Rethinking generic skills


  • Roy Canning University of Stirling, Scotland, UK



Adult education, generic skills, Europe, language, competences


The paper provides a critical analysis of the notion of generic or transversal skills contained with European Union policy discourses. The author presents a conceptual framework that challenges the idea that generic skills are universal, transferable and autonomous. An alternative analysis is put forward that argues the case for contextualising skills and knowledge within particular understandings and cultures that are more collective than individualistic in nature. The arguments are framed within wider cross-disciplinary debates in linguistics, geosemiotics and social-cultural theory and build upon an earlier paper exploring core skills in the UK (Canning, 2007).


Metrics Loading ...


Barrow, R. (1991). The Generic Fallacy. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 23(1) ,717. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-5812.1991.tb00172.x DOI:

Barton, D., & Hamilton, M. (1998). Local literacies: reading and writing in one community. London: Routledge.

Barton, D., Hamilton, M., & Ivanic, R. (Eds.). (2000). Situated literacies: reading and writing in context. London: Routledge.

Beckett, D. (2004). Embodied Competence and Generic Skill: the emergence of inferential understanding. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 36(5), 497-508. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-5812.2004.086_1.x DOI:

Boreham, N. (2004). A theory of collective competence: challenging the neo liberal individualisation of performance at work. British Journal of Educational Studies, 52, 5-17. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8527.2004.00251.x DOI:

Brandom, R. (2008). Between Saying and Doing: towards an Analytic Pragmatism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199542871.001.0001 DOI:

Canning, R. (1999). Discourses on competence: a case study of students’ experience of higher level National/Scottish vocational qualifications. Journal of Education and Work, 12(2), 201-213. doi: 10.1080/1363908990120205 DOI:

Canning, R. (2007). Re-contextualising Core Skills. Journal of Education and Work, 20(1), 17-26. doi: 10.1080/13639080601137619 DOI:

Cedefop. (2010a). Learning outcomes approaches in VET curricula: A comparative analysis of nine European countries. Luxembourg: Publications Office. Cedefop research paper; No 6. Retrieved March 28, 2013 from

Cedefop. (2010b). The development of national qualifications frameworks in Europe. Luxembourg: Publications Office. Cedefop working paper; No 8. Retrieved March 28, 2013 from

Cole, M. (1994). A conception of culture for a communications theory of the mind. In D. Vocate (Eds.), Intrapersonal communication: different voices, different minds. (pp.77.98). Hillsdale: NJ Lawrence Erlbaum.

Cree, V., Macaulay, C., & Loney, H. (1998). Transfer of learning: a study. Edinburgh: Scottish Office Central Research Unit.

Cullen, J., Hadjivassiliou, K., Hamilton, E., Kelleher, J., Sommerland, E., & Stern, E. (2002). Review of current pedagogic research and practice in the fields of post-compulsory education and lifelong learning. London: Tavistock Institute.

Daniels, H. (2001). Vygotsky and pedagogy. London: Routledge. DOI:

Edwards, R., Nicoll, K., Solomon, N., & Ushers, R. (2004). Rhetoric and educational discourse: persuasive texts? London: Routledge.

Engeström, Y. (2001). Expansive learning at work: towards an activity theoretical reconceptualization. London: Institute of Education. DOI:

European Communities (2007). Key Competencies for Lifelong Learning, European Reference Framework. Luxembourg: European Union.

European Union (2012). Recommendations on the validation of non-formal and informal learning. Luxembourg: European Union

Fenwick, T. (2010). Workplace ‘learning’ and adult education: Messy objects, blurry maps and making difference. European Journal for Research on the Education and Learning of Adults, 1(1-2), 79–95. doi: 10.3384/rela.2000-7426.rela0006 DOI:

Fuller, A., & Unwin, L. (2003). Learning as apprentices in the contemporary UK workplace: creating and managing expansive and restrictive participation. Journal of Education and Work, 16(4), 407–426. doi: 10.1080/1363908032000093012 DOI:

Fuller, A., & Unwin, L. (2011). Apprenticeship as an evolving model of learning. Special Issue of Journal of Vocational Education and Training 63(3), 261-266. doI: 10.1080/13636820.2011.602220 DOI:

Hodgson, A., Spours, K., & Waring, M. (Eds.) (2011). Post-compulsory Education and Lifelong Learning across the United Kingdom, London: Routledge.

Johansen, J. D., & Larsen, S. (2002). Signs in use. London: Routledge.

Kogler, A. (1999). The power of dialogue: critical hermeneutics after Gadamer and Foucault. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: legitimate peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9780511815355 DOI:

MacKenzie, D., & Wajcman, J. (Eds.). (1999). The social shaping of technology. Buckingham: Open University Press.

McGivney, V. (1999). Informal learning in the community. Leicester: National Institute of Adult Continuing Education.

Milana, M. (2012). Political globalization and the shift from adult education to lifelong learning. European Journal for Research on the Education and Learning of Adults, 3(2), 103-117. doi: 10.3384/rela.2000-7426.rela0070 DOI:

Scollon, R., & Scollon, S. (2003). Discourses in place: language in the material World. London: Routledge. doi: 10.4324/9780203422724 DOI:

Tuomi-Grohn, T., & Engeström, Y. (Eds.). (2003). Between school and work: new perspectives on transfer and boundary-crossing. Amsterdam: Pergamon.

Warhurst, C., Grugulis, I., & Keep, E. (2004). The skills that matter. London: Palgrave. DOI:

Wittgenstein, L. (1958). Philosophical Investigations. Trans. By G.E.M Anscombe, New York: Macmillan.

Wolf, A. (1991). Assessing core skills: wisdom or wild goose chase?, Cambridge Journal of Education, 21(2), 189–201. doi: 10.1080/0305764910210208 DOI:

Wolf, A. (2011). Review of vocational education – The Wolf Report. London: Government UK publications.

Young, M. (2000) Rescuing the sociology of educational knowledge from the extremes of voice discourse: towards a new theoretical basis for the sociology of the curriculum. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 21(4), 523-537. doi: 10.1080/713655366 DOI:




How to Cite

Canning, R. (2013). Rethinking generic skills. European Journal for Research on the Education and Learning of Adults, 4(2), 129–138.