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Stephen Gorard & Gareth Rees
Cardiff University School of Social Sciences

Creating a learning society?
Learning careers and their relevance for policies of lifelong learning

Bristol: Policy Press
Forthcoming (March 2001)

List of contents

1. An overview of policies for lifelong learning
2. Lifelong learning trajectories
3. History, place and the learning society
4. Patterns of individual participation
5. Families and the formation of learner identities
6. The two dimensions of change
7. The role of informal learning (with Ralph Fevre)
8. The learning society and the economic imperative
9. The impact of newer policies to widen participation (with Neil Selwyn)
10. The prospects for a learning society


Lifelong learning is a topic area often addressed by both policy-makers and academics using rhetoric and critique rather than empirical evidence and logical analysis. This accessible book, on the other hand, is based on a large-scale study of patterns of lifelong participation in learning, their social and economic determinants, and their impacts on social exclusion. Our evidence is used to illustrate the broad policy implications for lifelong learning at national, regional and local level. Creating a genuinely inclusive and effective learning society involves more than breaking down barriers to participation, or increasing opportunities for adult learning, or setting national targets for qualification. There is no simple technological solution. Creating a learning society involves social and economic reform as well. It involves recognition of the value of informal and uncertificated learning, a greater responsibility for employers and, above all, abandoning the limited 'human capital' model of investment in learning.

This book is based a variety of data sources, mostly stemming from a project entitled 'Patterns of participation in adult education and training', which was completed in 1996-1999 as part of the ESRC Learning Society Programme. This project was based on previous theoretical and empirical work by the authors, in the areas of work-based and vocational training, transitions from school to work, and the creation of learner identities. The sources include a large-scale household survey of the learning experiences of around 2,500 people aged 16 to 65, subsequent interviews with a sub-sample of 110, interviews with education and training providers, historical archive analysis, and secondary analysis of the 1991 Census and the Labour Force Survey. These are supplemented by the findings of work done by the same authors on separate projects on Learning Regions, Devolution, the policy of National Target-setting, a recent NIACE survey of Adult Learning, and the use of information and communications technology to extend participation in adult learning, via policies such as the University for Industry.

The projects outlined above have generated a significant number of academic publications, written primarily to explain the methods, develop social scientific theory, or simply catalogue the findings. However, this book is new in that it brings together and makes explicit for the first time the policy implications of a major project, and in doing so uses a large quantity of previously unpublished material. Shorn of complex methodological considerations, the book is therefore aimed at those involved in shaping and working with policies of lifelong learning. These include LEAs, LSCs, the UfI and associated initiatives, the Westminster and devolved governments, training companies, and training officers in industry. The book will also be of interest, and accessible, to other parties involved in lifelong learning such as NIACE, Adult and Continuing Education Departments, and the RSA Campaign for Learning. In addition we would expect it to be a useful reference for a variety of both undergraduate and postgraduate courses in education, sociology, economics and related social sciences.

Much of the previous research evidence concerning adult participation in education and training is concerned with participants in formal settings undertaking taught and certified courses, and there are many understandable and practical reasons for this. However, the cumulative effect of such an approach is to over-represent the views and opinions of existing or recent participants in learning. Despite the growth of further and higher education, and well-documented progress towards targets for lifelong learning, it remains true that nearly one third of all adults left school as soon as legally possible (or before) and have never been involved in any episodes of formal education or training since then. This book involves the accounts of this under-exposed third of the population, showing how the problems and solutions identified from a study of non-participants (in addition to the more commonly researched participants) changes our understanding of the nature of a learning society with enormous implications, therefore, for policies of inclusion and economic improvement. For example, such a study begins to identify the vast untapped potential of informal learning opportunities currently ignored by policies such as the National Targets for Education and Training. It also shows how deeply-rooted in family background and early educational experiences are the determinants of adult participation in learning. Thus, policies aimed at simply multiplying opportunities or removing barriers to participation, such as the University for Industry, face serious problems. A set of policies aimed at creating a truly inclusive learning society would be very different from both existing and recent initiatives in this area.

The study on which this book is based was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (grant L123251041) as part of its Learning Society Programme. It also received financial support from the then Gwent, Mid Glamorgan, and West Wales Training and Enterprise Councils. None of these organisations has any responsibility for the views expressed, which remain the responsibility of the authors alone.

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Editor: Sabine Manning
First set up: 07/12/2001
Latest update: 07/12/2001