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A. Global learning: concept and applications
B. Chronological index of selected international environmental legal instruments
C. Contributors

A. Global learning: concept and applications

I. Introduction: antecedents
II. Approaches to global learning
III. Global learning: facilitation and obstacles
IV. Content of global learning

Edward Ploman

I. Introduction: antecedents

Global learning represents one response to what appears as a crucial feature of the situation that faces humanity today and that can be summed up as global change. Admittedly, global change is applied specifically to the changing global environment, but it also refers to interlinked changes in the world's situation, for example: unprecedented new demographic configurations, reversals of geo-political and strategic patterns, continuing disorder of the international economy, changes in the nature of technology, and in religious and sociocultural attitudes. Change is sweeping through all areas of human life. As never before, all regions are being affected simultaneously, and human activities have had long-range and potentially irreversible effects from these sweeping changes.

The expression "global learning" may be of recent origin, but in substance the concept draws upon both proven and emerging ideas and practices, in diverse disciplines and cultures. There are precursors to global learning, discernible strands of influence in this evolving web of ideas and practices. One such strand reflects reactions to current crises of education everywhere. Thus, it is increasingly recognized that conventional systems of education can no longer absorb or disseminate the range of knowledge generated, in the usual educational time span. Nor can conventional systems respond to the de mends for equitable, timely, and widespread access to knowledge and information or to the learning needs caused by the rapid outdating of knowledge. New modes for learning and knowledge-sharing, using all available services and techniques, are therefore required at all levels of society.

Another strand of influence draws upon the recognition of learning as a more basic, more inclusive - and to some, more exciting - intellectual discipline than education or training; it even has its own learned name: the science of mathematics. This perspective has provided a new focus on social, political, and cultural implications of learning, as well as on the socio-cultural embodiment of learning.

Certain aspects of these emerging attitudes were granted official expression in the well-known Unesco report on the future of education that was given the revealing title "Learning to Be."1 It is significant that this report inter alia endorsed the idea of education/ learning as a lifelong, permanent process.

In a later development, a report to the Club of Rome entitled "No Limits to Learning" focused on innovative and integrated learning techniques.2 Set against the background of the "world problematic as a human challenge," this approach to learning is based on two key concepts. Participatory learning creates solidarity in space. The aim is to foster participation in the learning and information-sharing processes from people of all ages and at all social levels. Anticipatory learning is seen as promoting solidarity in time by anticipating and having the capacity to face new, often unprecedented situations and to create new alternatives where few or none existed. The report also mentions the concept of "societal learning" and warns that the link to individual learning is not well established.

The importance of these new approaches can best be seen against the backdrop of traditional concepts. Traditionally, at least in the West, learning was conceived in narrow, anthropocentric terms as being a characteristic capacity of (1) the human species in contrast to animals and other "lower" life forms; and (2) human individuals. New scientific and cultural approaches have gone beyond these facile and self-serving assumptions. Not only has learning proved to be an inherent characteristic of animal behaviour, but it also provides such concepts as information transfer and learning that are, in advanced scientific theory, applied generally to open systems, ranging from cells to computers. From this perspective, learning emerges in what appears to be a striking feature of evolutionary history. The operation of phylogenesis created improvements in organic adaptability to the point where learning organisms could be generated. Biological organisms function as learning systems and biological evolution serves as a stochastic learning process. In the human species, the learning process has reached another level at which learning largely becomes socialized; therefore, it is no longer a purely stochastic process, but it is also a conscious and goal-oriented process. In this socialized process, learning takes place both at the individual's level and at the level of groups and other social entities. Thus, social learning subsumes both individual socialized learning and social system learning. Social learning is obviously directed towards self-maintenance of the individual and the group. Both foci frequently encounter situations in which predetermined forms of adaptation are inadequate and they then display a unique component of social learning, behaviourally directed at changing behaviour.

Given this perspective, anthropology has always been concerned with a wide approach to learning: since all culture is learned, it must therefore have a learning dimension and can be conceived of as a learning process. The link to cultural and socio-economic development becomes clearer as the goal of development changes attitudes and behaviour. Consequently, development can be fruitfully approached as a learning process. There has, in development thinking, been a change of focus towards a recognition that learning is a fundamental process whereby individuals, as well as groups, institutions, and societies, do - or do not do, whichever the case may be. The Indonesian development thinker Soedjatmoko has analysed the entire development process as primarily a learning process.3

This approach to social learning is not an isolated or unique phenomenon. Recent developments in other fields are moving towards similar approaches; even though the terminology and emphasis vary, the approach is essentially the same. Examples include paradigms and approaches in science, history,4 philosophy (process philosophy and evolutionary epistemology), general systems theory,5 decision and organization theory, sociology, management studies, and cognitive sciences.6

The global learning perspective is also related to recent emerging scientific paradigms that in different disciplines concern themselves with the nature and behaviour of complex systems, whether natural, social, or even man-made "artefacts" (e.g. chaos studies). A recurring theme in these new approaches emphasizes the emergence of self-organization, auto-poesies, and autonomy as characteristics of complex systems. All of them are processes that include learning system behaviour and self-generation of meaning.

This approach to learning is holistic and global in that it emphasizes the need for an all-inclusive process. This approach is one dimension of the multidimensional concept known as "global." In addition to the linkage of global to the learning process, global also refers to the world, to the total natural and social environment. Global thus goes beyond traditional concepts such as international, which, strictly speaking, denotes no more than relations between nations, and is generally confined to nation-states. Global as used here comes closer to a worldwide or planetary focus.

As implied in the expression itself, the focus of global learning is on global issues and how they affect all societies and all levels within society. The state of the world is such that lists of global issues are legion and also contradictory in their explanations and solutions - if and when any are proposed. The UNU Charter serves as a good starting point: it speaks of "pressing global problems of human survival, development, and welfare."7

The urgency of global learning is caused not only by the obvious dangers to these three basic goals but also by the emerging sense that the world today is facing not only difficult rearrangements of political, economic, and ecological priorities, but also a full-scale civilization change. The challenge to learning is thus the challenge of learning how to cope with a rapidly changing set of circumstances that touches every facet of society.

Pressing global problems also demonstrate the need for global learning. As the search for a common ground and a common under standing in a situation of increasing interdependence becomes crucial, the increasing complexity and dangerous paradox of simultaneous cognitive homogenization and fragmentation intensifies. In all countries, the tendency is to tackle each problem in isolation. Analysis of the issues tends to be one-dimensional in spite of the fact that, global issues, by their very nature, are multidimensional and interwoven. The development of the required global-learning strategies therefore faces another and more complicated challenge: that of adopting both a horizontal and vertical approach. The horizontal approach means integrating knowledge across disciplines, ideologies, and cultures, and uniting scientific, professional, and exponential knowledge. The vertical approach requires cutting through and integrating problems at various levels, for example, at the local, national, regional, international, and planetary levels. How, for instance, should we, given this perspective, make local, indigenous views and values compatible with global outlooks and universal values? The well-known admonition, think globally, act locally, is not enough. Thinking, as well as acting, will have to encompass all relevant levels.

II. Approaches to global learning

1. Assumptions about global learning

The introduction has already pointed to a number of assumptions about global learning. In this section, selected assumptions that can contribute to clarifying the characteristics of global learning will be discussed.


In relation to traditional concepts such as education and training, learning is both wider and deeper than ever before, while still providing access to both sets of experience, in addition to many others.

Global learning goes beyond traditional conceived limits. It extends over time, to outer space, and outside of the traditional context. Over time, global learning has not been linked to a specific period in the life of an individual, institution, or society. Learning is a continuous and permanent activity. The idea of anticipatory learning carries an important time element that is focused on the future. Nevertheless, it should be complemented by learning derived from the past, by drawing lessons from past successes and failures. The wealth of a traditional knowledge - be it in medicine, environmentally adapted and energy-conserving architecture, or methods of conflict resolution - it is still like the wealth of genetic diversity that exists in our environment. Both form a part of our common heritage and both are necessary in the search for valid solutions to current problems and for keeping options open for future generations. In addition, global learning has to be set in the context of different time frames. Government and television are characterized by short time spans; economic cycles and libraries represent larger ones: while environmental and ecological time spans stretch over generations, even centuries and millenia.

With regard to outer space, global learning implies a world or planetary perspective beyond the merely international paradigm. The perspective from outer space is relevant in that the concept of the spaceship Earth, which combines the image of the planet Earth as "one world" with the recognition of the need for planetary management, extends beyond this planet to include all that humankind affects. Since the framework is planetary, the focus is on issues that are global in the sense that they affect all peoples, and communities, also life-forms on this planet, and, ultimately, the life-supporting capacity of this planet.

Thus, global learning implies a holistic approach to learning. The total, natural, and social environment provides both the context and content of global learning. Learning is mediated through the natural and man-made shaping of the world, by way of all socio-cultural processes and products. For example, languages, tools, cities, individual values, human relations, rites ceremonies, art, war, customs, and laws, all create images of the world and impart their positive and/or negative effects.

Seen in more structured terms, major systems that make up the social environment, for example, religion, the economy, government, the military, and the mass media, serve in addition to their overt primary function also as learning systems. In the present context, the function of law as a learning system is crucial. Generally, law is not discussed in these terms; a traditional manner of approaching this issue is through analysis of the use of law to bring about social change. In fact, however,

law is used as an educator.... The success of law depends on the ability of law-making and the law-enforcing agencies to convince the people that the behavior legislated for is right and proper. The more such active laws are dependent upon the sense of obligation and the less they are dependent upon the need for sanctions, the more successful the laws are.8


The intellectual and conceptual context for global learning does not depend solely on current pressing issues. The realities of the sudden global economic, demographic, and ecological interdependence represent a new crucial challenge to human development, welfare, and even survival. Global learning must therefore draw upon the most advanced and progressive thinking available.

The most striking feature of the scientific-intellectual context of global learning is the reaction against the traditional models in Western-dominated thinking and the consequent change in the intellectual climate. There is first the emergence of new scientific paradigms, even of a new scientific rationality, or, in the words of Nobel Laureate Ilya Prigogine, "the opening up of a new theoretical space."9 The new scientific rationality that emerges in a number of disciplines goes beyond the traditional Western linear, deterministic, and, finally, reductionist model of reality. In various disciplines, recent inquiries into the nature and behaviour of complex systems and processes, natural and social, refuse deterministic, static reductionism, and incorporate into scientific models of reality concepts such as randomness, openness, and non-linear and stochastic processes, thus giving surprise, risk, discovery, and creativity new significance and meaning. This evolving new scientific rationality represents in itself a challenge to global learning. In addition, in the cognitive sciences there are emerging new theories about knowledge and learning in self-organizing, auto-poietic systems and theories that go beyond the Western tradition of "understanding as a mirror image of nature" in favour of creative cognition, a concept of cognition as an effective action toward global learning.10 This approach does not only reaffirm emphasis on the context but also provides guidelines for the development of conceptual tools required to advance the self-understanding of organizations as complex learning systems.

Whatever else, global learning would imply sensitivity to the different ways in which societies have organized and managed learning, stretching from the intensely personal guru-disciple relationship to the extensively impersonal flow of the mass media.


As any other knowledge activity, global learning is embedded in the complex, rapidly changing, and barely understood context that has been described as the advent of an information-oriented society, of a new dominant economic focus known as the service economy or the technocratic, computerized knowledge society. Whatever expressions are used, they point to a change in the nature of dominant technologies. The new electronically-based technologies differ from traditional industrial technology primarily in that they no longer construct brutal configurations of matter and physical energy but directly draw upon scientific findings. They represent technologies of organization and information. These technologies, including telecommunications, computers, informatics, and audio-visual systems, have rapidly pervaded modern society as a basic infrastructure in manufacturing and services, in public and private administration, in scientific work, and in entertainment. The forms and modes for the generation, processing, presentation, and distribution of information are multiplying, changing, and converging. They affect patterns of perceiving and coding information. Through the new communications and informations systems we are changing both our way of learning and our knowledge of the world.

Thus, global learning has to be set in this new context, not only theoretically, but also practically. It has to be capable of reaching audiences that are, at the same time, increasingly fragmented and increasingly homogeneous. All media and methods must be within reach of global learning. There must also be an appreciation of their strengths, their weaknesses, and their positive and negative effects as they are deployed.

2. Values of global learning

Assumptions about global learning lead directly to questions of values in a double sense: first, the values and ethical judgements that seem implied in or linked to the concept of global learning, and second, the related question of whether global learning is itself a normative concept.

A global approach, as formulated in the UNU Charter,11 in terms of human survival, development, and welfare, obviously expresses a set of positive values. Thus, what we should be concerned with is a search for an "ethics of human survival," for ethical systems "that are relevant to the crowded, confused, hungry, rapidly-changing, and interdependent world we live in."12

The state of the world makes it obvious that we have not yet managed to evolve into a global morality. There is an obvious requirement not to accept poverty and violence as solutions to problems. There is the ethically more difficult question of how to provide a balance between the specific and the universal, or between competing claims and exclusive universal competence (as is clearly shown by the Salman Rushdie case). Should mutual tolerance then be one of the goals as well as one of the outer limits of global learning?

There are additional moral dimensions to global problems and global learning. The time dimension is one concern. Never before have the consequences of human action - or inaction - presented such a heavy weight on future generations and societies. Thus, our responsibility is not only to present but also to future generations. Another moral concern is that of responsibility in spatial terms: decisions reached on one side of the globe very quickly affect, for good or for evil, populations on the other side. Thus, these extended dimensions in space and time carry their own moral imperatives.

The concept of global learning also carries with it ethical imperatives. From an evolutionary perspective, it seems to be an accepted idea that survival and other basic drives towards self-organization are better served by adaptability than by adaptation; that is, by a highly developed learning capacity. The biologically acquired learning faculty, which has developed into the process called social learning, concerns itself not only with maintenance, but also with growth and development.

It can be hypothesized that, in the long run, it is not enough for social systems to amplify man's behavioral capacity. They must take as their proper role the amplification of the individual himself. The higher order goal that is consistent with, and fundamental to, the evolutionary process is the creation of meaning, which provides the framework for the development of human potential.13

It must, however, not be overlooked that learning can be "negative" as well as "positive." There are many kinds of negative learning - whether by individuals, groups, institutions, or societies. Examples of past and present negative learning abound. The need for unlearning old behaviour patterns is obvious if we are to ensure both survival and welfare, not only for some members of the human race but for all, and not only for humans, but also for other life-forms with which we share this planet.

3. Global learning: Purposes, intentions, goals

Some of the values linked to global learning do in fact also act as intentions, purposes of global learning. In its most succinct form, the goal of global learning is to facilitate learning about global processes and global issues, learning to understand them, and how to act accordingly. In this perspective, global learning appears as both an individual and societal response to current global issues.

This, though, remains too general. To achieve its overriding goal, global learning would imply enhancement of the capacity for innovation, improvisation, and creativity; preparation to deal with change, risk, complexity, and interdependence, including economic, demographic, and ecological interdependence. This would in most cases imply an upsetting and difficult process of relearning, and even unlearning, reductionist but apparently secure simplicity as a way of avoiding reality's complexity. An example is the need for the rich North to un-learn its refusal to do anything decisive about poverty, hunger, and deprivation in the South within the framework of what the OECD calls the "two-track world economy" and begin to accept and address global interdependence.14

Good intentions, although elevated, are obviously not enough. Global learning can also be approached by analysing the failure of global learning, in particular the failure of learning how to manage global issues. From this perspective, global learning will have to be set against not only expectations, but also declared intentions and attendant action, or lack thereof.

It is a basic fact that, all stated intentions to the contrary, we have not learned, either because we have not been able to or have not wanted to learn how to deal with international poverty. This fact is most intolerably demonstrated in the African crisis. Nor have we learned how to humanely manage a world economy except by the rich cynically accepting a two-track economy, within and between countries. We have not learned how to base economic growth on the safeguard of environmental and social continuity.

And in what capacity have we learned to cope with the situation facing us at the end of this century, with another two billion people crowded into a shrinking global village already beset by social erosion, violence, hunger, poverty, environmental deterioration, ungovernable mega-cities, and threats to our survival not only from earth but also from space?15

These failures point to global learning needs. Admittedly, there is a need to learn how to cope with specific issues in their specific contexts. Moreover, there is a need, at a more general level, to learn how to understand and manage complex, interlocking systems and processes that are open to change and thus marked by instability, risk, and unpredictability - and freedom. We need to learn how to manage situations in which facts are often uncertain, opinions divided, values in dispute, decisions urgent, and where action - or inaction - might result in long-term or even irreversible effects.

Approaches to knowledge and learning now vary not only between disciplines and in time but also by and within cultures. There is a growing recognition of the interaction between the questions produced by a culture and the range of solutions that can be offered in that culture. This new openness, the still modest but promising renunciation of claims for a particular rationality, provide an opening; specifically, the recognition that learning how to cope with global issues cannot be sought in any single language, rationality, or culture. A single-culture approach will not be adequate for solving global issues, just as a single-issue or single-discipline approach would be insufficient. We need to learn how to accept and use multiple perceptions and polyvalent perspectives. Different rationalities and cultures are valuable resources in the search for solutions or for methods of coping with global issues. There is thus a need to go beyond the traditional Western "either-or" to encompass the kind of "both-and" that is so strongly expressed in the yin-yang symbolism.

This approach is also valid for the future development of international law. Since international environmental law, as a tool to cope with global change, will require not only adherence but also under standing and implementation in all countries and cultures, there is a need to broaden the philosophical and conceptual bases of international law. Major legal systems of the world should be seen as resources for this development since none of the existing systems by themselves will be capable of achieving the required results. For example, there is a need to find a means of overcoming the profound differences between legal systems focused on the adversary trial system and those that have developed otherwise sophisticated methods for resolving conflicts, which include many traditional legal systems such as the "Confucian-based" legal systems common in China, Korea, and Japan. It has equally been noted that both common law and civil law express an exploitative and reductionist attitude toward nature and the environment. In contrast, other systems such as African customary law generally draw upon the opposite approach.

III. Global learning: facilitation and obstacles

Essential for global learning is the impact in different situations and different cultures of factors such as permission to learn, encouragement to learn, direction and mode of learning, preventing or forbidding certain learning, and learning outcomes. Relevant questions include: who is learning what, under what conditions, towards what objectives, and at what and whose expense?

We have already mentioned some of the current learning needs, with explicit and implicit reference to the societal requirement to facilitate such learning in support of inter alia environmental policies and practices designed to introduce adoptive and preventive measures in response to global change. This perspective opens a series of difficult and controversial questions.

It would go beyond the scope of these reflections even to attempt a comprehensive analysis. The selection has therefore focused on certain issues that have a clear legal dimension, nationally and internationally, and that require consideration from a different perspective than has been used in the past.

1. New media

Given this perspective, a set of socio-cultural activities becomes crucial: those that concern themselves with the means, methods, and modes of handling, generating, processing, storing, transferring, accessing, and disseminating information. While there exists a certain societal competence in dealing with traditional media such as the written and printed word, and traditional performance of dramatic or musical works, confusion abounds about how to deal with new media such as television, video, high-speed data systems, and new technologies such as microwave, cable, satellites, and computers - which tend toward technical convergence of different forms of expression and transmission. Proof of the current confusion is the constant change of national legislation everywhere, which often appears to be a desperate attempt to catch up with technical novelties and cultural changes. The result, at both the national and international levels, is legislation that risks being "incompetent, inconsistent, incompatible, and inefficient."17 The competition between political, economic, and cultural considerations largely remains unsolved. An example, in light of the recognized need for changing practices that satisfy environmental requirements, is that the required learning or relearning at all levels of society makes it necessary to use all available means for getting the information, training, and learning required. A basic question is: can society afford not to use a medium like television for this purpose? There are splendid but isolated examples of the use of television for global learning, ranging from documentaries on global issues to Live Band Aid as a showing of global solidarity. With the trend of reducing television to no more than a commodity-producing industry, there are urgent questions about the emphasis in much of the television programming, and on the behaviour patterns that go directly against the need for new conduct, particularly with respect to such global issues as environmental protection, energy conservation, and developmental needs. The question, therefore, is whether society can avoid grappling with the problem of priorities between claims for the "free flow" of entertainment and advertising, and environmental requirements.

2. The "public" and the "private"

In recent years, confusing changes have occurred in the conception and practice of what properly belongs to the public sphere and what belongs to the private sphere, thus changing the relationships between the public and the private domains. Activities that traditionally were assigned to the private sphere have become issues in the public domain. Striking examples include reproductive behaviour and associated family and personal relationships. These have traditionally been anchored in the private sphere. A series of profound and simultaneous socio-economic and cultural changes have catapulted the processes of biological reproduction into the public sphere. A similar development has taken place with respect to economic and social behaviour, thereby having major environmental effects. The need for increasing environmental legislation is proof that certain activities, previously managed in the private sphere through decision by individuals and enterprises, can no longer be left to private initiative except under public scrutiny and accountability.

There has also been a movement in the opposite direction for which the expression "privatization" is often used as a shorthand to indicate a range of phenomena, including denationalization, deregulation, commercialization, and commodification. The current trend of privatization based on ideology or economic pragmatism has, in theory and practice, also hit areas of immediate concern to global-learning ventures. A basic issue would be: what are the effects either facilitating or hindering the movement of technology and information? How do they access both the public sphere and the private sphere?

It is clear that global learning requires wide and open means and access to information and knowledge. While there has always existed an unresolved tension between the "free flow of information" and intellectual-property rights, the situation has changed radically under the influence of both new technologies and wide claims for different kinds of proprietary rights. Thus, difficult issues have arisen in the scientific field that have succinctly been described in the title of a recent book, Science as a Commodity: Threats to the Open Community of Scholars.18 Thus, in the context of global learning, there is a need to consider questions such as: will an increase in the private funding of research lead to a decrease in the volume and type of knowledge that reaches scientists, policy makers, and the public? If indeed whole sectors of education and training are to be removed from the public domain into private operation, how will intellectual exchanges and academic development take place?19 Another similar trend that has not been given sufficient attention is the increasing commercialization of publicly-produced information, paid for by public means. that was previously made available on an open and non-discriminatory basis.

These trends must be set in the context of controlling information and knowledge; it does not matter whether this control is exercised by public authorities or private enterprises. It is a tricky field because it is ideologically loaded. It has, however, taken on a new sense of urgency through the advent of new communication and information systems. Particularly through the convergence of computer and telecommunication systems, these problems have become pervasive and awkward, evolving mainly outside of the scope of public accountability.

Thus, a basic question about privatization is whether or not it will represent an obstacle to global learning. Privatization would, from one perspective, be a factor in a series of potential obstacles to global learning. These obstacles may arise from a range of situations and conditions, including the cultural area, via institutional-legal rules, and socio-economic trends, to psychological factors.

There exists abundant information on various aspects of this complex problem. Some of the problems include obstacles to innovation, the dissemination of innovation, the transfer and acceptance of information, and the simultaneous phenomena of information overload and information under-use. However, as far as is known, these findings have never been analysed in a coherent fashion from a global-learning perspective.

In addition to phenomena that appear obvious and relatively easy to understand, there are other, more subtle practices that might constitute obstacles to global learning. One such practice is the ancient phenomenon of the "professionalization" of knowledge, which nowadays has degenerated into the reign of the expert, and the descent of instant experts from the North upon developing countries.

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