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Preliminary definition of a learning community

One of the goals of the project was to define a learning community. We devoted attention primarily to the issue of what the Slovenian public understands today by the term community, and we tied this understanding to learning. Based on the analysis of literature and applying particular criteria of selected cases of good LLW practices, we first made a preliminary definition with five elements that determine a community (past, future, relationships, identity, learning, initiatives/flow of ideas). You can read about the research background  (in Slovenian), which includes an analysis of three examples, two of which are examples of mixed communities and one an example of a special interest community.

Preliminary definition of a learning community: A learning community is people linked to each other for a relatively long time, and among whom personal contacts have led to the development of special mutual relations in which all the people influence the decisions and rules of how the community functions. Through learning, involving informal, non-formal and formal approaches (e.g. when socialising or in school), the community finds self-fulfilment and preserves its common identity across generations. The identity of the community includes the economic aspect (economy of functioning) and non-economic aspect (solidarity, volunteering, community symbols), which must be balanced, since only in this way can responsibility to the community and to resources for its survival can be fulfilled. The common identity includes both the community past (e.g. its historical memory) and its orientation to the future (common vision).

We tested out the preliminary definition and its elements in the office and in the field in the examples of the 2013 and 2014 LP and through the documentary video ‘Hand in hand', which was made as part of this project. Testing was performed over two years at seven LP locations and the ‘Study Circles Caravan 2014' in Novo mesto. During the selection of participant statements we selected around 200 audio recordings. The interviewees were selected at random, but the interviewers tried to include all generations, both genders and a variety of statuses, e.g. people in charge (directors of participating institutions, mayors, representatives of public or civil initiative institutions) and those without any particular institutional role (children, passers-by, interested parties). The selected interviewees were given the following questions:

  • What in your opinion does the word ‘community' mean?
  • Does cooperation in the community reduce the individual's autonomy or autonomy of the institution?
  • Where and how can one learn in the community?
  • Do people in Slovenia pursue ‘community learning' more or less than neighbouring regions/countries?

The preliminary definition of a learning community was to some extent supplemented by the results of the field observations. We established that the majority of interviewed event participants define a community in a way similar to the definition in literature, that they see no limitation of autonomy for the individual or institution in a community, but mainly incentives and opportunities for interpersonal flow, connection and exchange of information and knowledge. Many elements of the community were confirmed (learning, flow of ideas/initiatives, time dimension), with different interviewees citing different levels of community (EU, state, school, municipality, town) and different reference points in time (former state, current state). For this very reason, it is hard to generalise about the results obtained in the field, especially if we try to confirm an individual element separately. For illustration we could offer the fact that some stated the city as a place with greater opportunities, while others ascribed this to the countryside.

Statistical representativeness is not guaranteed, but the data cover the whole of Slovenia and very diverse target groups.In general it seems that women are more active in learning in the community. The LP is just one opportunity for promoting learning in the community. Among other opportunities for learning, interviewees pointed out study circles as well as an abundance of institutions such as libraries, associations, Universities of the Third Age, and fairs. Few people had any international experience, while some individuals were very exhaustive on this subject.

The first attempts at work with the community and offers of community learning in the form of the LP stimulated communities to be aware of themselves and their need for community learning. This year's justification why the latter is at all necessary showed that mutual interest is needed, i.e. the interest of the local community and the local education provider.

All forms of promoting the community, developed by the SIAE (annual awards, non-formal learning in the form of study circles, LP), were seen to be very justified, and in the same time in need of systematic development and analysis since communities are dynamic structures and the context of knowledge can differ greatly (school, society, municipality). The characteristics and functioning of the community will have to be further explored in order for community learning to be offered in a way that is rational and adapted to specific local needs.

Prepared by Dr Nevenka Bogataj and Mateja Pečar, SIAE


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This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein."

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(C) 2012-2020 Slovenian Institute for Adult Education, last update: 10.06.2019, 13:35
Technical implementation: Franci Lajovic, Design: David Fartek
Contents: mag. Zvonka Pangerc Pahernik