Skip to main content

21st Century Inclusive Learning Pathways

For too long education has been predicated on hierarchical, linear pathways with a focus on creating articulation routes to support this form of progress. The pace of change since the year 2000 puts this 20th Century model under great stress as the need for a different form of Lifelong Learning becomes essential.

How can we work differently to address the new context we are working in?

Skills development and related words written on cogs


The Challenges We Face

The challenges for Lifelong Learning providers are multi-dimensional. They range from attracting those with few or no qualifications (often with a poor experience of schooling) at the same time as engaging with employees needing to update skills as the workplace changes rapidly due to technological innovation. In Western Europe low birth rates mean that in countries like Scotland 80% of the workforce in 2030 are already employees. While there have been policy changes, work based learning opportunities are in the main focused on the apprenticeship model. The challenge is to provide shorter, episodic learning for employees with considerable experience but requiring to develop the new skills needed to sustain employment. 

Adult educators face two major challenges in terms of technology and demography. 


Current Approaches Are Not Enough

Despite this, current approaches in Scotland focus on labour market entry and are age specific. In May 2018 Scottish Government produced a report The 15-24 Learner Journey which reinforced the notion that learning is both linear and hierarchical with degree programmes at its pinnacle. The report failed to make reference to Lifelong Learning in progression and articulation routes nor did it place sufficient emphasis on the acquisition of what are known as meta-cognitive skills.

New Parliament House in Edinburgh
Skills Development Scotland has identified such skills under three headings:
  • Self-Management: Manage the now;
  • Social Intelligence: Connect with the world; and
  • Innovation: Create our own change

Meta-cognitive skills are important partly because we just don’t know what jobs will exist in the future, or indeed, the type of society we shall be living in. They are important for the world of work and our everyday life as citizens.

To address the complex challenges which we face there is an urgent need to create learning systems which develop both meta-cognitive and citizenship skills.


Project-based Learning and Co-creation

Central to 21st Century Lifelong Learning is the use of project-based learning which enables learners and staff to create learning activities which develop the skills required for both work and active citizenship. There needs to be an acknowledgement that learning is episodic and not delivered to meet the requirements of an institution. This approach encourages learners to accept ownership of learning activities and enables staff to deploy a wider range of pedagogical approaches which meet the needs of individuals and the group.


Implications for Adult Educators

All staff, including managers, should see, and accept, partnership working as central to their activities, working collaboratively to meet the sometimes competing demands of learners, communities, and employers. There is need for a greater focus on staff developing a further knowledge and understanding of pedagogical skills rather than the current emphasis on subject knowledge in order to support a range of learners. The command and control management approach is not fit for the 21st Century and senior staff must accept the need to work effectively in partnership, sharing resources and working to achieve common goals in order to have the greatest positive impact on learners.

Teamwork and collaboration


In taking forward the development of a new adult learning strategy for Scotland, the workforce needs to be consulted and supported. To do this I suggest three main actions:

  • Use the principles of a Curriculum for Excellence as the basis for discussion and consultation with all post school education providers on the development of the new adult learning strategy.
  • Use the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework as the means of accrediting all post school learning.
  • Direct funding to those Lifelong Learning providers who work effectively in partnership with learners, employers and other stakeholders.


I would be interested to hear what your suggestions are.


Alan Sherry Alan Sherry is Chair of the Community Learning & Development Standards Council for Scotland. He was previously Principal at Glasgow Kelvin College and John Wheatley College. Alan has over 35 years’ experience working in post school education. He has been involved in widening participation initiatives for over 25 years. In addition Alan is a board member of a number of community based organisations in Glasgow.


You might also be interested in:

Login (3)

Users have already commented on this article

Login or Sign up to join the conversation.

Want another language?

This document is also available in other languages. Please select one below.

Want to write a blog post ?

Don't hesitate to do so! Click the link below and start posting a new article!

Latest Discussions

EPALE Discussion: developing skills for a healthy life in the COVID era!

Take part to the discussion and be ready for the livestream!


EPALE Discussion: have your say on EPALE 2021 Thematic Focuses!

We invite you to enrich what is set to be an intense year ahead with your contributions and expertise! Let's start by taking parto in this online discussion. The online discussion will take place Tuesday 9 March 2021 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. CET. The written discussion will be introduced by a livestream with an introduction to the 2021 Thematic Focuses, and will be hosted by Gina Ebner and Aleksandra Kozyra of the EAEA on the behalf of the EPALE Editorial Board.