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57536552 2770 Understanding the Brain the Birth of a New Learning Science v 2 by Organization for Economic Cooperation

57536552 2770 Understanding the Brain the Birth of a New Learning Science v 2 by Organization for Economic Cooperation

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A developmental perspective on training indicates that an individual’s life –the

transition from school to work, finding a partner, parenthood, different career stages,

dealing with crisis, and retirement– can be divided into successive “development tasks”

(Lehr, 1986; Kruse, 1999). In this view, every age can be characterised by certain

development tasks involving the interplay of: 1) biological-psychological maturation;

2)social expectations and demands of that age; and 3) individual interests and learning

opportunities. Moreover, experiences in earlier stages of life and the current living

situation are jointly responsible for the realisation of this developmental potential (see

Tippelt, 2002).

Recent large-scale longitudinal data sets on 1958 individuals aged in the thirties and

fourties have pointed to the wider benefits of participating in any form of education

(Schuller et al., 2004). Adult literacy and numeracy had positive effects on health behaviour

(smoking, drinking, level of exercise, body mass index), well-being (life satisfaction,

depression, general health), and political involvement (political interest, voting, civic

membership). Participation in education has even been found to foster racial tolerance, at

least in men (see Bynner, Schuller and Feinstein, 2003). Higher education is clearly

correlated with membership of voluntary organisations in later life, so graduates in their

later middle age, i.e. are more likely to engage in the local community than others.

Participation in learning, such as active attendance of courses in adult education had

positive effects on health behaviour, social tolerance and active citizenship. On the other

hand, participation in leisure courses had no general preventive effect on depression. The

conclusion of these longitudinal data is clear: education is not so much an option for

government but an absolute prerequisite for the promotion of personal well-being and a

cohesive society (see Feinstein et al., 2003).

II.C.BRAIN, COGNITION AND LEARNING INADULTHOOD

UNDERSTANDING THE BRAIN: THE BIRTH OF A LEARNING SCIENCE – ISBN 978-92-64-02912-5 – © OECD 2007

223

These findings from studies of adults in their middle age also extend to older adults.

Further education experience has indicated the importance to older adults of education

and prior knowledge for many types of further learning (see Becker, Veelken and

Wallraven, 2000). There is a current zeitgeist of “successful aging” which has, to some extent

(but not completely), overcome the “deficit” model of prior decades. The view now is that

competence and the ability to perform can be maintained until late adulthood. While

learning processes do change as one grows older, learning capacity remains (see Schaie,

2005; Baltes and Staudinger, 2000). Thus, despite age-related decline in basic sensory and

cognitive processing operations (as described in SectionC.2) and in the functioning of the

supporting brain structures (as described in SectionsC.3 andC.4), knowledge acquired in

earlier stages of life is well retrievable and can be put to use for new learning. Learning

acquired at an early stage of life, whether created in formal (education) or informal settings

(family, school, work and social environments), can be used to good effect to provide the

pre-knowledge necessary for effective learning strategies in adulthood. The outcome of

such early learning experiences continue to have effects up to late adulthood (Kruse, 1999).

In addition, self-awareness and identity are important components of adult development,

particularly the experience and emotional context of remembrances (memories related to the

own self). Such memories provide the frame for an integrated view of development including

life span, brain development, learning and social environment, and genetic predisposition.

Surprisingly, very little research on the emotional quality of memories has been conducted by

educational research studies (see Welzer and Markowitsch, 2001, p.212).

A person’s need for developing not only concerns childhood and youth but extends

over the entire course of life. Adults, however, are to a greater extent responsible for

engaging in and the contents and forms of learning (see Tippelt, 2000). In psychological

research on motivation this interest in learning appears in the concept of “flow”

(Csikszentmihalyi, 1982) or the pleasure of “being lost in time” while being apparently

effortlessly engaged in a challenging activity. This concept has also variously been termed

by White (1959) as “the feeling of efficacy”, by deCharms (1976) as the “feeling of one’s own

efficiency” and of “self-determination” and by Heckhausen (1989) as “the matching of

action and goal of action”. Moreover, positive convictions of self-effectiveness and

“internal attribution” (locus of control) have a supportive effect of cognitive ability to

perform amongst all learners (see Jennings and Darwin, 2003).

A special approach is the concept of wisdom, which is considered as an ideal endpoint

of human development, although high levels of wisdom-related knowledge are rare.

Theperiod of late adolescence and early adulthood is the primary age window for

wisdom-related knowledge to emerge. The foundation of wisdom lies in the orchestration

of mind and virtue towards the personal and public good. The most powerful predictors of

wisdom-related knowledge are not cognitive factors such as intelligence (cf. Sternberg,

1990). Specific life experiences (e.g. practising in a field concerned with complex life

problems) and personally-related factors, such as openness to experience, creativity and a

preference for comparing, evaluating and judging information are better predictors (see

Baltes, Glück and Kunzmann, 2002; Baltes and Staudinger, 2000).

From a development-oriented perspective, the competences of older adults include

numerous abilities, skills and interests that do more than allow the goal of maintaining

one’s independence. By competence one understands a person’s ability to maintain or

re-establish a dependent, task-related and meaningful life in an encouraging, supportive

II.C.BRAIN, COGNITION AND LEARNING INADULTHOOD

UNDERSTANDING THE BRAIN: THE BIRTH OF A LEARNING SCIENCE – ISBN 978-92-64-02912-5 – © OECD 2007

224

environment which promotes the active and conscious confrontation with tasks and

strains (see Kruse, 1999, p.584). The unfolding of competence therefore is always linked to

positive characteristics of the social and institutional environment. Disabilities that may

occur therefore require an unrestricted and technically supportive environment as well as

the support by other people and organisations.

Competence can also be linked to human capital similar to other resources in an

economy, e.g. competences of the over 50-year-old create a wealth of human capital in the

working sector that the service and knowledge society is currently not making full use of.

Older employees have the reputation of being less flexible and less stable with regard to

their health, but not only persons responsible for staff in companies increasingly stress

their important working experiences, mental stamina, operational loyalty and reliability,

thorough ability to make decisions and act as well as their social and communicative

competence (see Lahn, 2003; Karmel and Woods, 2004; Williamson, 1997; Wrenn and

Maurer, 2004). It could be shown that health problems of older employees do not occur in

general but increasingly in cases of inconvenient working places with no learning

possibilities which do not allow unfolding (see Baethge and Baethge-Kinsky, 2004;

Feinstein et al., 2003). Education programmes for older people have preventative functions

and serve the maintenance of cognitive abilities as well as the physical and mental health

(see Lehr, 1991; Alterskommission, 2005). But we need more output (short time effects) and

outcome (long term consequences) evaluations in longitudinal studies to discuss on a

better empirical basis the effects of different trainings.

Good examples of such educational measures are the programmes “Coming back

45plus” which especially appeal to women and which react to the very low employment

numbers of over 50-year-olds in many countries (Eurostat, 2003). In the European Union,

Sweden has the highest employment rate of over 50-year-olds at 75% and Belgium has the

lowest one at 42%. If one assumes that the small number of over 50-year-old women and

men in the employment sector is contradictory to the working potentials of older

employees, the following elements in educational measures proved empirically make

sense concerning re-entering work –if one makes use of the special competences of older

employees and allows their weaknesses (see Kruse, 2005):

●Social-communicative techniques: conversations in the form of dialogues and in groups,

co-operation and team work, application training, negotiation training.

●Cognitive training: learning and memory training, the application of familiar cognitive

strategies, the acquisition of new problem-solving competences, synthetic and

conceptual thinking, training of the planning behaviour.

●Knowledge of information and communication technology: active search for relevant

information, exchange and storage of knowledge.

●Deepening of practical experiences and internships: knowledge transfer, increasing of

motivation and confidence.

●General knowledge concerning the labour market and the new working role: strategies of

the re-entry, job perspective in the second half of one’s life and the double role in family

and job.

In relevant courses, cognitive and social effects were reached e.g. the concentration

abilities, the speed of handling things and the conversation competences of the

participants were improved. Health promoting effects can be seen in that aspects of

neuroticism i.e. fear, irritability, depressive moods and vulnerability decreased significantly

II.C.BRAIN, COGNITION AND LEARNING INADULTHOOD

UNDERSTANDING THE BRAIN: THE BIRTH OF A LEARNING SCIENCE – ISBN 978-92-64-02912-5 – © OECD 2007

225

so that daily situations of conflict, crisis and stress were dealt with in a better way due to

higher mental robustness. The evaluation of such measures is therefore encouraging but it

also shows that especially socially exalted milieus are being reacted to.

Overall, it can be observed– and this is shown by representative adult-education

studies (see Barz and Tippelt, 2004) – that in lifelong learning, especially concerning

professional development, significant inequalities exist as the degree of education, job-

related qualifications, working status, sex, nationality, age, but also lifestyles have a

serious effect –so that specific and target group-oriented learning environments are

necessary. Barriers of learning and education which are often being named in empirical

studies do not have a lot to do with the principal learning capability of older adults, but in

comparison they strongly discuss the “structure of offers and opportunities” of further

education. As people grow older, the participation in further education and especially in

work-related further education decreases strongly. From a learning-theoretical point of

view this age-related decrease in the participation in further education cannot be

justified– an exception are older academics who maintain and even increase their

participation in further education. The still widespread reality of company strategies of not

operationally integrating older adults through further education remains contradictory to

the insights of research of development and learning.

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