Friday, October 9, 2009

The Learning Society

Continual acquisition and sharing of knowledge and skill to cope with our changing environment defines homo sapiens.  Learning to survive and gain partial control of our environment has involved the invention of powerful mediating tools and the social constructions of complex systems of language and culture.  Learning to use these tools and language systems has been intimately linked with the work of developing them through most of human history .D. W.,  . . but the quest for knowledge has been the most distinctive intrinsic feature in the origin of our species. In this respect human societies have always been learning societies.  (Livingstone, 2004, p. 2)

Livingstone's statement presents learning societies as an inherent component of the human experience; others maintain that the learning society is a modern day myth that has neither been realized nor is close to existing (Smith, 2000). Reality or myth, a common theme in the literature is that the concept of a learning society helps us to make sense of the profound social and economic changes that are occurring in this era of globalization.  Further to this, it has been proposed that the importance of the learning society is that our future survival depends on our ability to adopt the habit of mind of lifelong learning as well as the intentional action towards its realization.
The learning society model put forth by Keating and Hertzman in Developmental Health and the Wealth of Nations contributes a theoretical framework of understanding based on deep consideration of the social, biological, and educational dynamics of developmental health and the promotion of a future healthy and prosperous global society by ensuring quality developmental experiences in the early years. 
A most compelling reason stated for understanding the significance of a learning society concept is in relation to the global momentum toward innovation-based knowledge economies.  As human resources are a key component to innovation, societies that do not invest in their human resources stand to limit their chances to prosper in future growth economies. 
Keating points out that it is not only the availability of human resources that matter to well-functioning societies and economies, but also how those resources are organized:

Source: Developmental Health and the Wealth of Nations

The ability to function as a civic society with self-renewing "social capital" (Putnam, 1992), to generate the human capital necessary for economic prosperity in the information age, and to adapt to the rapid social and technology changes we now confront depends heavily on how a society organizes itself to support human development.  (p. 249)

Furthermore he states, "Learning or knowledge societies are characterized by higher rates of participation and engagement, and by greater reservoirs of social capital. The levels of competence and coping in the population are thus also likely to be crucial resources for the development of adaptable and resilient learning societies." The proposed conceptual framework provides a starting point for understanding the complexity of human development from biology to society, but its inherently dynamic nature also requires extensive ongoing discussion and coordinated action in order to influence its future evolution. 

We are all of necessity both observers and participants in this system, and perhaps it is only through such an extended conversation open to all observers, that we will be able to grasp the core dynamics of the system and move it toward greater prosperity and developmental health—which we suspect, may become fundamentally the same in the not too distant future.  (Keating & Hertzman, 1999, p. 16)
In this respect the learning society framework is seen as a social experiment aimed at attempting to resolve modernity's paradox of material abundance on one hand versus the deterioration of developmental health equity.  Seeking to establish a learning society based on facilitating collaborative knowledge building within the context of a learning organization, can serve to enfranchise diverse participation in a knowledge economy, increase available social capital, and thereby both increase a nation's and individual's competitive advantage and forge stronger social, educational and communication connections.
(Excerpt from Zijdemans, 2005).

The full details on the Learning Society Framework and it theoretical underpinnings can be found in the collected volume:

Keating, D. P., & Hertzman, C. (Eds.). (1999). Developmental health and the wealth of nations: Social, biological, and educational dynamics. New York: Guilford Press.

Paper Summaries by Dona Matthews
Keating, D. P., & Mustard, J. F. (1996). The National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth: An essential element for building a learning society in Canada. CIAR Program in Human Development, Working Paper #8.
      Keating (2001) The Learning Society Lecture presentation
     Keating (1999) The Learning Society: a human development agenda Ch12  

Livingstone, D.W. (2000). The learning society (Jackson Lecture). Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto

Marsick, V. J., Bitterman, J., & Van der Veen, R. (2000). From the learning organization to learning communities toward a learning society. Ohio: ERIC Clearinghouse. 

Schon, D. A. (1973). On the learning society. In Beyond the stable state. Public and private learning in a changing society. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books. Retrieved June 1, 2005, from 

Smith, M. K. (2001) 'Peter Senge and the learning organization', the encyclopedia of informal education,

Smith, M. K. (2000). The theory and rhetoric of the learning society. Encyclopedia of informal education. London: Cassell. Retrieved June 1, 2005, from

Zijdemans, A.S. (2005) Exploring a Socio-Technological Design for Knowledge Development: The Millennium Dialogue on Early Child Development. PhD dissertation. OISE/UT.

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