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Expanding the Capacity to Learn: A new end for education?

Opening keynote address at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference on 6 September 2006 at Warwick University.


The idea that ‘expanding the capacity to learn’ might be a goal of education has been around for some time. Being an effective learner, they have argued, is not just a means — enabling students to learn more knowledge more efficiently — but a valuable end. In the last few years, the idea has gathered more momentum. A variety of labels have been used — learning skills, learning to learn, developing positive learning dispositions. Some of these only go as far as developing hints and tips that will help students organise, retain and retrieve examinable information. But for many, the ambition is greater. There is a widespread belief that being an effective, powerful real-life learner is a useful thing to be; and that twenty first century education should be aiming to help young people develop this generic capacity to learn.

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