Educational commodification and the (economic) sign value of learning outcomes

Brancaleone, David and O’Brien, Stephen (2011) Educational commodification and the (economic) sign value of learning outcomes. pp. 501-519.


If managerialism points to the ideological foundations and bureaucratisation of contemporary education, marketisation signals its commodification, image and exchange. This paper brings to bear the prevailing influence of marketisation on education. It begins with a brief description of the European context and development of learning outcomes, and outlines the (economic) rationale for their existence. It then sets out to explore the logic of learning outcomes, asking: what is lost in the process of education being exchanged as a commodity? We argue that marketisation, through its constituent concepts of commodification, image and exchange, seduces as an education ‘spectacle’ and ultimately shapes individuals’ value positions. In essence, marketisation, grounded in contemporary neoliberal economics, privileges quantitative, at the expense of genuinely qualitative, educational substance. Further, we argue that learning outcomes are a simulacrum: like other signifiers of commodities, they appear meaningful (although they do exhibit meaning) but are ultimately incapable of delivering what they promise: transferable skills, at most, but not education. Ethical consequences are stark and signal the loss of the intrinsic value of education – a loss that begins with its own commodification.

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