As learners are the ultimate producers of education enterprises, learning is the ultimate production process of the enterprise. As highlighted in the Analytical Tool on competencies, having learnt how to learn is the ultimate competency, and the ultimate test of a quality education system. This is especially so in the 21st century where what is learnt quickly becomes obsolete and the agility to adapt and learn anew is the ultimate currency of 21st century markets. Concern for understanding how humans learn has always been and continues to be the core challenge of education practice. Our concepts of learning and the results of learning are influenced by what we know/presume about how people learn; the way we organize learning processes and environments; but also the nature of the out-of-school environments.
Learning has been studied from different perspectives and through different disciplines including humanities, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, behavioral sciences, cognitive science, computer science, neuroscience, health and nutrition etc. (See: Influential theories of learning). More recently we have seen the bourgeoning of the "sciences of learning" underpinned by neuroscience and facilitated by technological advancements that enable the analyses of brain activity during learning. At the same time there is growing acknowledgement of what the social learning theory1 long documented that learning is fundamentally a social or collective phenomenon. This acknowledgement is bringing to the centerpiece of the education process what used to be the lowly regarded "soft skills" and "social learning outcomes" not only as competencies in their own right but as facilitative for the acquisition of the much regarded "hard skills" and "cognitive learning outcomes". The complementarity of neuroscience with social learning theory is pushing frontiers in understanding learning as a critical process. The accumulation of research evidence on learning from both the natural and social sciences is wedging a keen differentiation of education from learning with the latter taking precedence and the former almost shunned as a less alluring yesteryear’s discourse!
Learning permeates 21st century discourse on education. It features prominently in seminal documents such as the Delors report (1996) where each pillar of 21st century education starts with learning.
Current education strategies of all key development agencies feature learning and not education in their titles. Learning is a subject of premier policy forums (See: Key resolutions of the 2011 policy forum on learning). Learning is becoming "the qualifier" of other education processes such as assessment and leadership. Concepts such as "assessment for learning", "learning leadership" are becoming common place (See also: Distinction between education leadership and learning leadership).
Learning is even used to reify human institutions and other constructs enough to talk of learning societies, learning institutions, learning nations, and learning cities! The prominence of learning, as a concept and not just a process, is also separating what has been the unfortunate welding of education to schooling. Wrongly, education has become equated to schooling; so much that education that does not take place in schools had to be differentially labeled as "non-formal" and designated second cousin status or informal and almost equated to happenstance! Rightly, learning is recognized as taking place all the time, everywhere and throughout life!
The GEQAF posits that learning as preceding education. Learning is a natural process to all living beings and to human beings in particular. Human beings are inherently learning beings. Learning is fundamental for human survival, development, progress, innovation and even dominance. Education on the other hand is a human construct and education systems were created primarily to structure, control and in a concentrated manner, facilitate learning. The coming to age, of the realization that education systems are mostly ineffective at facilitating desired learning, the refocusing of attention on learning is a refreshing "back to basics".
The reality that a significant number of education systems fail to facilitate learning and even worse, thwart the natural "human instinct to learn" is of grave concern. However, the challenges isn’t to pit learning against education; but rather to bring back learning as a core business of education enterprises. It is to use the current focus on learning to untangle education from schooling and to optimally exploit the multi-setting, multi-pathways and multi-channels to learning including those made possible by ICTs. The core question of this Analytical Tool is therefore: What are the critical impediments for making learning the core business of our general education system and how may these impediments be removed?
Diagnosis and analysis
Understanding and positioning learning
1. What is our understanding of learning vs education vs schooling? How is this understanding shared with critical stakeholders? Where is the evidence that it is shared? How is learning positioned in our education system? For instance does learning drive education policies, strategies, programs, other processes, organizations, financing frameworks, other resourcing, etc? Where is the evidence that learning drives our education system? How is this evidence documented and how is it monitored? Is learning how to learn an explicit outcome of our general education system? How do we support the attainment of this outcome? How do we monitor its achievement?
2. How do we characterize diverse forms of learning? What are those diverse forms in our education system? How do we ensure complementarity of those forms? How impactful is this complementarity? Where is the evidence of this impact? How do we optimize complementarity and impact?
3. How does our knowledge and understanding of learning affect other education processes such as assessment, teaching, management and governance? How does it affect key resources such as the curriculum, learning materials, teachers, physical and psychosocial environments, etc.? What is the evidence of this effect? How do we ensure currency of this effect?
Using extant research evidence to support effective learning and to innovate
1. What do we know about research evidence on learning? How do we ensure that critical stakeholders are knowledgeable of this evidence? Who are these stakeholders? How do we ensure the currency of that knowledge? How does this evidence get translated into impact? Where is the evidence of this impact? How do we optimize this impact? How do we sustain the link between research evidence and practice and vice versa?
2. What are our recent innovations in optimizing effective facilitation of learning? How do these innovations get initiated? How are they monitored and with impact documented? When impactful, how are they scaled up?
Making effective learning equitable
1. How do we ensure equity of effective learning opportunities? What are the dimensions or the factors that drive this equity? How do we monitor equity of effective learning opportunities? What do we have as direct and/or proxy evidence?
Priorities for action
1. What are the key challenges and constraints which we need to address to achieve effective learning in our education system?
2. What are the knowledge gaps in our understanding of learning processes which need to be filled for an evidence-based policy and strategy to make our education system deliver quality learning to all our learners?
3. What are the required actions to deal with the priority constraints and the identified knowledge gaps? What partnerships and resources are needed to implement the actions identified?