Four Metaphors to Describe a Learning Community
As the global impact of Covid takes hold, it demands new ways of working. This necessitates new ways of learning. The traditional approach to learning, with the ‘all-knowing’ teacher telling students what to do, is no longer relevant. We live in unprecedented times. This new era demands people who are able to respond to rapid change, actively learn, confidently problem-solve and collaborate effectively. A Learning Community model provides an approach to training that embraces these qualities.
A Learning Community is a group of people connected by common goals or set of interests, who learn together as a result of exploring interests and achieving goals.
In a Learning Community every participant has a role to play in sharing ideas, contributing knowledge and experience, creating a collective knowledge base and building a common vision. Learning communities create a safe space for participants to discover answers, solve problems and seek solutions together. Participatory methods and learning tools are used to encourage critical evaluation of practice, reflexivity about professional behaviour and meta-theoretical analysis. Learning processes provide a balance between skills development and knowledge creation.
A Learning Community encourages the reflective practitioner, stimulates passionate inquiry, and inspires problem solving. The Model used at Learning Communities Network (LCN) draws on collaborative and interactive approaches that enable everyone to contribute to the learning process. The goal of the model is to stimulate co-operative inquiry, promote collaborative working practices and encourage collective problem solving.
Participants are introduced to the Model using four metaphors to explain the process of a Learning Community.
At the heart of the Model is an approach to education that returns to the root of the concept. Educere is the Latin root verb for the word education. It means to “draw out” not to “put in” (which is the mode for modern teaching methods). Learning processes focus on practical exercises that draw from participants’ knowledge, understanding and experience about a given issue or topic. A range of multi-disciplinary tools and teaching methods enable participants to weave together this information into a shared knowledge base, grounded in individual experience. Evaluation data from a Learning Community conducted with Surrey Police shows the value of this approach:
What did you find most useful about doing the course?
- It was an ideal opportunity to share ideas and experiences with other officers.
- It felt strange at first. Nobody’s ever bothered to ask me what I think before. I found it really helpful being able to find out about colleague’s ideas.
Participants are encouraged to “think out of the box” to explore new ways for meeting the challenges of a rapidly changing world. “Graduation” is a concept of the past. The speed with which change is taking place at a global and local level, means that knowledge and skills no longer last a lifetime. Hence the need to provide continuing learning opportunities throughout the life span of individuals. To create learning opportunities ‘outside of the box’, we draw on teachings from indigenous cultures, the human potential movement, human psychology, women’s epistemology and community development.
In Learning Communities there is no right or wrong, there are only lessons. All actions, situations, perceptions, experiences, etc. are considered information. There is no judgement of ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘wrong’ or ‘right’. Instead, everything is regarded as a source of teaching. Some things teach what to do and some teach what not to do! Participants are introduced to this non-judgemental approach through a listening exercise. The exercise requires one person at a time to take a turn speaking while the others listen. There should be no interruptions until everyone has spoken. The role of the listener is to listen without an agenda. If we are judging, agreeing or disagreeing with the person talking, then we have stopped listening. If we are planning what we are going to say when it is our turn to speak, we have stopped listening.
Participants are encouraged to simply, mindfully and attentively listen to the words that each person speaks. Through actively listening, there is no planning, and thus when it comes to a person’s turn to speak, it can enable a more authentic and open sharing to emerge. In the Learning Community with Surrey Police, the benefits of this experience were highlighted by a number of participants:
What do you know now as a consequence of doing the course that you did not know before?
- I found that being able to listen is an art. Police officers are never taught this art.
- How important listening can be to anyone.
- I am more aware of the need to listen to people properly.
Rumi’s poem provides a useful metaphor to describe the process used in the model. The pieces of the Mirror represent the unique experience and knowledge each participant brings to the Learning Community. In Learning Communities, every piece of the Mirror is valued and respected. The culture of learning engendered by the model enables participants to discover more about their own piece of the mirror and how this can fit together with the other pieces of the mirror in the team. Learning Communities create the conditions to put together the pieces of the mirror each participant brings to create a deeper and wider understanding of knowledge and experience. Implementation of the model is designed as a journey of discovery. Participants are responsible for their own needs along this journey and for ensuring that they mobilise the necessary resources to achieve their learning goals. Evaluation data highlights this experience:
- I must confess the first day confused me a little but I realised by the second that it was a cleverly mapped path – we made our own map and eventually together got the answers.
- At first entering the unknown, and then finding direction.
In our online personal and professional courses, LCN applies these four metaphors. Whether you want to set up a new project, learn more about radical change leadership, undertake fundraising training, or increase your knowledge about teaching adults, then LCN offers a collaborative platform to help you achieve these goals.
Evaluation data taken from “Delivering Neighbourhood Policing with an Increased Awareness of Reassurance” (2002), Siobhan Riordan, Principal Research Fellow, Centre for Institutional Studies, University of East London
Siobhan Riordan MA, PG Cert is Director of Learning Communities Network. Whilst Principal Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer at the University of East London, she designed the first BA in Social Enterprise in the world and the first postgraduate programme in Women’s Leadership. She designed and developed the first Level 2 Award in Women Building Peace, accredited by Open Awards. She has been creating personal and professional development courses for over 25 years. With her eclectic training in Psychosexual Therapy, Group Dynamics and Leader of Sacred Circles, she brings an original and creative approach to teaching and learning.