Gargallo, B., & Pérez, C. (Coord.) (2021). Aprender a aprender, competencia clave en la sociedad del conocimiento. Su aprendizaje y enseñanza en la Universidad [Learn to learn, key competency in knowledge society. The way in which it is learned and taught at university] (Vicent Gozálvez).
Gargallo, B., & Pérez, C. (Coord.) (2021).
Aprender a aprender, competencia clave en la sociedad del conocimiento. Su aprendizaje y enseñanza en la Universidad [Learn to learn, key competency in knowledge society. The way in which it is learned and taught at university].
Tirant Humanidades. 454 pp.
The book that I present, in good taste undoubtedly reflects the work and recent research coordinated by Bernardo Gargallo and Cruz Pérez, colleagues of the Educational Theory Department of the UV, and I am also bound by a friendly relationship and admiration for their career and the way in which they understand their (our) profession.
I will not begin by summarizing parts or chapters of the book: this has already been magnificently set out for you in the brief introduction. I will deal with other aspects, starting with the context of the book, which will give way to a reading or interpretation of some of the main ideas. The “learning to learn” (LtL) competency in higher education is the central theme of the book, the result of a research project which is also jointly supervised by the coordinators. In this respect, the book is a joint proposal in which numerous researchers of the project from three Valencian universities are involved as co-authors: the Universitat de València, the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia and Universidad Católica de Valencia.
I would like to begin, if I may, precisely with the conceptual issue which is the basis of the book, the definition of a new competency to encourage among university students: this must be competent (skilful, knowledgeable, predisposed, committed, etc.) in these processes and actions understood as “learning to learn”, such an interesting competency which is necessary in societies such as the one we live in. However, is this a roundabout expression, a free periphrasis? Would it not be enough to learn, therefore, in every sense of the word? Not exactly. The book goes more deeply into special and even innovative learning in the university sphere. It shows, therefore, clear support for autonomous and active learning led by the students themselves, as they are ultimately responsible for the professional activity for which university prepares them at an administrative level. Thus, LtL is a type of culmination of the enlightened sapere aude project, to dare to know and think, to know by thinking and also by acting: knowledge for action and from action. In other words, contemplative yet practical knowledge, in any case critical: “thinking without a banister”, as Hannah Arendt would later say, without anyone from outside always having to tell you what you must do, say or feel, therefore without obliging directions (manipulation) or external protection. After all, as proclaimed by Kant in the last third of the 18th century, this was precisely the motto of Enlightenment: the impetus for the autonomy of individuals and people, typical of societies which are not enlightened as such, but in a dynamic and unfinished process of enlightenment. Prepared, we could say, to learn how to improve learning in life, economy, research, public organisation, etc. Societies which have allegedly learned everything already, which say they have achieved the most sublime interpretation of almost everything, are not enlightened societies, but obliging if not doctrinaire societies and therefore anti-enlightened. Given our postmodern condition, as stated by Lyotard, do we currently find ourselves in this obliging state, in a society of empty knowledge? Does the new wave of impassioned proclamations at a differential, identifying, national and other levels respond, a new anti-enlightened creed, reluctant to open learning which is able to rethink itself, audacious enough to do so? Is audacity dying due to critical, self-critical knowledge in narcissistic consumer societies or any societies which again see salvation in ethnic or national purity? Is any group which is willingly subjected to the fiery speeches of new redeemers (those of economic growth at any cost, those of America First, those of new technoscientific and transhumanist utopias, etc.) capable of learning to learn?
Returning to our scope, following the inrush of LtL, doubts have been raised about purely mechanical, we could say educational, learning. As the aforementioned is important, it does not affect the core of what real university education should be as preparation for good professional activity. This essence is therefore found in a new type of teaching and learning based on significant, critical and self-critical learning, and on the flexible, autonomous and renewed implementation of this learning. In the “capability of people to educate themselves, to adapt to new situations and problems, to continue learning throughout their lives” (p. 33). The key of this competency, without explaining what it applies to and how, is adaptation and transfer. Its vagueness is precisely the root of its ambiguity and also its strength.
However, expressing, as is done at the start of the book, a competency-based education model (in this case that of learning to learn) calls for some questions to be asked on this model, brought about by the same appearance of the LtL which is understood, in this way, as “competency”. Chapter one of the book deals with the polysemic and rather controversial nature of the term “competency”, and it is therefore necessary to clarify the concept. Thus, the competency model was described directly in the university reform at the end of last century, with the creation of the European Higher Teaching (or Education?) Area. It seems that this way of understanding the LtL competency was the leitmotiv of the aforementioned reform, as included in the Tuning Project, carried out by 100 European universities in order to redefine and develop the curricula, respecting the autonomy of each university but above all coordinating common elements in line with the spirit of the Bologna Process. The project shows the importance, in a knowledge society, of life-long learning and of the development of “competencies to access information and knowledge, to use it according to the established purposes, in order to update it, to learn continuously, to understand what is being learned and to be able to use this in various contexts and situations of a changing reality” (the words in italics are our own) (p. 20).
However, what is the aim of this? Be competent in order to achieve the “established purposes”? The growing internationalization and technologization of economies and societies calls for constant changes and adaptations, flexibility among employees and new focuses in the organisation of companies. Ultimately, “the knowledge, capabilities and attitudes of the workforce represent a key factor for innovation, productivity and competitiveness, and contribute to the motivation and to the professional satisfaction of workers and to the quality of work” (p. 20).
Based on these statements, we may suspect that the new competency developed in the book is strictly due to these established purposes which are alluded to, or in other words, due to the purposes and the values of a technocapitalist economy, in which, speaking of a knowledge society may be seen as a joke in very poor taste. Rather, a surveillance society, in the words of Shoshana Zuboff, or societies of owners which, according to Thomas Piketty, justify and explore inequalities, may be discussed. This has certainly been one of the major accusations made against the EHEA and particularly against the Tuning Project, especially from the philosophical point of view of the basic human capabilities of Martha Nussbaum, or the economic perspective for Human Development according to Amartya Sen (a perspective which supports the United Nations Development indicators, beyond the GDP dogma within the framework of a more ethical economy).
Nonetheless, this suspicion dissolves throughout the chapters, where the new interpretation of learning to learn injects a new meaning into the competency model in university teaching. For example, in chapter two the idea of being competent is reinterpreted in such a way which includes critical thinking aimed at new purposes, which today prevail as a result of the excesses of an unbridled economism. These new purposes speak of the unavoidable need to move towards social, economic and ecological sustainability, the International Sustainable Campus Network, the SDGs, the competency for justice and ethical responsibility, etc. within the framework of the United Nations 2030 Agenda. And in chapter three, revising the theoretical grounds for LtL, the heart of its new semantics is dealt with, even on the part of the European Commission in 2018; on this basis, it is preferred to talk about “personal, social and learning to learn competency” in a clear attempt to include cooperative, social and ethical aspects in this vital learning.
The rest of the book very successfully follows this path. New construction-implementation-evaluation models for LtL in Higher Education are set out and detailed: from the resource to discussion groups to redefine the aforementioned, or the preparation of a questionnaire to evaluate it, to the proposal of methodologies for its implementation: Cooperative learning, project-based or problem-based learning, service-learning, online forums and social network analysis, practical simulation method, etc.
In short, the invitation to the sapere aude from the university must be reinterpreted in no other way than in the heart of (supposed) knowledge societies, which are globalised, technological, free or not so free, convulsed and, oh, still unacceptably unequal like our own.
Vicent Gozálvez ■