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Ever more knowledge and sources available: How does adult education deal with this? 

Modern societies have access to ever more knowledge from a growing number of knowledge sources. This paper explores how adult education can guide learners in dealing with the swelling flood of information. 

Knowledge and ignorance in knowledge societies 

We live in a time in which ever more knowledge is available from a growing number of knowledge sources. It is no longer possible to grasp or comprehend all the knowledge available. And it may even be better to ignore certain information (see the interview with Ralph Hertwig on the TRANSIT website).  

Even though the vast amounts of knowledge and knowledge sources can sometimes be overwhelming, the social importance of knowledge is growing. The increased number of sources of knowledge enables rapid progress to be made in various fields such as medicine, technology or culture. Moreover, in “knowledge societies”, knowledge forms the basis for living together and is of importance when it comes to distributing resources (Bell, 1999; Böhme & Stehr, 1986) 

There is widespread agreement that lifelong learning is enormously important in today’s knowledge societies and that its importance is likely to increase in the future, as it can help to deal with the increase in information. However, adult education and learning is also likely to face challenges in the future due to the pluralisation of knowledge sources and the increasing complexity of dealing with information.  

Pluralisation of knowledge sources  

When we talk of the pluralisation of knowledge sources, we mean that an ever growing number of access points to knowledge are emerging. It is mainly due to the rise in technological possibilities offered by digitalisation. In addition, the trend toward open access for scientific publications and, to some extent, for learning materials is becoming more pronounced, making knowledge accessible to a wider audience. This means that more and more people can freely access ever greater amounts of knowledge.  

They can also disseminate their own knowledge or opinions via digital channels. This risk that this entails, however, is that barely substantiated opinions or common beliefs are placed on a par with established sources of knowledge, thereby creating scope for deliberate disinformation (such as fake news or fake science).  

Increasing complexity  

The rapid growth of knowledge and knowledge sources increases the complexity of how knowledge can be captured, linked and applied. This trend is reinforced by the fact that digitalised knowledge is constantly changing, being updated and transported into other contexts. 

Increasing complexity places high demands on both individuals and educational institutions. Despite there being a deluge of information, only a small part of it can be absorbed and a lot of information cannot be processed in any meaningful way. It is only by filtering out important information and contextualising it that knowledge can be linked in the sense of education and prevent it from remaining piecemeal and fragmented. (Liessmann, 2012) 

The role of continuing education and training 

Against this background of increasing knowledge sources and complexity, adult education institutions and trainers are challenged with guiding their participants and giving them the tools to handle of the manifold knowledge sources in a competent and critically-minded way.  

As Felix Stalder notes in an interview with Think Tank TRANSIT, the primary role of a trainer no longer needs to be imparting knowledge, but rather the ability to sort and classify the knowledge gathered by the learners. He perceives the changes in this way: “Part of my job as a lecturer is to take the decontextualised knowledge that students get from search engines and integrate it in a reflective, larger context. Where does the knowledge come from? Where does it go? Why does it show up in this or that context?” (Stalder, 2019).  

Another central task of adult education and learning is the teaching of digital skills, such as the simple operation of digital devices, targeted searches on the internet or, more recently, the use of tools that compile knowledge with the help of artificial intelligence. This is because those who do not have these competences cannot access or quickly grasp many of the available knowledge sources and are therefore excluded from the knowledge that is available.  


Bell, D. (1999). The coming of post-industrial society: A venture in social forecasting (Special anniversary ed). Basic Books. 

Böhme, G., & Stehr, N. (Hrsg.). (1986). The Knowledge society: The growing impact of scientific knowledge on social relations. D. Reidel Pub. Co. ; Sold and distributed in the U.S.A. and Canada by Kluwer Academic Publishers. 

Liessmann, K. P. (2012). Theorie der Unbildung Die Irrtümer der Wissensgesellschaft. Zsolnay, Paul. 


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