make relativity judgements from a mass of data and come up with associative best guesses as responses to situations, then perhaps the new economic need for creativity should focus less on measuring connective competence as an end in itself and more on facilitating the development of conditions right for associative leaps of faith.  To be sure, such conditions require a range of base knowledge but the goal is not to deliver 100% in tests with pre-determined answers but, given that perfect knowledge, to do something new with it.  By using new technologies to link with much wider ranges of people than the bricks-n-mortar classroom, students can gather and test ideas across a much broader spectrum.  All that is needed is the teachers challenge, ‘What can you do with this base?’  Well, that and a well-written set of course/programme outcomes that pass the QA hurdles!


  1. I couldn’t agree more Gillian with what you have said. Teaching adults really does need to look at its existing practices and processes. However, training adults, particularly in corporate settings, is, I feel, another matter altogether. The agenda is different for a start in terms of needs and outcomes and yet, so often, eyes are taken off the ball in terms of improving workplace performance where it needs to be improved, as far too many fancy theories and solutions are presented in the name of training and development!

    • Ah, corporate twaddle-itis! Love it. Often the confusion of training and educating plus a dose of jargon. Unpicking it frays the nerves but is worth it in the end. 😉

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