Business and industry are being asked to support a pioneering research project to discover how people learn.
A pound;2.5 million appeal, led by the Scottish Council for Research in Education and headed by the former Lord Chancellor, was launched on Wednesday with the support of Donald Dewar, the Secretary of State. Its backers believe a "unique and ambitious" approach is necessary for a long-term study into lifelong learning from pre-school into adulthood.
Mr Dewar said a greater understanding of the process of learning was crucial if initiatives such as the University of Industry and the National Grid for Learning, launched this week, are to bear fruit. "It is essential that we examine the roles played in learning by parents, teachers, the media and peer group influence, and how this information can inform and be applied to the development of a learning society," Mr Dewar said.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the former Lord Chancellor, who has agreed to act as patron of the appeal, said the consensus about the value of continued learning has obscured the fact that little is known about how to bring it about. The part played by early experiences in later motivation to learn was one issue to be explored.
Alistair MacFarlane, the former principal of Heriot-Watt University, who is chairman of the appeal, called for commercial backing to get it off the ground. "Most educational research is short-term and unable to follow the processes and roles of learning in the lives of individual people," Professor MacFarlane said.