Opening up thinking about education today for tomorrow - Imagining possibilities and solutions

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Learning Communities, Transforming Learning

Recently I attended a "learning community" meeting.
I believe in the power of learning communities, but they are difficult to develop. There is a prevalence of them in schools and education systems, with schools often describing themselves as a "learning community."
The meeting I attended caused me to think about learning communities and their potential.
A question came to mind: "What is it that the participants are learning about?"

Reinforcing professional identities isn't learning
During my Churchill Fellowship I met with Tom Bentley (then Director of DEMOS, now Executive Director for Policy and Cabinet in Victoria’s Department of Premier, Director of the Australian and New Zealand School of Government and adviser to Julia Gillard, Australian Federal Education Minister). In discussions with Tom he highlighted that the "learning communities" meetings often get reduced to sharing professional activities and reinforcing how things are done. Such sharing reinforces professional identities and ways of doing things, rather than opening up more radical pedagogical possibilities and different ways of organising ourselves.

Transforming learning
What captured my imagination was the desire of the group to transform learning. Transforming learning raises further questions. Transforming implies change. What is it that is to be changed? What is it that needs to be learnt to bring about the transformation? What radical pedagogical possibilities can be developed? What new ways of exercising leadership need to be developed? What capabilities exist within the learning community to transform learning?

Theory of action
This led me to think further about how the "learning community" was going to bring about the transformation of learning. What is the theory of action of the learning community to transform learning?

It will be interesting to see what learning occurs in the learning community to transform learning. And what theory of action brings about the transformation. There is much to be learnt. 


Toni said...

It is interesting to read this post, Andrew. I have previously been involved in 'learning community conversations' but it is as you say here - reinforcement of what is currently being done. The questions you pose here encourage thinking about how learning may be transformed. The implication that change is inevitable creates another dimension to the action that may need to take place. The more time goes on the more I believe that we will need to take some transformative steps to ensure that learning remains significant for the learners - the student, the teachers and the leadership team. Thanks for the post.

Andrew said...

Thanks for the comment Toni. Tom Bentley challenged my thinking about what is being learnt in learning communities and what is reinforced. I think many educators intuitively know that transformation is required. I look forward to hearing about the transformations you lead.

Mark Walker said...

Your last point about a theroy of action to drive change in networked communities is the subject of much debate here in Victoria where schools have been regrouped into networks of 25 and been challenged to form communities of learning charged with the reposnsibility of raising all students learning outcomes.

I have worked a little with Richard Elmore who has a theroy of action about change that has its focus on the classroom. I am reading his latest book "Instructional Rounds" and have just formed one such group in the network to undertake this work.

I am interested in the possibility that answers to questions or problems of instructional practice lie across schools and researching this tool or strategy of instructional rounds as part of my Masters.

I intend sharing my work on my blog if your interested:

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