A thought provoking event on Wednesday at the Institute of Education got me thinking about the above question. One of the speakers described how education emerged in the 12th century as a way of ‘conforming literacy for the purposes of social control’. Education then saw a huge expansion in the 19th century as an industrialised workforce strove to get better jobs. The speaker also pointed out that education tends to have the metaphors of trade such as delivery, access and provision.
Learning, on the other hand, is something different. Of course learning is something that happens within an education context, but it has also gained ground as a stand alone term. Learning has become fashionable recently and is much used in policy debate, for instance in ‘Lifelong learning’ and ‘personalised learning’.
We might conceive as education as something an individual receives from outside, whereas learning is inner directed and can describe a much wider range of personal circumstances. This distinction resonates with the overall remit of the ‘wider benefits of learning’ unit at the Institute which is dedicated to understanding the relationship between education and other social outcomes like health, crime and family formation. This involves studying the major birth cohort studies for previously unseen correlations.
The problem with learning is that it becomes hard to see where learning ends and culture begin? When do communication skills become street manners? Once learning is indistinguishable from life the danger is that it can easily take on a moralistic tone about who or who hasn’t learned their lesson. Education, on the other hand, is more likely to be seen as a right for every individual.