Adults Who Do Not Learn

There have been a couple of highly interesting responses to the news story, Third of adults 'not learning.' Frank Carver posted a comment, while Tony Karrer posted a blog pointing out that there was more to 'learning' that what was pointed out in the article.

Thus, it might be interesting to compare this study to another study done by Allen Tough, who was one of the first persons to really delve into the study of informal learning. His study showed that 10% were not involved in intentional learning. Since his study used intensive face-to-face interviews, the researchers could really probe and tailer the interview to fit the person. His conclusion was that these people who were not learning were actually quite 'content' at the time. Tough writes, "They learned how to raise their kids or do their job or whatever, but now they’re just sort of on a plateau, but life is good, it’s content, it’s not that they’re under extraordinary stress." Basically, they were taking a break from intentional learning.

He also mentions another study that looked at older people in a nursing home. The study found almost no informal learning taking place because it was a very repressive kind of atmosphere that presented absolutely no stimulation to learn.

The two studies basically only look at 'intentional learning' -- purposely learning in order to change one's life; rather than 'incidental learning' -- learning that occurs unintentionally or by chance. We learn incidentally because we are in the world. We learn intentionally because something in the world draws our interest.

Thus, I think we can start drawing some conclusions from the two studies. People learn 'incidentally' almost every day, while 'intentional' learning is on a continuum. On one-end are a small minority of people who are in repressive learning environments, such as people in nursing homes, holding two jobs and are too tired to set out to learn, and coach potatoes who lost interest in the world; to people who are 'content' at the moment and are taking a break from learning; to the large majority who are in the middle of the continuum and have one or more learning episodes taking place in their daily life; to those on the other end of the continuum whose lives are almost entirely composed of learning episodes, such as students or people learning a new job.

Exactly what the true percentages are seem to be open to debate. It is probably somewhere between the UK poll that used a survey to capture a large number of people and Tough's interviews that captured a smaller number, but were more intensive in their means. However, the percentage of intentional learning episodes in people's daily lives are increasing due to the information/knowledge society that we are now entering. This new information/knowledge society is really becoming a learning/information/knowledge society.

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