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The concept of lifelong learning is surrounded by competing myths or visions that represent very different perspectives about the purposes and goals of education. In recent years, policy statements and the learning initiatives resulting from them are based on a predominantly economic rationale. They argue that globalization and technological change are widespread and permanent, and that shortages of high-level skills and inadequate education and training systems put the economic competitiveness of nations at risk. New work systems that require flexible, autonomous workers make human capital the most important resource in learning organizations, and continuous upgrading of skills is viewed as an investment in human capital. Lifelong skill development is considered primarily an individual responsibility, while the role of the state, along with employers, is to provide access to learning opportunities that individuals are free to choose. However, the human capital, economic perspective has been criticized, primarily in the United Kingdom and other European nations. Criticism is generated toward the philosophy of turning education from a public good to a private commodity, reducing individuals to their worker-producer-consumer roles, and shifting responsibility to the individual while ignoring the social nature of learning. An alternative to the human capital approach is a vision of lifelong learning based on social capital theory. In this view, lifelong learning is a public good with the goal of enriching individuals and society. In addition, there is debate about who actually participates in lifelong learning--and how it is defined. A learning society that encompasses learning for life as well as learning for work may better serve the future. (Contains 19 references.) (KC)

Descriptors: Adult Learning, Behavioral Objectives, Economic Development, Education Work Relationship, Educational Needs, Futures (of Society), Human Capital, Lifelong Learning, Postsecondary Education, Social Capital

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Autor: Kerka, Sandra


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