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International Journal of LifelongEducationPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/tled20
The limits of learning throughout ourlivesPublished online: 30 Apr 2009.
To cite this article: (2009) The limits of learning throughout our lives, International Journal ofLifelong Education, 28:3, 287-288, DOI: 10.1080/02601370902854641
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02601370902854641
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INT. J. OF LIFELONG EDUCATION, VOL. 28, NO. 3 (MAYJUNE 2009), 287288
International Journal of Lifelong Education ISSN 0260-1370 print/ISSN 1464-519X online 2009 Taylor & Francis http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals
The limits of learning throughout our lives
Taylor and Francis LtdTLED_A_Editorial.sgm10.1080/International Journal of Lifelong Education0260-1370 print/1464-519X onlineContents2009Teacher Development283000000May-June 2009Lifelong education has become lifelong learning in the vocabulary of both academ-ics and planners: but we have always been confused about the use of the learningin this manner. Fundamentally in one use of the term lifelong learning we are stilltalking about the educational process but emphasising the learning rather than theteaching elements. However, learning has also always meant the process of acquir-ing knowledge, skills, emotions, attitudes, meaning, values, and so on, and we havepostulated rather simple theories of learningsuch as behaviourism and informa-tion processing. In the process, we have tended to omit the fact that it is the personwho makes these acquisitions and the person is both body and minditself afundamental philosophical problem. It is this complex being who acquires orchanges these facilities in the learning process for they are the attributes of thepersonlearning is the person in the process of change and these attributes can bestudied from a wide variety of perspectives.
The body, for instance can be studied from a number of disciplinesphysiology,biology, genetics, neurology, and so on. In this sense we can study the changingbody from each of themand in some ways each of these natural sciences help usunderstand aspects of the learning process. For instance, the physiological can helpus understand changes induced by diets, drugs, exercise, levels of sleep and so onand we know that our learning can be affected by each of these and that this can anddoes happen throughout our lives. The more we know about these physiologicalchanges, the more we can understand learning. Consequently, we can have a physi-ology of learning, even a pharmacology of learning, and so on. Paradoxically, wemay not be aware that our learning is affected by diet and exercise, etc. but researchdemonstrates that it isso that we can begin to conclude that we do not have to beconsciously aware of everything that affects us to understand our learning, althoughas academics seeking to study learning across different age groups and differentcontinents throughout the lifetime, we should be aware that lifelong learning canbe better understood by having an awareness of these disciplines. However, thereare many elements of these disciplines that may not be related to learning theoryand so, in these pure sciences we may begin to see the limits of learning theory.
In the same way we can begin to ask questions about evolution: this is the twohundredth anniversary of Darwins birth. Amongst his major contributions toscience has been his theory of natural selection and evolution. Here we see specieschange and in some ways this implies learning: Darwin was aware of this. But it is notwhole species which change at once. The change is much more individualistic thanthis. As changes occur within speciesdepending upon where they are geographi-cally situated, their diets, and so on in the changing conditions of the earthwe cansee how certain species change in different ways, and how only some will be able tocope with the changing situations. In the changes within and between species there
is a process of natural selection. The extent to which these changes are learned is adebatable question and once again we may not always be fully conscious of thelearning/change that is occurringbut in the fuzziness of this change we might bereaching the limits of our understanding of learning. However, Dawkins hasextended this debate in some ways with his work on memetics, with which we needto become familiar. We may be unhappy with his conclusions in respect to culturebut he is pointing the way to a biological debate about learning and, like ourprevious conclusion, we may be beginning to see the limits of learning theory.
In recent years neurological research has begun to open new doors and we arebeginning to see how magnetic imaging is revealing what happens inside the brainwhen we learn. Brain research may not add a great deal new to our knowledge ofhuman learning apart from, and very importantly, providing the empirical evidenceof what goes on in the brain when we learn. What we also learn from brain researchis the mechanism of pre-conscious learningwe have known about this form oflearning for many years, but only now can we demonstrate how it actually occursand there are many other instances of thislike emotional reaction and learning indangerous situations. However, the making of the neurological connections is notthe actual learning but it is about the processes that underlie our learning. In thecoming years we may be able to see the different neurological processes in the brainof learners of different ages, genders and cultures: in this way these studies willenrich our understanding of lifelong learning and at the same time begin to pointto the limits of human learning.
Since the human person is body and mind/brain we can see how each of thesepure sciences relate in a variety of ways to the human sciencesso that the complex-ity of learning theory is reflected in the complexity of human action. We can havesociological, psychological, anthropological studies of human learning: we have longknown this. But what we are now beginning to see is that multi-disciplinary and thenintegrated studies of learning can occur as we seek to combine these perspectivesthis has occurred, for instance, in areas such as evolutionary psychology.
Ultimately, this drives us back to the nature of the person and this leads us toprofound philosophical questionsquestions that are not only about the personbut about the person who learnsa philosophy of learning. As learning theorydevelops, so we need to develop these multi-disciplinary perspectives on lifelonglearning so that we can broaden our understanding of a human process that hasbeen narrowed and constrained by restricting lifelong learning to work-life learning.