popularized social and cultural trends are merging, intentionally or not, toward laying the foundation for generating a new narrative about what it means to learn across a lifespan in an environment conducive to healthy living. It seeks to examine the coalescing of what is called lifelong learning side-by-side with the theories and practices related to the evolution of ecological thinking and environmental awareness. The idea that life can be as meaningful at its end as it is in the beginning seems to be counter to normative philosophies that instead isolate and compartmentalize schooling and work. Yet when examined together, it becomes clear that both lifelong learning and ecological thinking are simpatico and thus supportive of the greater acceptance of the other.
Lifelong learning like a mindset for environmental awareness share many philosophical and pragmatic elements. They each approach their subjects from a long-term perspective. Developed and developing nations, including America, openly center their expectations around very short-duration, purposive educational goals that reward the commercial acceptance of instantaneous gratification, straight line advancement (such as moving from one grade level to another just above) and other factors associated with throw-away consumption.
By blending the vales of a lifelong pursuit of knowledge and understanding with a global and systematic awareness of the health of the world in which we live and thrive, however, these core presumptions are directly threatened (Emerson, 2003). And at the same time, the core assumptions of both fields seem in many instances to make it hard for some to accept what each movement has to offer. It can even be said that such fundamental shifts in perspective and practices will never happen, even as many indicators suggest a transformation is already underway in its own kind of quiet revolution (Hawkens, 2007).
The pages that follow review the state of the problem and suggest that a confluence of the perspectives of lifelong learning and environmental ecology is not just happening but that the end results may be highly desirable. After a review of the literature and a look at global advancements indicators, I review a series of common definitions and assumptions that each sector offers, and then explore how the advent and pervasive use of connectivity technologies (from computers to hand-held communication devices) are facilitating a marriage of these initiatives. Throughout the piece, my findings are presented in light of changes underway in the schools and communities, often through the scope of a new type of ecoliteracy (grounded in ecological thinking and intelligence), which transcends each sector (Puk, 2002). The final section explores how specific teaching strategies are being combined with technological advancements in ways that are making it appear likely that the two fields will successfully come together in a very happy way (Ceasar, 2009).
STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
The world's educational systems and philosophies are under scrutiny. This is true in both developed countries, which already have certain structural learning models, as well as in developing countries that are just now coming to grips with how to make learning and teaching most effective within the confines of a smaller, yet highly competitive world. There are numerous indicators which suggest that contemporary, formal educational models are not providing all of what they promise (Aspin and Chapman, 2007). Many young people are not completing school and even those that do find they are not prepared for their working lives to come. As a result, there has been a rising tide toward the institutionalization of more structured, highly regimented learning tactics -- a momentum that is gaining even more force in the light of significant governmental and personal resource struggles. Governmental initiatives such as the No Child Left Behind directives in the U.S. (and a similar Level 2 Qualifications in the UK) were designed over the last decade in no small part specifically to address these issues and to establish standardized teaching and testing directives (Hodgson, 2009). Essentially, the argument being made through these efforts by both liberal and conservative advocates is that because other approaches are not working well, the better alternatives for ensuring the preparation of a strong future workforce is by enabling young people to be more "scientifically" ready for global vocational success. If all students take similar core (or what might be called STEM courses), it would be much easier to make sure that teachers everywhere were being equally beneficial to student learning abilities[footnoteRef:1]. Tests grounded in scientific and mathematical conformity likewise provide school administrations and colleges and universities the presumed ability to better judge learning achievement as they prepare students primarily for future job readiness (Van Kleef, 2007). [1: STEM is the acronym for an American focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. While noble in its intentions, here it is seen as more of an obstacle to allowing other types of learning into school because people believe hard sciences are more effective than softer social sciences. This issue is discussed later. See http://www.stemeducation.com/. ]
While this perspective is without question under intensive scrutiny, for the most part it remains prevalent even in the face of another growing educational perspective that is clearly taking root. Lifelong learning as an object worthy of exploration is already finding a place in many social, community, employment and advocacy sectors, even when it flies directly in the face of the movement toward standardized learning and testing (Aspin and Chapman, 2007: Puk, 2002), even though some might think the impact of this collision is being ignored or at least downplayed (Hodgson, 2009).
But whether it is being ignored or not says little about how well its roots are actually taking hold. Those who profess an allegiance to the idea of learning across the full spectrum of one's lifespan are succeeding in integrating their concepts into various philosophical and pragmatic domains. They are even directly implementing lifelong learning tools, tactics and presumptions into what two of what remain as the most solid groundings for more traditional formal learning, the schools and the separation of continuing adult education from ongoing lifetime (or some say life-wide) knowledge acquisition and usage (Eason, 2010). Even in the face of mounting evidence to the effect that learning works best when it is highly individualized and contextual, most people who view public and even private schooling still see it as being something unique from learning that happens elsewhere (such as when job skills need to be refined or when a new career becomes necessary) -- which makes it more difficult to integrate life-wide learning strategies (Medel-Anonuevo, 2001).
This struggle is problematic on many fronts. For one it is age-related, which flies in the face of many assumptions about the importance of birth to death learning. For another, it has allow for the development of a very isolated process of formal education and many people and groups do not want to give up on this approach (Axford and Seddon, 2006). But perhaps even more important is the fact that for the most part even lifelong learning advocates still accept in their own ways that children and young people do in fact learn so differently that the ways in which they are taught have to be entirely separate and distinct. While it may be okay for adult or continuing education to be rather transcendental and transformative, this will not work for younger students who do not have the requisite personal and life experiences to learn differently (Dirkx, 1998). Early developers of lifelong learning and educational assumptions were very clear that they were not looking to figure out how to challenge the traditional schooling system or methodologies for these reasons; instead, they were most interested in looking at the larger reasons and rationales for why adults could and should continue to value learning later in life.
The result of this, however, was not entirely what was expected. This trend has made it such that lifelong learning approaches have found themselves boxed into a number of traps that have made their cherished concepts seem unreachable, if not surreal (Resnick, 2003; Puk, 2002). One notable problem comes with how formal education is intensely oriented around job acquisition and work readiness -- a situation that brings up concerns about how selfish or wasteful non-work-oriented learning can be.
This realization has been noted in other ways too. Some people believe that lifelong learning cannot really occur because it is very difficult to move people back toward books after they have become used to their television remote controls and what those technologies represent (fast, bite size, entertainment) (Earon, 2006). This perspective flows from the acceptance that there is a very pervasive anti-intellectual stream in American (and other global) lifestyles that makes many people shy away from more than the minimum of educational requirement. In tough times or as one gets older, learning for the sake of learning takes away from earning money and pulls people from their families and friends. This has been suggested to be most true of the working classes of people in America and elsewhere for fairly obvious reasons of their…
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