Education: Posts

March Author of the Month: Knud Illeris

We are very pleased to announce that our Routledge Education March Author of the Month is Knud Illeris! Knud is Professor Emeritus of Lifelong Learning at Aarhus University, Denmark, and founder of Simonsen & Illeris Educational Consultancy. Contemporary Theories of Learning, 2nd Edition is his most recently published book. In our exclusive Q&A we ask Knud about the history of this book and what inspired him to write it. Take a look at the Q&A below!

I was born in 1939. At the age of 16 I left school to join ‘real life’. I had an apprenticeship in a travel agency and afterwards had a rather promising career as a travel agent and journalist. However, at the age of 27 I decided to go for a more meaningful job and joined a two-year A-Level course. Although the students were adults we were treated like children, the learning content was extremely unchallenging, and during the first year 24 out of 48 students dropped out.

One of the teachers ironically remarked that he would bet that no more than 8 of us would pass the final exam. We decided to talk informally with the other teachers one by one and ask them to help us instead of controlling us, we also created an informal structure of mutual support. This resulted in a much more engaging course, most teachers became devoted to helping us, and all 24 of us passed the exam!

This quite unusual story was the direct reason for me to choose to study psychology with a special interest in learning and involving myself in various initiatives to create better conditions of learning, especially in youth and education and workplace learning, and to gradually build up a tenable theory of learning and non-learning.

Can you tell us a little bit about the history of this book and what inspired you to write it? 

The direct background of the book, Contemporary Theories of Learning, was rather simple...

In 2007, when Routledge published my book, How We Learn, I suggested to follow it up by an edited book presenting a selection of the authors and writings which had been important sources to me. Routledge immediately accepted this, so I chose 16 articles of which the majority had a direct relation to How We Learn, whereas a few were taken in to make a more complete collection.

In relation to the new version of How We Learn in 2017 it was almost a matter of making a revised publication of articles. However, 8 years had passed, and what could be accepted as ‘contemporary’ had changed. The time limit was changed from 1990 to 1995, and there were also authors who in the meantime had written new and more relevant articles. Finally, there some new researchers, who should certainly be involved.

The new edition changed quite a lot. Two contributors have been left out (Heron and Lave) and seven contributors are represented by newer or revised texts (Jarvis, Elkjaer, Mezirow, Tennant, Ziehe, Wenger-Trayner and myself). Four new contributions have been added (Merriam, Hattie/Donoghue, Jackson and Biesta) and seven articles are unchanged (Kegan, Engeström, Gardner, Alheit, Bruner, Usher and Wildemeersch/Stroobants). Therefore, the total number of contributions has been increased from 16 to 18.

It must have been tricky to decide which key academics to include in the book, how did you choose?

This was rather unproblematic. When I made the first edition in 2008 I had been working for 40 years in the area of learning theory, I had just up-dated my book How We Learn and therefore once again had gone through the whole area and the newest developments, so it was just a matter of choosing a selection of the most important and up-to-date contributors- seen from my point of view, of course.

This book provides students and academics the world over with the key texts of seminal writers in the world of learning theory. What do you hope students take away from the book?

Firstly, an overview of the most relevant learning theorists of today. Secondly, an impression of how different and faceted relevant current view of learning is today. Thirdly, a direct acquaintance of each of these learning researchers, who have been picked due to their popularity in representing the most important sources of my 1999 book.

Can you sum up the book in one sentence?

This book offers the reader a very useful collection of understandings on the topic of learning by 18 contributions from the most prominent researchers in the field, spanning from Australia’s John Hattie trying to make everything measurable, to Dutch Gert Biesta’s fundamental critical review and my own broad covering of all aspects of both learning, non-learning and all important topics in the area, including the content, the motivational and the social learning dimensions.

Featured Books

  • Contemporary Theories of Learning

    Learning Theorists … In Their Own Words, 2nd Edition

    Edited by Knud Illeris

    This tenth anniversary edition of Knud Illeris’s classic 2008 text is an updated and definitive collection of today’s most influential learning theorists, now containing additional chapters from John Hattie and Gregory Donoghue, Sharan Merriam, Gert Biesta and Carolyn Jackson. This book brings…

    Paperback – 2018-03-19

  • How We Learn

    Learning and non-learning in school and beyond, 2nd Edition

    By Knud Illeris

    Having published in 11 languages and sold in more than 100,000 copies, this fully revised edition of How We Learn examines what learning actually is and why and how learning and non-learning takes place. Focusing exclusively on learning itself, it provides a comprehensive yet accessible…

    Paperback – 2016-10-21

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