Full paper Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Navigating the uncertain and complex mix of learning, life and work (#60)

Eryn Thomas 1
  1. University of New England, Armidale, NSW, Australia

The relationships between people's lives, work, families, identity and learning are complex and uncertain.  In the past, higher educational institutions have focused attention on these interconnections as being factors in student success or failure within formal educational courses, or as part of the economic and social outcomes of course completion. Recent research shows however that people's lives are not as simple or clear cut as this, and that learning takes place across and throughout a diverse ecology of life contexts ranging from learning in everyday life at work, at home, in the midst of violence and abuse to formal educational institutions such as schools, training colleges and universities.  The research reported in this paper utilised semi-structured in-depth interviews with a small sample group from a range of backgrounds to investigate the learning from and within people's everyday lives. This rich data was utilised alongside a ‘patchworked’ theoretical framework to connect and analyse the emerging evidence and key aspects of the existing literature on adult learning. The findings suggest that people's learning is not restricted to education from institutions but also involves a range of learning practices within and across numerous learning sites and life contexts that integrate in unique ways within different people's lives. This means that learning for life and work will have different meanings for different people and can lead to a range of positive, negative and ambivalent repercussions. This paper argues that if the Higher Education sector wishes to better prepare for future challenges and provide more seamless learning with life and work, they must seek to better understand how formal education interconnects with the lives and wider everyday learning of their current and prospective students.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

This paper addresses the sub-theme of Navigating uncertainty and complexity within the overall theme Learning for life and work in a complex world in several key ways. Firstly, the paper recognises the multilateral levels of complexity and uncertainty – the at times unpredictable interconnections within people’s lives, their learning and work; individuals navigating complex and changing social and workplace conditions; and the rapidly shifting and uncertain economic, political and policy conditions that higher education institutions must traverse in order to survive. Secondly, the paper seeks to address these multiple layers of uncertainty and complexity by suggesting that better understanding the multifaceted nature of people’s lives and everyday learning and how these interact with formal learning from educational institutions has the potential to lead to better learning, life and work outcomes for students. The paper also argues that within a fiercely competitive and indeterminate environment, better outcomes for students could provide a stronger market position for higher education institutions.

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