Sum ergo disco: The ubiquity of learning (in non-formal and informal settings)

  • 15 August 2017
IRE cover

International Review of Education - Journal of Lifelong Learning

Author: Stephen Roche

Volume 63, Issue 3, pp 297–434


Following the social, cultural and political upheavals of the 1960s, a radical new vision of education began to gain widespread currency. Central to that vision was not only the reconceptualisation of education and learning as lifelong endeavours, but also the understanding that both may occur in a wide variety of contexts. UNESCO’s Faure Report, published in 1972, reflected the new zeitgeist in education. It brought learning out from behind the hard, wooden school desks that – metaphorically and literally – held unwilling wards within pedagogical institutions. Unlike traditional pedagogy, whose aim for generations was the socialisation of the young (in effect, the formation, variously, of pious, polite or productive adults), “lifelong education” offered both a gentler and a grander vision; the cultivation of “learning societies”, in which every individual could become an “agent of development and change”, a “promoter of democracy”, a “citizen of the world” and “author of his own fulfilment” (Faure Report). By the 1990s, lifelong learning had entered the mainstream of educational policymaking. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an organisation inimical to radicalism, adopted a functional definition of lifelong learning which rather neatly encapsulates the idea of “life-wide learning”; that we not only continue learning throughout life, but that the locus of learning is … wherever we happen to be. Thus, at the risk of disturbing Descartes’ ghost, we might summarise this new conception of learning with the words sum ergo disco – I am, therefore I learn.

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