Almost a year ago I have taken on my first formal leadership role as team lead. I have had experience from informal leadership roles (project leader, central function position) in cross-cultural contexts and some theoretical knowledge on cross-cultural management. Now I was curious about the concept of leadership in cross-cultural settings and enrolled in a university course on that topic. This is part three of a series of three posts (find part I here, part II here) describing my main learnings from the course.
Almost a year ago I have taken on my first formal leadership role as team lead. I have had experience from informal leadership roles (project leader, central function position) in cross-cultural contexts and some theoretical knowledge on cross-cultural management. Now I was curious about the concept of leadership in cross-cultural settings and enrolled in a university course on that topic. This is part two of a series of three posts (find part I here, part III here) describing my main learnings from the course.
Almost a year ago I have taken on my first formal leadership role as team lead. I have had experience from informal leadership roles (project leader, central function position) in cross-cultural contexts and some theoretical knowledge on cross-cultural management. Now I was curious about the concept of leadership in cross-cultural settings and enrolled in a university course on that topic. This is part one of a series of three (find post II here and post III here) posts describing my main learnings from the course.
I did it again. After 6 ECTS in a summer school course covering the brain & behavior, I took a 15 ECTS distance course covering neuroscience basics. Along the way, I documented insights which challenged my knowledge and practice in human resource management and beyond. This post consists of three parts: first, I shared the most insightful questions and answers from my course, second, you will find some of my general reflections and finally, you can find a section with recommended further resources. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: As a neuroscience professional you might find these basics mundane and simplified, if even incorrect. In case of the latter, please reach out and support me in my learning process.
This text was originally handed in as my final assignment of course TIA130 V15 Applied Research Methods and Design for Information Technologies and Learning within the International Master’s programme Information Technology & Learning at Gothenburg University on March 25st 2015.
Human Resource (HR) policies are powerful instruments to define continuous professional learning strategies in workplace environments. They constitute definitions of central concepts such as knowledge, learning and competence for a specific organization and thus contribute to distinguish between these terms instead of using them synonymously (Säljö, 2012). Consistency in underlying theories can strengthen the organisation’s capability by combining “human capital (people skills and knowledge), social capital (relationships between people) and organisational capital (the organisation’s processes), and aligning them such that each supports the others” (Harris & Short, 2014, p. 5). In a society where knowledge becomes the most valuable good; including consistent epistemological, pedagogical and assessment related theoretical concepts in HR policies to reveal and evaluate this knowledge becomes increasingly important. Additionally, rising complexity and uncertainty in the world around us demands a focus shift from training to learning, from instructors to learners and from training departments to workplaces as a whole (Harris & Short, 2014). By saying so, future policies must not only embrace management theories but theories of knowledge management and learning to fulfill this increasing demands.
Competence-based assessment enables, besides others, the acknowledgement of pre-defined competences in a systematic way. However, coining the term competence is a challenging undertaking. Most definitions can be attributed to a middle space between competence as collective/universal attribute and competence as individual capacity (Le Deist & Winterton, 2005). The same authors propose a “multi-dimensional holistic competence approach”, which they see as an “opportunity of better aligning educational and work-based provision as well as exploiting the synergy between formal education and experiential learning to develop professional competence” (Le Deist & Winterton, 2005, p. 40). In this approach, competence is illustrated as a tetrahedron, consisting of cognitive competence (knowledge and understanding), functional competence (skills, social competence) and social competence (behavioural and attitudinal competencies) with a meta-competence being the facilitator for acquiring the other competences. The difficulty lies in the demand for describing competence in a multi-dimensional way. Additionally, such approach affects assessment practise, which has to reflect underlying competence assumptions. Another challenge is the ambiguity of the cognitive competence being the only component covering knowledge, while at the same time being inseparable from the other components. This competence approach merely touches upon socio-cultural lenses of knowledge, where this can be created, stored and retrieved through the embedded context the individual finds him-/herself in. Hence, it only implicitly considers workplace networks conceptualizations, such as the workplace exchange network proposed by Cole, Schaninger and Harris (2002). However, making these networks explicit is necessary to reveal not only social networks per se, but another layer of an authentic professional learning experience.
If workplace environments are seen as best represented by socio-cultural learning theories, the future bottleneck will be competence-based assessment practices. This is because firstly, power will shift from employers to employees due to demographic developments and secondly, acknowledgement of competence will continue to be the driving force within labour markets. Constantly re-defining required competences for this assessment practices is a bottomless pit in the light of the demand for more flexible position descriptions and rising expectations of employees. However, expanding the competence approach by measures of social network analysis (SNA) to describe the positions of individual actors and groups as well as their relations (ties) to one another within a certain network can contribute to extenuate the bottleneck effects. In the course of this thesis it will be necessary to give an overview of components which SNA can reveal in relation to learning assessment practises and how they can be interpreted in a meaningful way considering the organizational context. Another perspective SNA offers is the intent to represent actual networks independently of pre-defined competences. As a result, categories such as formal/informal learning could be partially merged by evaluating employees’ networks as a whole. Generating explicit competences can promote misleading dichotomies, such as for example body/mind (is there a strict distinction between cognitive, social and functional competence?) and formal/informal (how does this approach embrace and promote spontaneous learning activities outside of formal schedules for learning activities?). If knowledge and learning is said to be embodied in the contextual environment of the actors in a network, using competence-based assessment approaches might be partly inconsistent.
In my research proposal, I suggest a shift in assessment approaches by exploring SNA as a method of the emerging field of learning analytics. As for the exact measures, I still have to decide on a network principle I would like explore. For this, I will need some more extended literature review on previous research efforts. As for now, I stick to the measure of centrality, being the most important tool for analysing the importance of social network actors (Carrington, Scott, & Wasserman, 2005). All in all, I claim that SNA provides potential to reveal, measure and evaluate employees’ learning networks and their learning experience based on diverse data sources readily available. In a competitive economic environment, advantages will lie within making use of data and having power over developing suitable algorithms for the good of the organization. Social networks represent knowledge to a certain extend and thus should be considered as assessment approach for employee suitability and the value of knowledge in organizational HR strategies.
The research question for my proposal is formulated by
Can centrality measures of social network analysis (SNA) complement competence-based assessment approaches in workplace environments to support the implementation of HR policies based on socio-cultural/embodied learning theories?
Measures of centrality in SNA have been discussed widely but can be narrowed down to the three most important concepts degree, betweenness and closeness (Freeman, 1978). Competency based assessment approaches refer to defining sets of competence as a basis for assessing concepts such as employee performance and potential. HR policies are seen as representations of the strategic perspective on all human resource related topics within a certain organization. Socio- cultural/embodied learning theories represent the branch of learning theories within which learning and knowledge is seen as inseparable from its context and the social networks in which it occurs.
As for prior research it becomes clear that the focus lies on formal school settings and includes mostly students, indicating a gap of researching learning in organizations in general. In addition, most research has been conducted in online environments, leaving aside the potential to use centrality measures for offline social networks as well. In relation to organizational educational settings, it has been proposed to focus more on uncovering the holistic (authentic) professional learning experience than the evaluation of specific learning programmes (Webster-Wright, 2009).
Dawson (2008) used social network analysis to determine the relation between a student’s position in the social network and their reported sense of community. She concluded, that the centrality measures closeness and degrees are positively correlated to the reported sense of community, while betweenness show the opposite correlation. In addition, pre-existing external social networks influence the sense of community experienced to a certain extend. Kovanović, Joksimović, Gašević, and Hatala (2014) investigated the concept of social presence and it’s positive correlation to network centrality measures by taking data from student discussion boards. The relationship between digital learning and network learning has been detected by the study of Ünlüsoy, De Haan, Leander, and Volker (2013). Levels of activism and their correlation to occupational ties for movement participants have been investigated by Tindall, Cormier, and Diani (2012). All of these studies can be valuable starting points for my research proposal to identify more explicit concepts.
The objectives of this study are to evaluate two perspectives on learning in current HR research, namely workforce development and continuous professional learning. Furthermore, it intends to identify the importance of terms such as competence, knowledge, learning and assessment in HR policies and demonstrate the limitations of competence-based assessment approaches from a socio-cultural stance on learning. By illustrating the potential of SNA, it depicts a contributor to an assessment approach which can reveal authentic learning experience in the workplace. To illustrate the potential of SNA, this research investigates the correlation between network position focusing on centrality measures and learning experience by analysing and comparing learner’s position in social networks within a formal online training course and in the internal social media platform in general.
The intended audience for this study are learning policy and strategy makers in workplace environments, particularly focusing on assessment practices and the notion of knowledge in organizational environments. The proposed study is particular useful as it takes a critical stance on competence management, assessment practices and their significance for future continuous professional learning strategies. Furthermore by intending to be even more specific in chosen terminology and methodology, it aims at closing the identified gaps in the literature. One important aspect that is still left open is the identification of specific concepts, which shall be researched. The way this proposal is formulated now is still too broad and bold in assumptions and to less focussed on actual underlying theories. Assessment is one concept which needs clarification, especially to support its importance in this proposal as a whole. The same applies for the importance of knowledge and the particular link to underlying theories such as knowledge management and management theories.
Within HR policies wording and terminology are important factors. Rephrasing professional development by continuous professional learning could contribute to exploring the holistic learning experience of professionals. In addition to this shift in terminology to address authentic professional learning, Webster-Wright (2009) identifies a lack of research when it comes to exploring the latter holistic learning experience. Assessment is said to be a critical factor within the epistemology – pedagogy – assessment triangle and reflects assumptions about knowledge and learning. Methods of learning analytics shall be used only when these intersections are clearly understood and considered (Knight, Buckingham, & Littleton, 2014). By revealing social networks of employees, this approach could contribute to respond to future research suggestions investigating coherent models of learning within workplace environments which include formal and informal learning aspects (Kyndt & Baert, 2013).
The gap exists when it comes to relating measures of SNA to the value of an individual’s position within his/her social networks in an organizational context. This is because most studies using measures of SNA are mostly performed in educational settings and relate these measures to competency based assessment results.
Hence, there is a missing link between measures of SNA and their potential for economic network value estimation. Some research might guide directions, such as research into social networks and sense of community (Dawson, 2008) or social capital (Kovanović, Joksimović, Gašević, & Hatala, 2014). However, these studies are again connected to academic performance in formal education settings. Current research additionally attempts to create approaches where data is used to extract competencies and match them with the organizational recruiting requirements. But these approaches are based on defined competencies, an approach I am aiming to complement (or even substitute) by using measures of SNA and borrowing suitable terminology for this purpose. For the development of my proposal, it is necessary to identify those research papers using SNA to describe social networks for the sake of being networks and using appropriate complementary concepts to value them.
Carrington, P. J., Scott, J., Wasserman, S. (2005). Models and methods in social network analysis: Elektronisk resurs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cole, M. S., Schaninger, W. S., & Harris, S. G. (2002). The workplace social exchange network: A multilevel, conceptual examination. Group & Organization Management, 27(1), 142-167. doi:10.1177/1059601102027001008.
Dawson, S. (2008). A study of the relationship between student social networks and sense of community. Educational Technology & Society, 11(3), 224–238.
Freeman, L. C. (1978). Centrality in social networks conceptual clarification. Social Networks, 1(3), 215-239. doi:10.1016/0378-8733(78)90021-7.
Gonczi, A. (2004). The New Professional and Vocational Education. In Foley (Ed.) The Dimensions of Adult Education (pp. 19-34). Open University Press.
Harris, R., Short, T. (2014). Workforce development: Perspectives and issues. Singapore: Springer Singapore.
Haythornthwaite, C. (1996). Social network analysis: An approach and technique for the study of information exchange. Library and Information Science Research, 18(4), 323-342. doi:10.1016/S0740-8188(96)90003-1.
Hogan, B., Carrasco, J. A., & Wellman, B. (2007). Visualizing personal networks: Working with participant-aided sociograms. Field Methods, 19(2), 116-144. doi:10.1177/1525822X06298589.
Kovanović, V., Joksimović, S., Gašević, D., Hatala, M. (2014), “What is the source of social capital? The association between social network position and social presence in communities of inquiry,” In Proceedings of 7th International Conference on Educational Data Mining – Workshops, London, UK.
Knight, S., Buckingham Shum, S. & Littleton, K. (2014). Epistemology, assessment, pedagogy: where learning meets analytics in the middle space. Journal of Learning Analytics, 1(2) pp. 23–47.
Kyndt, E., & Baert, H. (2013). Antecedents of employees’ involvement in work-related learning: A systematic review. Review of Educational Research, 83(2), 273-313.
Le Deist, F. D., & Winterton, J. (2005). What is competence? Human Resource Development International, 8(1), 27-46. doi:10.1080/1367886042000338227.
Tan, E. (2014). Human capital theory: A holistic criticism. Review of Educational Research, 84(3), 411-445. doi:10.3102/0034654314532696.
Säljö, R. (2012). Literacy, digital literacy and epistemic practices: The co-evolution of hybrid minds and external memory systems. Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy, 7(1), 5-20.
Tindall, D. B., Cormier, J., & Diani, M. (2012). Network social capital as an outcome of social movement mobilization: Using the position generator as an indicator of social network diversity. Social Networks, 34(4), 387-395. doi:10.1016/j.socnet.2011.12.007.
Tubaro, P., Casilli, A. A., & Mounier, L. (2014). Eliciting personal network data in web surveys through participant-generated sociograms. Field Methods, 26(2), 107-125.
Ünlüsoy, A., De Haan, M., Leander, K., & Volker, B. (2013). Learning potential in youth’s online networks: A multilevel approach. Computers & Education, 68, 522.
Webster-Wright, A. (2009). Reframing professional development through understanding authentic professional learning. Review of Educational Research, 79(2), 702-739. doi:10.3102/0034654308330970.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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