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Learning Communities in a European Learning Society

Opening Presentation for

Policy Input Seminar

The local and regional dimension of Life Long Learning
The contribution of learning cities/regions

July 6th 2000

Norman Longworth
Vice-President, World Initiative on Lifelong Learning

Learning Communities in a European Learning Society -

Last week a message was sent to me from an old friend who is trying to establish a 21st Century Ashram in India. In it he offered this quotation from Dee Hock.

"We are at that very point in time when a 400-year-old age is dying and another is struggling to be born - a shifting of culture, science, society and institutions enormously greater than the world has ever experienced. Ahead, the possibility of the regeneration of individuality, liberty, community and ethics such as the world has never known, and a harmony with nature, with one another, and with the divine intelligence such as the world has never dreamed." -

Dee Hock is not a well-known writer, but he, or she, has just articulated what many of us may want to believe about the times we live in. The image of a glorious future through lifelong learning - the rebirth of creativity, culture, imagination, invention, of the possibility that human beings can at last realise their own enormous potential for the good is a beguiling vision.

And then we can go to some of the poorer parts of Glasgow and see the squalor, violence and hopelessness of a big city with big problems, and we can note the gratuitous violence of a disenfranchised minority during the recent Euro2000, and we can visit the ruins of Kosovo to prepare a schools twinning project - and the vision becomes more obscure and remote.

We can all sense that the new millennium brings with it the opportunity for a new beginning - But we can all see as well that there is a mountain of work ahead to make it happen, with new understandings, new persuasions, new insights, new wisdom - starting in our own communities and branching out from there.

So this short presentation will share with you some of the background to Lifelong Learning and to the TELS project and describe the rationale for what we’re trying to do to help create a European Learning Society and how we are trying to do it. Their relationship with a Lifelong Learning Europe and the specific proposals will come this afternoon.

The future for Europe is for sure Lifelong Learning. That movement is gathering ground in most of the liberal democracies of the world, partly as a result of the European Year of Lifelong Learning in 1996, partly as a result of the work done by International Governmental organisations such as UNESCO, and particularly OECD - but more importantly because the countries of Europe are now recognising the link between learning and economic success, between learning and social stability, between learning and the personal development of their citizens. Despite differences of culture and tradition, one of the main unifying factors in European development is the commonality of the need to create a learning society.

In the USA , Smart cities, smart communities are based around the concept of the ’Information Society’ and it’s also true that Europe has poured, and is pouring, huge resources into similar developments - But it’s worth noting that both the European Round Table of Industrialists and the European Council of University Rectors agree that such an ‘Information Society’ will not be effectively implemented without a huge increase in the ability of human beings to create a parallel ‘Learning Society’. In their excellent booklet on the Learning Society they say

‘The Information Society...must be completed and matched by a Learning Society, if we do not want to fall into an over-informed world and a valueless culture based on ‘zapping’ and ‘patchwork’ superficiality’

That view is supported in Science Fiction - rapidly becoming science fact. Arthur C Clarke wrote in 1963:

' Everyone will need to be educated to the standard of semi-literacy of the average university graduate by the year 2000, This is the minimum survival level of the human race'

H G Wells, in the early years of this century believed that

'The whole of human history is a race between education and catastrophe'

And, while time scales are not always credible in Science fiction, the sentiments expressed in that way are self-evidently true when we see what is happening in Burma, Afghanistan, and even within our own continent in the Balkans. Democracy is a fragile flower - and a learning society is the best, perhaps the only, way to nurture it.

But we need to be clear what we mean by lifelong learning and the learning society. To start we might examine the words themselves. Lifelong Learning is what it says it is:

Firstly it is ‘lifelong’ - from cradle to grave, from 0 to 90, from birth to earth, from maternity to eternity, from hatch to despatch. Not for adults only, not for career and professional development only - it recognises what every piece of developmental research says - that the values, attitudes, knowledge and skills acquired in early life at school have a fundamental effect on performance and values later in life - recent research shows that the most learning we ever do is between the ages of 1 and 5 – it is when we learn to communicate, to read, to make ourselves human. Research also shows that those senior citizens who stay in learning and keep their minds lively are less likely to suffer from debilitating diseases like alzheimers and senile dementia.

Therefore, we must not take the lifelong out of lifelong learning - like many aspects of present-day life and work, the environment, globalisation, it is a holistic concept for the 21st century rather than a fragmented one, based on the education and traininbg paradigm of the 20th. The European Year of Lifelong Learning Office, the excellent OECD book ‘Lifelong Learning for All, and the equally excellent UNESCO book - ‘The Treasure Within’ emphasised that view, notwithstanding the fact that some European governments take a narrower, economically based, adults only viewpoint.

Nor must we lake the learning out of life long learning – that’s a most important word -

Learning is not teaching, not training, and in many ways is not even education in its narrow didactic sense. Without wishing to get involved in a semantic discussion - we can debate this all day - those three are coming at the subject from the opposite end - from the end where the teacher or trainer - rather than the learner - has the ownership of the content and method of the learning.

The Learning approach means an out and out focus on the needs and demands of the learner - giving people the tools with which they can learn according to their own learning styles and needs
It means giving ownership of learning to the learner him or herself and not to the teacher – a 180 degree shift of emphasis

It means using the tools and techniques which hopefully switch people back into the learning habit

Personal Learning Plans, Learning Audits, Partnerships, Networks, and so on

And finally Lifelong Learning is for all’ – not for the elite, the switched on, the career-minded - in the long run lifelong learning excludes no-one,
The cybergrannies of Craiglockhart in Edinburgh, communicating through their computers with grannies and grandads throughout the world - are as important as learners as are the vocational trainees in the multinational company, the techno-tots in the kindergarten, and the women returners to learning in second chance universities after years of child-rearing.

So, if we accept that lifelong is lifelong, and learning is learning, and that all of this is for everybody, then there are implications for national and local government. The narrow focus of our current education and training systems - for some, when needed and teacher-focussed - needs to be transformed into something much more inclusive, by involving learners in their own learning; much more versatile, through the uses of technology; and much more joined up, through a variety of strategies to bring the different sectors of society together. In educational terms, the sage on the stage is being replaced by the guide at the side.

And also much more localised - which brings me to the TELS project. - Towards a European Learning Society.

National Government has its own role in Lifelong Learning - it has the financial means to commission intelligent research and to initiate marketing policies, it has the political means, if not always the will, to change systems - systems of assessment which create failure and the development of new curricula based on skills acquisition rather than information memorisation; and it has the organisational means to determine how lifelong learning should be implemented in the area within its jurisdiction.

But no matter how much Governments pontificate, produce Green and White Papers, impose theories, the place where lifelong learning will actually take place is in the towns, cities and regions of each country. That’s where the people are and where they learn, or don’t learn, as the case may be.

One view of the Learning City is as a set of inter-sectoral partnerships working together for the common development of learning in the city.


In this model, a Learning Community, whether it is a city, a region or a town, relies heavily on effective interaction between the sectors which make up that community. As communities grow into Lifelong Learning communities, interactions and interdependencies are built up between the different sectors and in time they become more dynamic and more fruitful.

It is a sort of symbiosis of mutual interest between dissimilar organisations and Learning is the essential glue binding all of them together. At its best. it promotes interaction between local and international, public and private, educational and industrial, governance and people into a stakeholder society in which everyone participates.

Modern communications technology now makes it possible for Learning Communities to be twinned with others and to become part of a Europe-wide network exchanging information and experience for the benefit of all throughout the whole continent.


This interlinked network of Learning Communities - from each other, between each other and with each other, may be the sort of Europe we are trying to create. But there are a variety of other models and,recognising this, the TELS project has set out to isolate the variables within a city or town which affect learning, and to gather data about what some European cities are doing to implement lifelong learning solutions - within a range of parameters. It is not a scientific sample - TELS was not in a position to choose its cities and towns - but it is a chronicle of what is happening in those cities which have expressed an interest in becoming part of the project.

Firstly we took ten major characteristics of a learning city - much of this was based upon the research completed for the book ‘Learning Cities for a Learning Century’ - and then we divided them off into sub-topics. For example, under the heading of ‘Information and Communication’ - that is, the strategies a city or town uses to inform its citizens about learning and learning matters, we included issues such as the use of the media, the steps taken to discover learning needs, the literature produced by learning providers - all the ways that cities use, or do not use, to attract their citizens to learning.

We also developed one of the most comprehensive questionnaires in this area I know about. We call it a Learning Cities Audit, because it contains not just questions but pointers to what Cities and Towns might do in the future in order to become Learning Cities and Towns. That is, it’s also a source of ideas and actions for those cities setting out on the path towards being a learning City, and it involves interaction with key players in those cities - and not just those from the education department - who would help make the concept work. One further innovation in the Audit was the inclusion of questions asking for examples or case studies of good practice, from which others can learn.

We supported this with the development of an interactive web-based platform for everyone in the city to use - not just for recording the results, but also as a facility usable by professionals and experts in cities to exchange ideas, activities, thoughts and experiences; as an information resource for cities wishing to find knowledge about lifelong learning matters with links to other web sites and to documents, articles, case studies of good practice from the audit, and libraries of information; as a calendar facility to allow cities and towns to enter and access their own and others’ lifelong learning events; as a way for all sectors of the city - for example small companies - to establish links for trade development or whatever purpose they had in mind; and as a forum facility for anyone in the learning city to express what is on their mind.

Rather than go through the TELS Categories and their sub-topics, which would be an extremely boring process both for me and for you, it might be more instructive to go into some detail about one or two of them and to give some examples of what it is that cities can do, and are doing, in some of the key areas. In any case the topics and sub-topics are attached at the end of your paper - in themselves they describe the richness and diversity of lifelong learning at local level. And those cities and towns which have completed the Audit now have a better appreciation of that variety.

a) Firstly under the heading of Commitment to a Learning City, which in essence means ‘the extent to which the city or town has already started to implement plans and strategies which set it out on the path to becoming a Learning Community, and the thinking it has done to date’ -there are a number of questions we can ask.

Some cities have already declared themselves to be ‘Cities of Learning’ - they have strategies, policies, plans, procedures and a vision. That vision of course differs from city to city and according to local culture and the systems they have work under.

Some have even developed city charters, similar to the one in your papers. They describe the commitment of the city to put learning at the forefront of its activities, not just because it is a ‘good thing’ to do, like motherhood and apple pie, but also because it’s a smart thing to do. In a world in which it is forecast that children leaving schools today will have six or seven careers during their lifetime, and must therefore remain flexible, adaptable and versatile, their future employment, their future peace of mind, paradoxically depends upon their ability to live with uncertainty. This is not a world of education and training, it is more a world of constant re-education, re-training and a willingness to learn. The consequences of not dealing with this change in working practices will hit the municipalities first and foremost through social unrest, rising crime rates and disaffected citizens.

And here there is also a leadership issue - another of our categories. The Audit shows a marked innovation deficiency here. Of course most towns recognised the need for leadership, although in fact less than one-third are actively training lifelong learning leaders. But when we asked who the new leaders were and should be, we received the predictable response of teachers, community workers, elected representatives, and so on. But this is looking backwards at the past, where these people have performed that function for hundreds of years - why not look for potential leaders among the ranks of the unemployed, the disabled, the disaffected, ordinary people - and give them the tools and techniques of leadership?

An example comes from an Irish housing estate where there is 80% unemployment, one third of it 3rd generation, and that in an area with a huge demand for skilled workers. Here you can find Paddy X. Paddy, a huge man in every way, runs the community centre on the estate. But he himself had, at one time, been one of those unemployed and dispossessed people. He knew the problems of low self-esteem, of the constant struggle to feed a family, of the reluctance to break out of the poverty trap, for fear of confronting the self-image confidently built up over years of stress. And bit by bit he is trying to repair the lives of the people he serves - people who would run a mile from a formal classroom, complete with teacher, and who do run a mile from the nearest garda, with good reason, Paddy cajoles them back into learning. He encourages them to take chances and opportunities and sometimes he begs, borrows and yes, steals, resources from wherever he can find them. Such people are gold-dust

Strategies for increasing the numbers of leaders are also in short supply. How do we find new Paddies? Here’s one answer. One city, which wasn’t a part of our survey, has a cascade strategy in mind - to train 20 lifelong learning leaders, each of whom should train another 20 - and so on in order to increase the knowledge of, and the respect for, lifelong learning in the whole city.

Hundreds of examples of excellent lifelong learning work, which can only be implemented in towns, cities and regions, have been thrown up by the Audit and by the research done for the book. Some are innovative, most are reactive rather than proactive. So just one last example

Paddy was a resource finder. Resources are another of our categories and just one personal example of just one of the sub-topics might suffice to describe the essential of a lifelong learning city, region or town and end this piece. For me a learning city is a combination of economic success through learning, a place where individuals achieve their own potential, and a caring and contributing community

'I live in a particularly beautiful area of Southern France. My village of some 300 souls is one of those villages perchés and one of the 100 most beautiful villages in France. The view from my office opens out across the valley onto the

Canigou, a 9000 foot mountain, snow-capped for 10 months of the year. In the foreground are peach, apricots, almond, cherry and nectarine trees which, during blossom time, form a rich carpet of pink, white and green on which, it seems, one could float into El Dorado. Prades, the nearest town, comprises about 7000 inhabitants. Its secondary school and college are fed by the families of the town and the many villages around. On its curriculum at all levels are languages, including English and German, Biology, Music, Geography, Mathematics, and the usual list of other subjects.

I am not the only British resident of this paradise. Among our small community of 100 people are a much-travelled world-class biologist who was secretary to the Prince of Wales environmental trust, a former teacher trainer in geography, a mathematics teacher who has taken early retirement, 3 English as a foreign language teachers, 2 former Opera singers also trained in music teaching, a former dietician and a former professor of German. These are just the skills I know about.

The application of logic seems to point to the marriage of this knowledge and these talents with the schoolchildren who might benefit from them, enriching their learning world with the stories, adventures and experiences of those who have personal immersion in the subject, and from time to time giving the teachers a rest from the stress of the school-day.

And if asked, all of those people would be happy to devote a few hours a week, a month or a year to making their knowledge and assistance available.

But of course we have not been asked, and I am not aware of any school which has begun to explore the wealth of human talent and expertise in its own community.'

That’s probably part of what the Commission means by ‘Active Citizenship’ - exploiting the synergy between the responsibility of the individual to take control of his/her own life through continuous learning, and the building of a Learning Society at every level to make it happen - and it’s that sort of mutually interdependent Learning Society which we in TELS are trying to measure, monitor, support and make happen throughout Europe.

Annexe A The TELS Categories and their sub-topics

a) Commitment to a Learning City - The extent to which the city or town has already started to implement plans and strategies which set it out on the path to becoming a Learning Community, and the thinking it has done to date. It includes topics such as

  • Existing strategies for Lifelong Learning in the municipality
  • The organisation of Lifelong Learning in the community
  • Whether or not there is a City Charter for Lifelong Learning, and if so, what that includes
  • City/Town participation in European projects
  • The City as a Learning organisation
  • The City/Town’s readiness to develop as a Learning City under the new paradigm


b) Information and Communication - the ways in which Lifelong Learning ideas and plans are communicated to a) those responsible for implementing them and b) citizens at large. Including new curriculum development, teacher training, learning centres, use of the media, collection of information on learning requirements etc. They include

  • The new Information Strategies they have adopted
  • The effective use of the Media
  • The Literature produced about Learning
  • The Marketing of Lifelong Learning in the municipality


c) Partnerships and Resources - the extent to which links between different sectors of the city have been encouraged and enabled, and their effectiveness. Including links between schools, colleges, business and industry, universities, professional associations, special interest groups, local government and other organisations. Includes physical and human resource sharing, knowledge generation, mobilisation etc. It also includes details of

  • Partnership types
  • How partnerships are used to provide New resources
  • How new resources are produced by combining existing resources


d) Leadership Development - the extent to which lifelong learning leaders have been developed and how. Including community leadership courses, project management, city management, organisational mix. It includes

  • Existing Leaders - who are they? what are they doing?
  • New Leaders - who will they be? Where will they come from?
  • Courses and materials for developing new leaders.


e) Social Inclusion - projects and strategies to include those at present excluded - the mentally and physically handicapped, the unemployed, minorities, women returners, people with learning difficulties etc. This includes

  • The perceived barriers to Learning
  • Strategies for improving Qualifications, Standards and Assessment
  • The Special Programmes initiated by the city


f) Environment and Citizenship - projects to inform and involve citizens in city environmental matters. How the city is informing its citizens of all ages about citizenship and involving them in its practical expression in the city. These include:

  • Strategies to improve the development of Environment Awareness and Learning in Adults and Children
  • Strategies to involve citizens in Environmental improvement
  • Initiatives to increase Citizenship and Democracy


g) Technology and Networks - innovative ways in which information and communications technology is used to link organisations and people internally, and with people and organisations in other communities. Includes use of open and distance learning, effective use of networks between all ages for learning and understanding of the internet. They include:

  • The incidence of Distance Learning
  • The development of Multimedia and Open Learning
  • The use of the internet and networks by citizens of all ages
  • The realisation of a Wired City


h) Wealth creation, employment and employability - schemes and projects to improve the creation of both wealth and employment and to give citizens lifetime skills, knowledge and competencies to improve their employment prospects. Includes financial incentives, studies, links with industry, industry links with other communities etc - including

  • The development of new skills for Employment
  • Strategies to improve the Creation of Wealth
  • Whether Learning Requirements Analyses and Audits had been carried out among citizens.
  • Initiatives to improve employability


i) Mobilisation, participation and the Personal Development of Citizens - the extent to which contribution is encouraged and enabled. Includes projects to gather and use the knowledge, skills and talents of people and to encourage their use for the common development of the city. This includes

  • The development and use of Lifelong Learning Tools and Techniques in the city - Personal Learning Plans, Mentoring, Study Circles etc
  • Strategies to improve the personal development of citizens
  • How Teachers and Counsellors are trained to meet the challenges of the Lifelong Learning age.
  • Strategies to increase the participation and contribution of citizens


j) Learning Events and Family involvement - projects, plans and events to increase the credibility, attractiveness, visibility and incidence of learning among citizens individually and in families. Includes

  • learning festivals, booklet generation, celebrations of learning, learning competitions, recognition events etc
  • Initiatives to recognise and reward learning
  • Family Learning strategies

Further Reading

Ball, C and Stewart, D (1995) An Action Agenda for Lifelong Learning for the 21st Century, Report from the 1st Global Conference on Lifelong Learning, N Longworth (ed), World Initiative on Lifelong Learning, Brussels

Botkin, Jet al (1979) No Limits to Learning, report of the Club of Rome, New York

Chapman, J D and Aspin, D N (1997) The School, the Community and Lifelong Learning, Cassell, London,

Cochinaux, P and De Woot, P (1995) Moving Towards a Learning Society, A Forum Report by European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) with Conference of European Rectors (CRE), Brussels     

Commission of the European Communities (1997) Meeting the Challenge of Change at Work, Employment and Social Affairs Directorate, EC Publications Office, Luxemburg

Commission of the European Communities (1996) Accomplishing Europe through Education and Training, , Study Group on Education and Training, EC Publications Office, Luxemburg

Commission of the European Communities (1998) Second Chance Schools, Combating exclusion through Education and Training, EC publications Office, Luxembourg

Commission of the European Communities (1998) Territorial Employment Pacts, Examples of Good Practice, EC Publications Office, Luxembourg

Department for Education and Employment (1998) The University for Industry A summary, DfEE Publications Centre, Sudbury

Department for Education and Employment  (1998) The Learning Age, A Renaissance for a New Britain, (Green Paper on Lifelong Learning) DfEE Publications Centre, Sudbury

Dyankov, A (1996) Current Issues and Trends in Technical and Vocational Education, UNEVOC Studies in Technical And Vocational Education, UNESCO, Paris

European Round Table of Industrialists (1997) Investing in Knowledge, the Integration of Technology in European Education, ERT, Brussels

European Round Table of Industrialists (1996) Investing in Knowledge, Towards the Learning Society, ERT, Brussels

European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) (1992) European Approaches to Lifelong Learning, ERT Education Policy Group, Brussels

European Round Table of Industrialists (1997) A Stimulus to Job Creation, Practical Partnerships between Large and Small Companies, ERT, Brussels

Finland Ministry of Education (1997) The Joy of Learning, A National Strategy for Lifelong Learning, Committee Report 14, Helsinki

Fryer, R H (1997) Learning for the 21st Century, First report of the National Advisory group for Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning’ NAGCELL1, PP62/31634/1297/33, London

Gardner, H (1993) Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice, Basic Books, New York

Goleman, D (1998) Working with Emotional Intelligence, Bloomsbury, New York

IACEE (1996)The Joy of Learning, Implementing Lifelong Learning in the Learning Society, Report of the theme conference of the European Lifelong Learning Initiative (Otala L Ed), Espoo

International Commission on Education for the 21st Century (1996) Learning: The Treasure Within, UNESCO Publishing, Paris
Lessem,R and Palsule,S (1997) Managing in Four Worlds: From Competition to Co-creation, Blackwell, London

Longworth, N (2000) Learning Communities for a Learning Century, in World Handbook on Lifelong Learning, Kluwer, Holland

Longworth, N (1980) The Woodberry Down School/IBM Basinghall Street Twinning Scheme, IBM United Kingdom Ltd, London

Longworth, N and Davies, W K (1996) Lifelong Learning: New Visions, New Implications, New Roles - for Industry, Government, Education and the Community for the 21st Century, Kogan Page, London

Longworth, N and De Geest, L (eds) (1995) Community Action for Lifelong Learning for Developing Human Potential, Part 2 of Report of First Global Conference on Lifelong Learning, Rome, World Initiative on Lifelong Learning, Brussels

Longworth, N (1999) Making Lifelong Learning Work: Learning Cities for a Learning Century, Kogan Page, London

Longworth, N (2000) TELS (Towards a European Learning Society) - A Study of Cities of Learning, in JOLLI Magazine, Edition 2000/1

Markkula, M and Suurla, R  (1998) Passion to Learn, Benchmarking Good Lifelong Learning Practice, IACEE Report no 9, Helsinki

National Institute of Educational Research and UNESCO Institute of Education (1997) Comparative Studies on Lifelong Learning Policies, NIER, Tokyo

Nyhan, B (1991) Developing People's Ability to Learn, A European perspective on self-learning competency and technological change, European Interuniversity Press, Brussels

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (1973) Recurrent Education: A Strategy for Lifelong Learning, OECD/CERI, Paris

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (1996) Lifelong Learning for All – meeting of the Education Committee at Ministerial level, OECD/CERI, Paris

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (2000), Learning Regions and Cities, Knowledge Learning and Regional Innovation Systems, Draft Report, OECD/CERI, Paris

Scottish Office (1998) Opportunity Scotland, Green Paper on Lifelong Learning, Stationery Office, Edinburgh 

Toffler, A (1980) The Third Wave: The Revolution that will change our lives, Collins, London

Tuckett, A (1997) Lifelong Learning in England and Wales: An overview and guide to issues arising from the European Year of Lifelong Learning, NIACE, Leicester

UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education (1998) University Education in the 21st Century: a Concept Paper, Paper prepared for UNESCO Conference on Higher Education, October 1998, UNESCO, Paris

UNESCO Institute of Education (1997) The Hamburg Declaration: The Agenda for the Future, from Fifth International Conference on Adult Education (Confintea V) UNESCO Institute of Education, Hamburg