6
Indicators for Lifelong, Informal Learning

Learning continues across the life span. It takes many forms and occurs in many venues, both within and outside the formal structures of education. Although there is a seemingly infinite variety of possible sources and stimuli for learning, society has an interest in understanding what and how people are learning informally, and the ways such learning can be fostered. By definition, informal learning is not primarily guided by institutions, although schools, museums, and other entities are important sources of opportunities for it. Still, such learning builds skills—from language and cultural norms to technical expertise—that are needed in the workplace. Informal learning is important to the structures of civil society and democratic governance, and it is an important part of fulfilling life.

Both the Canadian Council on Learning and the OECD have recently focused on lifelong learning and have offered approaches to defining and measuring informal learning; the committee considered their models in thinking about education indicators (Canadian Council on Learning, 2010; Werquin, 2010). The Canadian Composite Learning Index and the European Lifelong Learning Indicators both capture different sorts of learning that occur throughout life in school, in the community, at work, and at home. Both are composite indicators, based on domains defined by the UNESCO: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together, and learning to be. These indicators are designed to support international comparisons for all basic types of learning.

In planning this portion of the workshop, the steering committee recognized that lifelong, informal learning does not fit neatly within the framework used to structure the workshop (see Table 1-1). The range of “institutions and service providers” through which one learns informally is much broader than for the other stages because individuals can choose to engage with a wide variety of both formal and informal resources. Likewise, the “contextual factors” that may influence informal learning are broader and more diffuse than those that directly affect formal schooling. Finally, measures of behaviors, engagement, and outcomes associated with informal learning are difficult to define and obtain. Despite these limitations, the committee judged it critical to address this aspect of education during the workshop, particularly to provide a foundation for future work in identifying indicators.

The committee identified three important topics related to lifelong, informal learning to define the scope of the discussion: political and civic engagement, media use, and cultural engagement. They asked experts in each of these areas to address the same six questions given to the other panelists, while acknowledging the challenges of this



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KEY NATIONAL EDUCATION INDICATORS 6 Indicators for Lifelong, Informal Learning Learning continues across the life span. It takes many forms and occurs in many venues, both within and outside the formal structures of education. Although there is a seemingly infinite variety of possible sources and stimuli for learning, society has an interest in understanding what and how people are learning informally, and the ways such learning can be fostered. By definition, informal learning is not primarily guided by institutions, although schools, museums, and other entities are important sources of opportunities for it. Still, such learning builds skills—from language and cultural norms to technical expertise—that are needed in the workplace. Informal learning is important to the structures of civil society and democratic governance, and it is an important part of fulfilling life. Both the Canadian Council on Learning and the OECD have recently focused on lifelong learning and have offered approaches to defining and measuring informal learning; the committee considered their models in thinking about education indicators (Canadian Council on Learning, 2010; Werquin, 2010). The Canadian Composite Learning Index and the European Lifelong Learning Indicators both capture different sorts of learning that occur throughout life in school, in the community, at work, and at home. Both are composite indicators, based on domains defined by the UNESCO: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together, and learning to be. These indicators are designed to support international comparisons for all basic types of learning. In planning this portion of the workshop, the steering committee recognized that lifelong, informal learning does not fit neatly within the framework used to structure the workshop (see Table 1-1). The range of “institutions and service providers” through which one learns informally is much broader than for the other stages because individuals can choose to engage with a wide variety of both formal and informal resources. Likewise, the “contextual factors” that may influence informal learning are broader and more diffuse than those that directly affect formal schooling. Finally, measures of behaviors, engagement, and outcomes associated with informal learning are difficult to define and obtain. Despite these limitations, the committee judged it critical to address this aspect of education during the workshop, particularly to provide a foundation for future work in identifying indicators. The committee identified three important topics related to lifelong, informal learning to define the scope of the discussion: political and civic engagement, media use, and cultural engagement. They asked experts in each of these areas to address the same six questions given to the other panelists, while acknowledging the challenges of this 52

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request. This chapter is structured around the discussion of the three topics. All the indicators suggested are shown in Table 6-1. TABLE 6-1 Indicators Suggested for Lifelong, Informal Learning POLITICAL AND CIVIC ENGAGEMENT  Practices such as voting, boycotting, supporting a political party or candidate  Quantity and equality of engagement in such practices as volunteering, attending public meetings, working to address community problems, and making charitable donations  Quantity and quality of political and civic news consumption  Quality and quantity of engagement with diverse views on civic and political issues  Opportunities to learn content related to civic and political life MEDIA USE  Access to media, beginning with measures of household spending on or ownership of media devices and sources  Media exposure that captures the nature of the content being consumed CULTURAL ACTIVITIES  Engagement in learning opportunities outside of formal schooling, perhaps using surveys administered after learning experiences POLITICAL AND CIVIC ENGAGEMENT Joseph Kahne focused on indicators of political and civic engagement. For him, these two distinct but overlapping types of engagement are among the most important outcomes of education, and he expressed concern that they are in decline. Quoting former president of the University of Chicago, Robert Maynard Hutchins, he cautioned that “the death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination by ambush, it will be the slow extinction from apathy, indifference and undernourishment.” To demonstrate this risk, he displayed data collected through a supplement to the U.S. Census showing disparities in the participation of U.S. adults aged 25 and older27: in 2008, 74 percent of adults with a college degree voted, 53 percent of those with a high school degree voted, and 31 percent of those with neither degree did so. Rates of voluntarism show the same pattern: 42 percent of college graduates volunteered that year, while just 18 percent of those with a high school degree and 9 percent of those with neither degree did so. Kahne suggested including an indicator of political engagement statistics on such practices as voting, communicating with public officials, boycotting, attending meetings where political issues are discussed, and showing support for a political party or candidate. The indicator might distinguish among being “highly engaged,” “engaged,” and “disengaged,” or indicators could be created for particular acts, such as voting. 27 For more details, see http://www.census.gov/cps/about/supplemental.html. 53

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KEY NATIONAL EDUCATION INDICATORS Another indicator of civic engagement would include statistics on the quantity and equality of engagement in such practices as volunteering, attending public meetings where there are discussions of community affairs, working to address community problems, and making charitable donations. The U.S. Census Bureau already collects valuable information about many of these actions and behaviors, he noted, but current data do not capture engagement that occurs in the digital sphere, such as communicating electronically with elected officials or joining online groups. Asking about whether respondents have written a letter to the editor, for example, is no longer the best way to track engagement, he explained, and tracking media consumption now needs to include new venues. Following the evolving nature of involvement, however, means giving up on some of the longitudinal data. “You have to think about how to handle that—but it doesn’t mean you can ignore it,” Kahne said. New media are particularly important influences on the ways people obtain information. Kahne noted that research has shown a close association between reading, watching, discussing, and otherwise engaging with news that concerns societal issues and being well informed about civic and political life (e.g., Deli Carpini and Keeter, 1996; Popkin and Dimock, 1999). But this area also has changed significantly. For example, many people now get their news from friends or members of online groups who share it with them, rather than through self-selected consumption of material published by a particular source. He suggested an indicator of learning through engagement with civic and political media sources, which would measure the quantity and quality of political and civic news consumption. Also important to Kahne is an indicator of learning through engagement with diverse views on civic and political issues, which would include statistics on the quantity and quality of such engagement. Kahne noted that exposure to a diverse range of views related to civic and political issues is important. Research has suggested that such exposure can foster an individual’s ability to see other perspectives, appreciation for the legitimacy of the rationales put forth by those who disagree, and political tolerance for those with differing perspectives. At the same time, there is some evidence that such exposure may lead to reduced levels of participation (Mutz, 2006), a finding that Kahne suggested needs further investigation. More general learning was the focus of his final indicator, which concerns such civic learning opportunities as learning content (e.g., history, economics, sociology, political science) that relates to civic and political life; discussing current events; having open and respectful dialogue about current events; engaging in community service; engaging in extracurricular activities; and participating in simulations of civic and political processes. Some of these opportunities occur in the context of formal education but others are less formal. Research has suggested that these opportunities promote civic and political engagement, but also that there is considerable inequity in access to such opportunities (e.g., Hart et al., 2007; Kahne, Feezell and Lee, 2012; McDevitt and Kiousis, 2004). However, Kahne noted that such opportunities and their outcomes are not generally measured. Including these issues in the education indicator list, Kahne suggested, may reinforce the value of civic and political engagement and spur educators and others to place more emphasis on developing it. However, he cautioned that he could not see a 54

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ready way to capture the quality of all of these types of engagement, noting that a measure of engagement with news media would be more useful if it captured the quality of the information the media provided. He also stressed the importance of documenting inequities in the participation of different groups, and whether or not groups receive equal support for engagement. Currently, for example, higher income individuals and those who have been to college are far more engaged than others. Similarly, studies find that academically successful, white, and well-off individuals are far more likely than others to be provided with varied civic learning opportunities in school. Attending to these inequities is critical, he emphasized, noting that the premise of democracy is that all citizens have a voice, so if some groups are participating much more actively than others, this diminishes a democratic system. MEDIA USE In 2009, the typical U.S. youth between the ages of 8 and 18 devoted 7 hours and 38 minutes daily to using media (TV, audio, computers, video games, print, movies), noted Donald Roberts, and this was a full hour more time than young people had spent using media just 5 years previously. Because young people increasingly use several different media concurrently (for example, watching TV while surfing the web and texting a friend), they pack more than 10 hours of media use into those measured 7.5 hours. There is no other waking activity that comes close to accounting for as much of young people’s times, and adults are not far behind, he added. During the first 18 years of life, the typical U.S. youngster spends more time with just one of these media— television—than he or she spends in school. “American kids learn more from the media than they ever learn from school,” Roberts observed. “It may not be what you want them to learn; it may not be what they need to be successful people, but every time they sit down and click or listen or watch, they’re learning something.” Many studies have measured young people’s television watching, Roberts explained, and a few have addressed movie viewing and radio listening, but there has been only one study, by the Kaiser Family Foundation, that used a representative sample to study young people’s media use more broadly. Studying media use is complicated, he noted. Every time we go into the field,” he pointed out, “somebody has invented a new technology.” This expands the time available for media use: for example, new miniaturized and portable devices mean that time spent standing in line or sitting on a bus can also be an opportunity to pay a video game, communicate with friends, or watch a television show. It is generally possible to obtain measures of which and how many young people have which sorts of devices, but finer grained information is needed, and the data change very quickly. For example, knowing that the average household has more than two television sets, or that in 1999, 15 percent of 2- to 4-year-olds had a television in their bedroom, is not sufficient to understand the nature and extent of usage today. At the same time, however, digital media also afford new ways to measure exposure, although they also raise very troublesome privacy issues as well. It is possible to record what sites young people are visiting, what they are doing, what shows they are watching, and other information, Roberts explained, but it is less clear how to understand 55

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KEY NATIONAL EDUCATION INDICATORS and code the sorts of content they are consuming and how to evaluate such findings. Looking just at media devoted to public affairs, he commented, it is difficult to identify precise boundaries for the category, given the range of programming and material that are available. “People really argue over this,” he added, not only about perspectives on such programming as Fox news, but about what is learned through exposure to, say legal or police dramas that address civil rights and other civic issues. Roberts noted that the Candian’s Composite Learning Index (CLI) and the European Lifelong Learning Index (ELLI) both defined informal learning in relation to use of mass media. But he found their operational definitions of mass media to be limited—ELLI focused primarily on use of the internet and the CLI included use of the internet and reading materials. Roberts favors a more expansive definition that would include television and film, video games, and popular music, as well as other forms of electronic and print media. Entertainment media, he emphasized, are one of the primary sources of informal social learning for children and adolescents. With these issues in mind, Roberts suggested two indicators and investigation of possibilities for a third. First, he suggested a basic measure of access to media, beginning with measures of household spending on or ownership of media devices and sources. Even better would be to supplement this measure with detailed looks at personal ownership (because usage might be very different for a computer or television in a child’s room, for example, as opposed to one that is shared by several family members). Such data were collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation between 1999 and 2009, Roberts noted, but funding for that program was discontinued. He believes that an ongoing national survey of media habits would be valuable. Roberts also advocated a measure of media exposure that captures the nature of the content being consumed. “Content matters,” Roberts asserted, “and different young people focus on different sources and genres.” Possible sources of data that could be used for this indicator include television and radio ratings services (e.g. Nielsen Ratings; Arbitron), sales or subscription data for age-targeted magazines and books, sales of age- targeted “educational” videogames, and tabulations of visits to internet destinations intended for young people. The most accurate data are likely to come from young users themselves, he added, which could also be obtained through a continuing national survey of media behavior. Finally, Roberts speculated that an important outcome indicator for lifelong learning might be skill in critical thinking and problem solving. He thinks that there may be a relationship between the development of critical thinking and problem solving skills and media use, and he would like to see research in this area. He suggested that media use is important because it influences people’s thinking and perceptions and because this influence is likely to vary across individuals, demographic groups, and time. Although no means of capturing such effects are currently available, he advocated that research on ways to explore such connections be a priority, since media use is increasingly pervasive. “If we are serious about capturing informal or incidental learning, then we need to think about all media, not just books and the internet, and we need to pay attention to what kinds of content are consumed.” He argued that the evidence is clear that people use and respond to media and content differently as a function of age, so data are needed that capture exposure and content for people of all ages. 56

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CULTURAL ACTIVITIES Elizabeth Stage used the example of the Lawrence Hall of Science, a museum and science center run by the University of California at Berkeley, to highlight some key purposes for informal learning. Among the purposes that are often cited are personal fulfillment, civic engagement, workforce preparedness, and national competitiveness, but, Stage suggested, one could also view informal learning more broadly as a complement to formal learning. For her, the focus of study of informal learning should be on the opportunities it can provide, and the equity of those opportunities. Informal learning differs from formal learning in a few ways, Stage noted. It is market based in the sense that it only occurs by choice. It tends to change faster than formal education can and to be organized around people rather than places. Increasingly, as digital media expand the possibilities, it can be customized to meet individual needs. Lawrence Hall, she observed, is located on a high hill in the San Francisco Bay area and is not easily accessible to many city residents. Its mission, though, is to nurture science and mathematics learning for all, so, she noted “we have to go where the people are.” As the staff have worked to make their programs accessible to everyone, Stage explained, they have found new ways to reach out to the public, including online activities and portable activities that can be taken to other locations. Stage did not suggest specific indicators, but she identified two areas she believes are most important to explore. First, she argued that simple measures of participation, such as tracking how many people pass through a turnstile into a museum, are not particularly useful as indicators. More important, in her view, is to look at engagement, by, for example, observing and perhaps surveying small samples of people to understand in detail where and how they engaged in a particular learning experience and what they gained from it. Thus, an indicator might be one that broadly measures engagement in learning opportunities outside of formal schooling, perhaps using surveys administered after learning experiences. This approach is more difficult and expensive, she acknowledged, but in her view it offers an understanding of the new knowledge or attitudes gained, changes in behavior, or actions taken that could provide meaningful evidence of the value of informal education. ISSUES IN INFORMAL LEARNING Allan Collins raised a few points to launch the discussion of indicators of informal learning. First, he returned the discussion to the four pillars identified in the European Lifelong Learning Indicators: learning to know (the formal education system); learning to do (vocational training); learning to live together (learning for social cohesion); and learning to be (learning as personal growth).28 Each of these pillars is assessed using a composite of subscales. For example, “learning to live together” covers participation in active citizenship; tolerance, trust, and openness; and inclusion in social networks. It measures such factors as work for voluntary or charitable organizations; membership in any political party; working in a political party or action group; holding the opinion that the country’s cultural life is either enriched or undermined by 28 See Hoskins, Cartwright, and Schoof (2010) for more information. 57

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KEY NATIONAL EDUCATION INDICATORS immigrants; holding the opinion that gays and lesbians should be free to live their own lives as they wish; having trust in other people; having interactions with friends, relatives, or colleagues; and having anyone to discuss personal matters with. Indicators of “learning to be” include participation in sports, attendance at or participation in cultural activities (ballet, dance, opera, concerts, and museums), participation in lifelong learning, personal use of the internet, internet access in the household, and accordance of working hours with family commitments. “If we want to make international comparisons,” Collins noted, it might make sense to collect similar data. Second, he stressed that fast-changing technological options are actually exacerbating the equity problems that are already an issue in education. He suggested that those who can afford them are eager consumers of new devices and services, but that others are increasingly left behind. It is critical, in his view, to find out how people are using new technology, but also to make a concerted effort to see that young children have equal access to the most important technological options. Collins also suggested that schools and colleges currently “have a monopoly on certification,” but that knowledge and skills gained in other settings can have as much value in the workplace. The more people learn outside of the K-16 setting, he suggested, the more important it is to think about assessing and certifying outside the system as well. This also is an equity issue, he pointed out, because alternative ways to demonstrate competence and skill may be of most benefit to students with fewer resources. Much of the discussion focused on technology. Participants and presenters had several follow-up comments about its growing influence. The American Academy of Pediatrics still recommends that young children be limited to one hour or less of screen time per day, Roberts pointed out, and “there are social, economic, and intellectual implications from being glued to a screen all day.” Some research has suggested that young people who have spent considerable time using screened devices “don’t know how to read facial expressions anymore, and all the information we get from social interactions,” he added. It will be important, in his view, to pay attention to possible negative outcomes as well as positive ones, in tracking the use of technology. It will also be important to keep an emphasis on measuring the content as well as the exposure, he reiterated, even though doing so requires value judgments. A participant highlighted another distinction, between internet activity that is driven by friends and activity that is driven by interest. Real learning and involvement, this person suggested, is much more likely through activities that begin with substantive information as opposed to social contacts. Others questioned that distinction, noting that people seek out experiences not just on the internet but in other aspects of life, for all sorts of reasons, but can learn if they find substance in that experience. Another participant noted the multinational and multilingual communities that are made possible on the internet, citing the example of Wikipedia. Such communities may be a new venue for lifelong learning, this person suggested, raising the question of whether there is a conceptual model guiding the discussion of indicators for this sort of learning. These sorts of interest-based groups, another responded, seem to be very strongly related to social engagement beyond the internet. Some participants also pointed out that structured after-school and extracurricular programs had been overlooked in the presentations, but that they are have been shown to be an important influence, linked to performance in school and engagement with learning. 58

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The National Center for Education Statistics has begun to examine extracurricular activities, one observer noted, and it will be important to learn more about when and where they are available, and about discrepancies in access to such opportunities, since they are often expensive. Another participant pointed out that studies of participation in extracurricular arts programs using data from the National Education Longitudinal Study have shown links with civic engagement. The conversation closed with the observation that while it may be important to measure access to informal learning opportunities and participation in them, the point is not simply to have a sense of general quality of life. Learning outcomes, a participant suggested, should really be the focus. 59