The Learning Age will have as dramatic an effect as the invention of steam power, writes Bill Lucas.
THE Campaign for Learning welcomes the Government's vision of our future in its Green Paper, The Learning Age. The revolution in the way we learn will not just be for those who have done well out of the educational system in the past. It will seek to draw in those who have had a raw deal. At the heart of the new thinking is the passionate belief that we all have the capacity to learn and develop.
Investment in accessible learning, linked to guidance, information and support, coupled with intelligent use of technology, leads to greater competitiveness. This creates greater employability and improved health and happiness. It ushers in a fairer, more inclusive society.
Central to The Learning Age are two interesting propositions, individual learning accounts and the University for Industry. They are both in their development phases. Learning accounts signal a powerful shift of control from those who supply learning to those who buy it. The UFI will make a reality of new styles of delivery using new technologies and especially focused on smaller companies - just-in-time learning at the right place and in an appropriate, affordable style.
These developments constitute a giant change. The effects will be as dramatic as those created by the invention of steam power, the telephone or atomic fission. They will need a transformation in our attitudes to learning. This is why the Campaign for Learning exists. Working with business, the voluntary sector, educational providers and the Government, we aim to whet an appetite for learning in those people in whom it has gone dead.
And there are already very positive signs in our 1998 State of the Nation MORI poll of attitudes to learning.
A majority of adults (65 per cent) would like to take part in some form of learning in the next 12 months. This is an increase on our 1996 survey. And 79 per cent of young people say they enjoy learning and there is a near universal perception among adults and young people that learning will become more important in the next millennium.
There are clear indications about how to motivate people to learn - 34 per cent would be most influenced by factors at work, 25 per cent by friends, 21 per cent by their families and 17 per cent by a local college. "Discover the hidden talents within you" was chosen by 41 per cent of adults as the phrase which would most turn them on to learning, while young people and the unemployed chose "Learn for a better future". Other research we have recently completed on women with children in low-income families suggests that this group can be motivated to learn how to find out about their children's schooling and how to get the skills to return to work.
Just over half of young people enjoy learning at school. But they would like there to be more visits to places of interest (57 per cent), concentration on things they are good at (34 per cent), help to plan their future learning (32 per cent) and more work experience (32 per cent).
While it is always easier to assume that learners learn in the way we want to teach, learning is much messier than that. We want to learn at home, at work, in libraries, from the television, on holiday, in museums, in pubs and clubs, in other people's homes and at church. This is in addition to the obvious learning environments, the school, the college and the university. Some of us like to do practical things, others to study on their own. Some prefer demonstrations, others want to practise it themselves. Some need to think things through for themselves in private. Others prefer group activities.
A very large number of people, 77 per cent, would prefer to work for an employer who provides time, money and support for their training rather than big salary increases and 69 per cent of adults say they would find time to use a workplace learning centre if one were provided.
The evidence is there. We do want to learn. But we want learning which suits our needs. The Learning Age demonstrates the kind of new thinking that learners want. It provides mechanisms in which supply and demand can increasingly work in harmony. Einstein asserted that "the significant problems we are facing today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when they created them". The Learning Age is an example of high-level, very joined-up thinking of a kind we have not seen for many decades.
* Bill Lucas is chief executive of the national Campaign for Learning