Education as a Design Process
The Influence of Pop and Consumer Culture on Knowledge Transfer and the Marketing of Education

"Lifelong learning" is a concept to enable people to learn on their own initiative throughout their entire life. It focuses on the ability of individuals to locate, assess and use knowledge. It implies the permanent and lifelong self-organised acquirement of knowledge. It is considered as a key qualification not only in the de-regulated job market.
In addition to school and vocational training, learning is required also in on-the-job training and in further education. Furthermore, the learning in everyday life, changing work conditions and the requirements of a constantly changing society lead to new forms of informal learning. Other than that mentioned, learning as a collective process plays a key role in development of new organisational structures in institutions and companies.
"Lifelong Learning" is designed to help strengthen social relations and to avoid marginalisation. The aim of the strategy in the framework of educational policy is to increase the participation of large parts of the population in education and to give all people more opportunities for individual social and vocational development according to their strengths.
On close inspection, the concept of "Lifelong Learning", is impossible to describe precisely. Never stopping to learn also implies making mistakes. The constant acquisition of knowledge and a change of perspectives through new acts of cognition creates a culture of failure management. It provides a basis for the conclusion that knowledge gained individually has only limited validity.
Any claim of willingness to adopt lifelong learning also encounters resistance. Critics interpret it as a paring-down of education to the improvement of learning processes for purposes of economic usefulness. The role and function of education in the structural change of society becomes apparent through the economic and political predestination of educational contents.
The overall concept of "Lifelong Learning" could be understood as the "anything goes" of the 21st Century. The motto "Lifelong Learning" is included in every single entrepreneurial mission statement and in all political party programs. The development of an educated elite promises advantages in terms of location and competition. The decision on the contents which are acquired in each case are made by the market and the job agency respectively.
The ubiquitous demand for flexible "human capital" and "human resources" is an expression of that. According to this critique, ""Lifelong Learning" leads more than ever to an increasing social exclusion. Because, those who are not able or willing to adapt, reduce their chances of social participation.
There is a lifelong pressure on the individual to learn even more and more extensively in shorter periods and to gather as much information as possible. But there is no guarantee or safe outlook for the sustainability of the knowledge gained. This is even more visible in the case of knowledge gained for vocational qualification. In spite of the fastening obsolescence of knowledge it is important to do everything to keeping track of the current standard of knowledge. Only those people who are constantly striving to improve their marketability have the right to participate in the "rare good" of labour .
Companies which demand "Lifelong Learning"" of their employees however do face this deliberate critique of society only in rare cases. In fact, the strong leaning towards accepted customs and a lacking readiness to take responsibility for one's actions, make evident the instinctive resistance towards an increasing pressure to perform. In addition to this, the learning processes in business are subject to the conditions of a formalised implementation and therefore barely provide room for personal identification.
The motivation of staff becomes an over stressed keyword of in the field of corporate management. In times of growing unemploymewnt, the promise of job security gains growing value and becomes the driving force behind a new willingness to perform.
Against the background of these developments in society, we must ask the question: who owns education? Educational goals are defined not by individuals, but by the predominating context. Education is determined not only by economics, but also by history, language, and culture. The knowledge and information society is characterised by its immaterial core values. Its conditions contribute to the commercialisation of knowledge and education. Something which can be described as an education industry comes into being. It works in a market- oriented fashion and tries to reach customers, win their loyalty, and make profits.
Who designs knowledge? The content of educational material is defined by curricula set by governments. Within this clearly defined frame of conditions, publishers of schoolbooks have some scope during the production. As service providers, they are interested in the constant development and improvement of their products. The sales department is responsible for the contact with schools and teachers, and at the same time it acts as a sort of market researcher. They are the link between the customers, i.e. teachers, and the designers.
The target groups are clearly defined, the main contact persons for sales activities are the teachers. Due to the increasing privatisation of educational opportunities, parents are of growing importance when choosing the educational materials, particularly since they have to bear an increasing share of the costs. The actual users of the schoolbooks and educational materials, the pupils, appear only at the very end of this chain of relations.

What responsibilities can or should a business take over within the field of education under the conditions of intensified competition? How marketable is education? The products and services of the education industry should satisfy the needs of the education market completely. They should be adopted in a useful way and contribute to an improvement in education and learning possibilities. This goal makes high demands on the quality in form and content.
On the other hand, there is strong competition amongst the players on the education market. The traditional market in schools is shrinking due to a decreasing number of pupils and therefore subject to fierce competition . The occasional practice of handing out whole class sets of books free of charge to gain market share illustrate how fierce the fight is. It creates existential pressure among the competitors, under which they have to strike a balace between company growth and responsibility for the products.
How is education designed? How is the content transferred and how is the end user reached? Education is a process of design. This applies to learning strategies as well as to the conditioning of educational contents. School materials often contain sub- cultural elements which reach their audience geared to the target group. An identification with cultural patterns of youth, or at least with some part of it, which is considered still digestible by designers and teachers, is a valid sales argument. Our culture of everyday life is increasingly transported by images and symbols. The influence of lifestyle and consumerist aesthetic cannot be ignored, for instance when cartoon and graffiti styles, tags and Manga copies find their way into educational materials.
New trends in fashion, consumerism, lifestyle or music are often started by small groups, which therefore stand in opposition to the mainstream. Alternative, Gothic or early Hip Hop are examples for that. Hackers are a subculture in the world of technology. Nowadays mainstream and subculture increasingly mix due to the commercialisation of new trends by interested industries. Also people who go in for special sports, for instance skateboarders or surfers, have their own subcultures. Skateboarding, according to many boarders, is an expression of individualism rather than a sport. Skateboarding is still rooted in subculture due to the experiences of conflicts and criminalisation, which arise from use and appropriation of public space, from the dropout mentality of surfers and the creativity needed.
Types of sport which find a lot of followers within a short period of time, for instance inline skating, can be called trend sports. One reason for the fast growth in popularity of trend sports are reports in the media. TV programs, radio reports and magazines often emphasise the pleasant effects on body and soul or the special fun or buzz of so called leisure sports like for instance hacky sacking, mobile phone pitching, paintball, rafting or fingerboarding.
The attempts of designers to include certain elements of youth and popular culture resemble a process of recycling, which seizes certain patterns of culture and feeds them back into education as second-hand goods. This process which blurs the borders between copy and original brings up the question of authenticity of the proposed interfaces of learning.
The anticipation of comic/manga/kitsch/pop/street/skateboard culture suggests creativity and imparts the spirit of nonconformity. In this way the pupils are offered a possibility to discover educational contents through their own cultural behaviours. Learning offers are taken on with an extra motivation when elements of the private sphere mix with the common social sphere under the aspect of assumed involvement and participation. From the typology of illustrations we can detect the growing influence of a functionalised aesthetic and consumerist culture.
A striking characteristic of many educational materials is the trivialised and "disneylike" design, an indication of a world wide levelling of culture and education under the sign of increasing infantile tendencies. This includes the massive appearance of Diddl mice and happy bears, but also the dino hype and Pumuckl adaptations. The reference to the ideal world of babies sweetens everyday school life , which is considered boring, and seduces to the simultaneous acceptance of educational and consumerist offers in the name of "sweet education".
The increasing infantilism, that is stagnation of development at a childish level and the adherence to childish behaviours can be seen as an attitude of blocking excessive demands and frustrations. It appears as social or emotional underdevelopment or as particularly affectionate behaviour. It offers the possibility to abandon the stressful everyday life. A related phenomenon are those learning and consumerist offers which give the possibility to identify with popular animals like teddy bears, cats, dogs, ponies etc.
The desire for romanticism leads to the formation of cultural stereotypes, which can also be found on educational materials, for instance sunsets, lovers or the apotheosis of the urban milieu of self- realisation in form of sax players in front of skyscraper horizons. Also elements of fine art and architecture lead increasingly to the access of educational worlds and point early to creativity and self-autonomy as keys for individual ways of life.
Some educational materials pick up the trends towards the irrational, magic and transcendental, as they appear in references to Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings. There is a wide-spread philosophical movement within western culture, which understands itself as an alternative to Christian religion and modernism rooted in the enlightenment. Against the background of the progressive exploitation of nature and people it strives for a new holistic concept of life and cognition. There are relations to ecological, esoteric and new religious tendencies of various kinds.

Attributes of past eras like mediaeval times or the age of pharaohs, refer to a historicising appearance. At the same time a concept of dissolved space and time establishes elements of an esoteric cyber world and a cult of technology. The worlds of fantasy are on a par with the wish for valorisation of everyday life by means of mythicization. As myth can be a collective imagination which serves to help overcome human primal fears and hopes, it is essential to be integrated into a circle of insiders. The motif of affiliation for instance to the community of multi-roleplaying online fantasy games is often the feeling of togetherness and community.
Educational materials as a direct or indirect advertising medium, point to products and commercial possibilities for identification. Surreptitious advertising is considered to be the expression of a staged and commercialised youth culture. Their virtual and real heroes are additionally transferred into countless product forms by a comprehensive merchandising industry. Even if no concrete contents are provided, consumability is the issue. The identification of the end users is created by conformity.