By John Bramwell

10 February 2020 - 16:10

Man reading in a cafe
'Learning takes many forms and happens in many locations'. Photo ©

Alva Pratt used under licence and adapted from the original.

Global learners are the theme of this year's international education conference, Going Global 2020. The British Council's Senior Higher Education Advisor, John Bramwell, tells us how to be a global learner.

What makes a global learner?

Global learners develop strong self-evaluation and self-criticism, are open to the widest range of ideas and concepts, and distinguish bias from truth. 

A global learner also draws on knowledge from sources outside of their country, and interprets it without country or regional bias.

Sharan Merriam of the University of Georgia, Athens, described the self-aware adult learner as one who:

  • has a strong sense of who they are
  • can direct their own learning
  • has accumulated a reservoir of life experiences – from childhood survival tactics to adult social skills and communication strategies 
  • develops their learning by upskilling or reskilling
  • views challenges as problems and solutions
  • is interested in the immediate application of knowledge
  • is internally motivated, rather than externally, to learn.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report The Future of Education and Skills (2018) says:

‘In a world of interdependency and conflict, people will successfully secure their own well-being and that of their families and their communities only by developing the capacity to understand the needs and desires of others.’

Can you learn to think critically?

All learners can develop qualities like internal motivation and a strong sense of self. That applies to full-time students and part-time learners. It also applies to those working in complex learning environments, as a result of migration or in post-conflict societies.

In his 2010 book Being a University, Ronald Barnett argues that higher education leads by example. It does that by showing new concepts to students and the academic community, and challenging learners to reach the highest levels of learning.

But that might not be enough to free trapped potential. Universities have to keep looking for the best ways to develop learning strength.

How do universities teach learners to learn?

At University of Stirling, John Gardner researches innovation in assessment. Louise Hayward at University of Glasgow is assessing learning experience as a means of progression, and at University of Cambridge, Mary James led one of the largest Teaching and Learning Research Programme projects.

Educational psychologists suggest that it is easier to learn such skills as an adult, as they combine more easily with practical experiences and mature reflection.

Adult learners might also have developed resilience and coping skills that can help to overcome the challenges of learning.

The 2019 Pearson report, The Global Learner Survey, says that in continental Europe around 43 per cent of learners have already undertaken formal reskilling or upskilling opportunities.

How does the local community shape a global learner?

According to the publication Sense of community: A definition and theory, we are all defined by our local community, especially those who do not travel far in their younger lives. The researcher Robert Rhoads argues that the local community provides reference points for views, attitudes and appetite for learning.

In 2014, Dr Patrick Hauenstein wrote:

‘When individuals are placed in social learning environments that are understanding and supportive … where ideas, inputs, and efforts are both respected and encouraged, positive self-beliefs are fostered. The result is the individual stays actively engaged in personal development activities and is more likely to succeed.’

Research also suggests that, where it is less successful, the local community restricts the growth of individualism. This can create resentment and frustration. 

Is a global learner the same as a globally mobile student?

Global learning is not only achieved through time spent in another country. Despite the UK’s low outward student mobility figure of less than two per cent, the UK retains one of the world’s strongest global research citation records.

Similarly, not all higher-level learning takes place at universities. Learning takes many forms and happens in many locations. Practice-based and work-based learning, for example, is increasing globally. And although it is used in the UK, in nursing and teaching for example, it is spreading across multiple disciplines.

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