Lifelong learning versus time and science divides
The Cité des metiers self directed guidance Center
as an analyzer of “Science in society” views

Draft paper for discussion at the  International Symposium
on Adult Learning- Royaumont -
28th to 30th of May, 2012

Olivier Las Vergnas,
Paris X - Nanterre University AFA (EA 1589) and Universcience

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In this paper for the Royaumont symposium, the experience of the self-directed guidance center of “Cité des métiers” in La Villette – Paris is used as a study case to explore two social divides that put in question lifelong and life wide learning views. The first is the time divide between leisure and work and the second is the artificial divide created by school curricula between scientists and nonscientists.  How do they impact self-directed learning involvement and conception?  


1. From self-directed learning to self-directed vocational guidance

After 10 years working in the field of scientific leisure (dealing for instance with astronomical clubs and science summer camps) and training of teachers as well as trainers about the use of experimental method in science and technology education, I had the will to set up a guidance center facilitating the access to lifelong learning. In the framework of the Cité des sciences et de l’industrie, (the French National Science and Industry cultural Center located at La Villette in Paris), I proposed and then managed the project of the Cité des métiers de La Villette: This Cité des métiers which means in French “occupations center” is now opened since 1993 and I am still its manager.

At the beginning of my trainer’s life (during the seventies and eighties), I was so involved in the development of self-directed learning of astronomical and physical knowledge thru self-determined investigation projects in clubs or short training sessions. In those leisure frameworks, what people self-determined are “short terms” projects, although it is obvious that some of them become a vocational starting point and determine a lifelong pathway. The opening of the Cité des métiers was a good way to help people to build really long terms self-determined projects, such as professional pathways and so to promote the views about “lifelong self-directed projects” as personal empowerment tools.

What is the Cité des metiers?

This Cité des métiers is an employment and guidance center freely opened to any inhabitant; we set it up having in mind the integrated perspective of “education permanente” transcending the divide between working time and leisure time. The idea was to build a new kind of lifelong learning “tourist office” in association with the main counseling organizations working in the fields of guidance, employment, training and professional life.

For us, the link of such a professional empowerment center with the aims of an industry, technology and science Center such as La Villette was obvious: the evolution of science, technology and industry alters qualifications and professions as a whole, well beyond those generally perceived as “scientific”. Initially, the aim was to broaden the offer of a center of public understanding of science and technology – what the French policies call culture scientifique, technique et industrielle (CSTI) – from cultural leisure activities to problems solving related to the impact of technological change onto all professions, learning paths and employment. All professions evolve, specialize or know new combinations according to new technologies, new organization of the work, new issues: with information technology, new materials, sustainable development as well as the acceleration of the circulation of goods, people and ideas, there is no profession that does not feel the day-to-day impact of innovation, be it in terms of tools, materials, methods or market. Labor and qualifications issues have obviously to deal with public understanding of science and technology.

After 19 years of experience and more than 4 millions of users (including more than 500 000 who had at least one personal counseling interview), the relevance of such a center has been proved as well on a quantitative as a qualitative point of view (more than 85% of good opinions on delivered service in external evaluations). An obvious evidence of this relevance is the fact that an international network of 30 similar centers (labellized thru a free franchising system co-administrated with an ad hoc NGO) was progressively developed through 7 other countries using our Cité des métiers de La Villette model. However, only one of those other Cités des métiers has a link with a Science and Technology Center, and none with a Leisure Center. In addition to that, in Paris, it is quite clear that the adult audience of exhibitions and leisure time activities does not mix with Cité des metiers users.

Of course, those observations do not question the relevance of the Cité des metiers regarding its main guidance aim; it only puts into questions its historical relation with the Science and Technology Center. From a wider point of view, this observation addresses also questions about the relation we had originally imagined between self-directed learning, lifelong learning views and institutionalization of technology and science literacy (or as we say in France CSTI).

2. The Cité des métiers as an analyzer of lifelong learning views 

So, at personal level, very few articulations are observed between Cité des metiers uses and other Cité des sciences et de l’industrie components uses (i.e. exhibitions or popularizing conferences): very few hybrid visits, very few people seeing a logical link between those offers. At Cité des metiers international franchising level, almost all of the stakeholders do not see the link between “professional considerations and lifelong guidance counselling” and a center dedicated to science, technology and industry awareness (In France CSTI) or science literacy.

Such lacks of articulation put in question the different stakeholders’ conceptions of life long learning and particularly of life wide learning. We have already suggested that those lacks were related with two linked divides:
- a first social divide between leisure times and working times or between leisure and work universes
- a second related divide in the various producers’ minds between “cultural offers” (as they call them in France) and social services dedicated to answer to what bothers inhabitants.

As a matter of fact, the conclusion we have drawn from those observations is that the work time/leisure time separation forbids transversal uses (i.e. consecutive leisure and work episodes, for instance professional counseling interview or workshop followed by an exhibition visit) of multipurpose centers such as La Villette in Paris: people do not attend to a professional counseling center with the same friends or relatives than those with whom they visit an exhibition for fun. Personal time organization is more based on social rhythms and family management than on lifelong learning opportunities. Of course, other factors such as inhabitants ’conceptions about learning can also contribute to explain that it is not so easy to promote links based on the “life wide” perspective. Having in mind the memory of old school time with a strong separation between leisure time and learning time, we can for instance imagine that for many people the learning fact is related to effort and painfulness that they can accept to undertake during leisure time if it gives them a real satisfaction, more intense than the pain: that is the case if they learn something useful for an immediate gain or to be self-satisfied.

A set of questions linked to time divide

Such observations raise questions for researchers working on life wide learning issues. Those questions are related with the more and more divided time organization. Most of the people experience a succession of formatted periods:  leisure moments (including learning sequences often pre-organized in the leisure merchandizing process) and working time periods (including short term efficiency learning process decided by the HR team). How Education permanente conception is changed by this current increase of leisure time /working time divide? How is it impacted by the standardization and merchandization of leisure? What are the effects of I.T. generalization in term of learnance feelings as far as the tools are used as well for leisure as for work?

In a more global way, what can be the result in terms of “learnance” conception of this double evolution towards standardization people have to cope with? Is it still possible for learners to see themselves as developing a life wide learnance, relevant for chosen learning situations during free time as well as to professional efficiency oriented learning during working time?

3. The Cité des metiers as an analyzer of CSTI views 

In fact, it seems also that we have to face a lack of interest of “institutionalized CSTI” stakeholders for the field of “professional life” (i.e. work environment, qualification and techniques relation as well as jobs and occupations prospective knowledge). That is why we have also to put in question the meanings of the CSTI views compared with those about lifelong learning.

So, in order to understand why those issues of supporting self-directed professional projects of inhabitants or helping them to understand vocational training opportunities does not interest the CSTI stakeholders, let us try to understand what are their precise goals are and how do they intend to reach them in terms of training or learning in order to evaluate their achievement.

3.1. Recurrent Policies without any macroscopic result

In fact in France, when trying to evaluate those CSTI policies, we observe that, mainly because of their ambiguity and reliance on school curricula, those views promoting such a “cultural knowledge” of science and technology have been repeating themselves identically since thirty years.

Yet, learning objectives are reached at an individual scale (micro scale): many plans have proven their relevance to facilitate self-directed appropriation of scientific methods or knowledge (this is for instance the case of scientific leisure clubs or self uses of libraries) as well as self-directed professional training or evolution projects (in the case of the Cité des metiers). But, a contrario, as these systematic repetitions demonstrate it, nothing seems to go better regarding the main issues that bothers those stakeholders, i.e. the global “relation with science” of the whole population seen from a macro-social point of view. More precisely, scientific knowledge and activities seems as distant as they have ever been from the interest of the majority of inhabitants: no progress has been noticed at the society scale regarding scientific knowledge appropriation.

3.2. CSTI and school curricula social consequences

At this macro-social scale, it has been possible for us to prove that this repetition is due to the fact that those views are ambiguous and do not take into account school curricula consequences: on the one hand they do not define what “scientifique et technique” specify precisely, on the other hand they do not pay attention to the fact that the relation with science of a modern society is determined by school design. In fact, holding it able to improve both elite detection and knowledge sharing, those views forget that the educational system categorizes pupils into one quarter of scientists and three quarters of non-scientists, giving them bad marks and a kind of “self-inefficacy” feeling regarding science’s issues . For those, a motivation obstacle (that we proposed to call “conative obstacle”) adding to natural cognitive obstacles literally teaches them to accept this categorization, which may even become a self-fulfilling prophecy that they are not able any more to deal with any sort of science related knowledge.

In addition to that, the “normal” channel of CSTI stakeholders is lectures and exhibitions about issues selected by them, linked with what is taught in school as “science”. That means that they manage CSTI programs more as a top-bottom prescription than a bottom- up process helping people to deal with self-determined topics emerging from their own questions or from problems that bother them. This point of view creates what we have called in former papers a “scholastic” CSTI, in the sense that it does not give much opportunity to enlarge their conception of Science to the scientific and technological dimension of culture as experienced by everyone. It reinforces the epistemological divide between scientific knowledge and knowledge originating in day-to-day life: instead of recognizing the opportunities of acculturation to science brought about by technical practices, it introduces a “scholastic” obstacle.

Going further with this idea, by the addition of those two conative and scholastic obstacles to the Bachelard's cognitive obtacles, school curricula memories could be seen as responsible -in countries such as France- of a "science divide" that discourages more or less 3/4 of the adult population to use or self acquire science method or knowledge for daily problem solving.

4. What do CSTI stakeholders have in mind?

4.1. Communication more than learning policies

Several authors have shown that current adults CSTI programs are more targeted on organizing dialogue between scientists and nonscientists more than on developing nonscientists learning: As a matter of fact, most of the researchers working on CSTI are involved in info-communication more than in education field. Nowadays, most of the CSTI stakeholders agree on saying that the CSTI problem to solve is a lack of interest, or even of confidence  for science : the knowledge deficit model that was in use thirty years earlier is no longer up to date -they say- in order to re-establish confidence between the inhabitants majority  and the scientists.

So, as far as adults are concerned, the new goal for CSTI or public understanding of science stake holders is to build « a link between science and society ». To achieve this goal, they want to associate inhabitants in « citizen science » programs such as consensus sessions or workshops as well as translational or participative research in the framework of what they denominate “outdoors researches” (Sciences de plein air in French). For instance, European Commission has recently renamed its former “public understanding of science” program using instead of it the new name of “science in society” program. Apart from certain specific activities such as « popular epidemiology » and « community participatory action research» programs, in which nonscientists are recognized as partners able to share experiential or popular knowledge, “science in society”  programs intend to organize the dialogue between nonscientists opinions and scientists knowledge. Those programs do not put in question this divide, as if it were an intangible social fact, as if it were to possible to imagine it transgressed at micro level by knowledge personal acquisition or at macro level by a reorganization of school curricula.

4.2. Reduction of scientists/nonscientists social divide as a goal


To go further on this issue, we have proposed in former papers to consider a contrario that may remain some situations for adults that we could call “cognitive CSTI” as far as they allow self-directed learning transgressing this post scholar divide. In such situations non-scientists adults are not constrained by the memory of their poor grades in school and consider themselves clever enough to acquire scientific knowledge and use it to solve problems. 

In order to identify and allow a better analysis of this kind of activities, we have already suggested that this field of CSTI for non-scientists can therefore be categorized in two families. The first one organizes the dialogue between scientists and “laymen” without questioning this divide. The second, which fosters the appropriation of knowledge and of approaches that transgress the “scientific-unscientific” stereotypes, belongs to historical currents in self-directed learning, fighting for chosen knowledge and empowerment: make the best of a chronic illness through life-acquired knowledge, take part in activist-organized surveys, or find fulfillment in experimental technico-scientific leisure activities.

4.3 Little science, big science, impure science and self-directed learning

As self-directed learning promoters, it is obviously this second type, i.e. the bottom-up type, in which we are the more interested because it puts in question the scholastic and conative limits giving the opportunity to look for a new kind of knowledge we could name "self-scientific knowledge”. It is also a way to deal with the Derek Price’s famous question about the classical “little science” useful for problem solving currently becoming the “big science” useful as a socio-economic process: Is it still possible to imagine nowadays a local little science, build on self-directed phenomenology? Is there an epistemological link between what science sociologists call “popular epidemiology” or “impure science” built on “grassroots movements” and self-directed learning? Can it be a way to fight against that new kind of “scientific gender” that school curricula create in our post-modern societies by helping nonscientits adults to re- discover science self directed learning opportunities?

5. Opened conclusion for the international doctorate

To draw an opened conclusion for this draft paper, I suggest that we use those two questions of time divide and science divide as analyzers of self-directed learning situations.


Personal references related to this issue

Las Vergnas O., (2012) «L’institutionnalisation de la “ culture scientifique et technique “, un fait social français (1970-2010)», Note de synthèse pour la revue Savoirs, 2011 27
Las Vergnas O., (2011) «La culture scientifique et les non scientifiques, entre allégeance et transgression de la catégorisation scolaire», Note de synthèse pour l’Habilitation à diriger des recherches, Université de paris-Ouest-Nanterre-La Défense, (Carré Ph, promoteur)
Las Vergnas O., (2011) «Pratiques “ amateurs “ en astronomie et transgression de la catégorisation scolaire entre scientifiques et non scientifiques», Alliage, Culture -science -technique, octobre 2011 69
Las Vergnas O., Piednoël E., (2011) «” Nuits des étoiles “ events (1991-2008) and their impact on the French astronomical leisure landscape : Symposium S260 (The Role of Astronomy in Society and Culture) -2009 Volume 5 International Astronomical Union Cambridge
Las Vergnas O., Gérard H. G., Piednoël E., (2010) «Loisir aérospatial et astronomique : la saga de l’Association nationale des clubs scientifiques II. de 1975 à 2000 : Entretiens avec Pierre-Julien Dubost et Jean-Claude Guiraudon», La revue pour l’histoire du CNRS, 2010 automne -hiver 27-28
Las Vergnas O., (2006) «Nos sociétés peuvent-elle prendre le “ gai savoir “ au sérieux ? : Formation continue et pratiques culturelles des adultes : transgression du clivage travail / loisirs», Savoirs, 2006 11
Las Vergnas O., (2007) «Das Lebenslange Lernen -zwischen technischer Reife, sozioökonomischer Paradoxie und kulturellem Gestammel», Kuntzel K. Universität zu Köln.

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