Tuesday, 24 February 2015

EDUC 2014 - What does it mean to be against learning?

What does it mean to be against learning? 

The signifier ‘learning’ embodies a multitude of meaning associated with its broad understanding of connotations attached to it. To begin to formulate an opinion on being against or for learning, it is important to understand the terms being used. A learning discourse includes the methods and symbols associated with learning that make learning meaningful. This ensemble we call learning discourse is generally connoted as a positive enhancement to society regardless of the circumstance. This short paper seeks to address that one can be against learning but must allow for specific reasoning as to which component of ‘learning’ they are against.

Using the article Against Learning by Contu, Grey & Ortenblad, we can begin to understand that learning is too broad of a term and may in turn, be the source of contention against learning. The authors present us with a paper that seeks to address the many facets of learning discourse that allow it to thrive, change and influence policies and education. The truth of politics, a section in the paper, demonstrates the political usage of the terms ‘learning organization’, ‘lifelong learning’, and ‘learning’ as consistently positive whilst avoiding to discuss the antagonistic and contradictory organizational and social practices with these terms. These political truths being highlighted here link with the concept of ‘organizational learning’ which can be described as “learning organizations, thus configured, by no means create knowledge so much as access it and seek to control it as exemplified by the continuous improvement associated with teamwork practices” (Contu et al, 2014, p.940).

It seems that the aim of learning is to teach citizens the skills needed to survive and thrive in the ‘real world’. The article re-iterates that these ‘skills’ needed to ‘survive’ in the real world have mainly been constructed by either politicians or organizations seeking to benefit from their potential future employees already having the ‘skills’ to make them successful in the work place. In this sense ‘lifelong learning’ has become ‘a means through which economies and organizations can re-tread workforces and labour pools to adapt to these changes” (Contu et all, 2014, p.942). The question here is if this type of structured learning is beneficial to the individual or only to the organization that will acquire that individual and their skills.

The second paper Against Learning: Reclaiming a language for education in an age of learning provides a framework for reclaiming a language of education that unearths and addresses the ‘common-place’ ideas of what is learning and what is a learning organization and life-long learning. What is questioned here is not that you can or cannot be against learning, it is about unpacking the large theme and addressing the concerns on different educational, social and political levels. This paper sought to prove that you could, in fact, be against learning.

As an educator looking for ways to engage students in their own learning as much as possible, it is important not to take terms such as ‘language’ or ‘learning organization’ lightly without too much thought into the implications these practices. If practiced without care or considerate thought, uninformed teaching of ‘learning’ could lead to political and economic gain instead of personal meta-learning on an individual’s behalf.


Contu, A., Grey, C. & Ortenblad, A. (2003). Against learning. Human Relations, 56(8), 931-952.

Biesta, G. (2005). Against learning: Reclaiming a language for education in an age of learning. Nordisk Pedagogik, 25, 54-66.

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