The Interconnections of Living, Working and Learning: A Study of Learning in a Local Community
As a regional University approaches a century’s provision of higher education and vocational education and training, it is developing a presence as a ‘University Town’, emphasising learning, development and innovation. European Commission projects (2009) emphasising the importance of high quality education and training for welfare and the development of a knowledge based society, and of education’s contribution to lifelong learning provide examplars for such research.
The university is located in an area which has experienced waves of migration and refugees, high youth unemployment and the decline of manufacturing and industry, a scenario familiar to many European countries. The face of the local workforce is changing, with shifting skill requirements emphasising white collar, service and part time work and decreasing manufacturing and industry work.
Insight into the education and training landscape of the suburb is gained from the participants’ accounts of the informal and formal learning undertaken and of what they value. Enhanced understanding and knowledge of the suburb’s residents and workers’ experiences and views on education and training importantly provide an opportunity to assess the extent of the commitment to learning in the workplace and community, a policy which is integral to the university’s stated vision and mission. The connections between the people, the place, their workplaces and education and training are explored.
Questions as to the identity, shaping and future prosects for community arise. Who is the public? What would community like to be and do to enable people to be self determining? How does learning come into the public sphere? How can enhanced understanding of what it means to be in the public be encouraged? How can public space be reclaimed by people? What pathways can be developed for translational learning, for new learning and spaces in the public sphere? What can educators contribute to social pedagogy? How can the public, as lifelong learners be empowered?
The study is framed by the concept of public pedagogy (Sandlin, O’Malley and Burdick, 2011) indicating education research as a focus on processes and sites of education beyond formal schooling. Giroux’ work (2010) provides challenges to the university to provide opportunities for access and learning, to contribute to critique and the public good. Universities can be ‘caught’between such goals and concerns to provide work ready graduates.
The everyday world of learning in the workplace, informal learning, vocational education and training, learning from popular culture and media, can appear far from that of the academy. Whilst partnerships with industry and community are important to the university, there is a question as to how local workplaces and community value such goals. The intersections of the world of the university and the local community are mapped and form a basis for further interactions.
Research into workplace learning has explored workplace pedagogy (Billett, 2002) and the nuances of workers learning on the job, informally, though experience and through more formal modes. This project brings an holistic approach to the dimensions of the learners as members of a range of communities, and of learning communities (Wenger, 1998).
A second perspective framing the study is that of ‘place’. Cairns and Malloch (2013) argue that ‘place’ has physical, virtual, personal and spiritual dimensions, and that learning occurs across all these dimensions, a process of change through activity. The research participants are located in specific geographic and organisational spaces, their workplaces, and their social and personal activities. Their learning transcends these into the life space, an aspect explored in the interviews.
This education researcher initiated work aims to make a ‘distinct’ contribution through this study and analysis of intersections and implications of living, working and learning in a community.
Mixed methods research was selected to collect and analyse documentary data on the suburb and to explore the perceptions of the residents on living, working and learning in the local area. A portrait of residents’ and workers’ perceptions of the public pedagogy and learning opportunities emerges which contributes to a local narrative of how policies and educational institutions relate to individual and community learning.
The first step was to draw on historical documentation tracing the waves of migration and refugees to the area which now has over a hundred ethnicities represented. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (2012) indicates a population of 14,149 with 59% born overseas and 47.6% speaking a language other than English at home, very different from mid twentieth century narratives of Anglo-Celtic workers (Healy, 1986).
With manufacturing declined, unemployment especially of ‘disposable’ young people is high (Rodd, 2014, Chadderton and Colley, 2012).
A quantitative and qualitative methodology is employed utilising mixed methods. Six sites were identified for the research, a Recruitment Agency, a Public University Space and Gallery, a major local sporting team, the local hospital, the Community Arts Centre and a Neighbourhood House. This cross section of community organisations provides a coverage of the arts, employment, sports, health, and community development. Participants are invited via these organisations. A survey, three focus groups and a series of semi structured interviews will be conducted with the volunteer participants. The first step in the study is the conducting of a survey which is an adaptation of Glaser and Bingham’s Connected Classroom Climate Inventory (2009).
The data from the survey underpins the next steps for data gathering, the focus groups and semi structured interviews. The themes emerging from the survey provide for refinement of questions which will be used in the focus groups. Data gathered in these in turn contributes to questions in six subsequent semi-structured interviews. The interviews and focus groups are recorded and transcribed and analysed using a method of thematic identification.
A visual representation (video) of the people and the place and the examples of education and training will be presented along with a film clip of the suburb made in 1911.
With high unemployment, a multi ethnic community, with a history of waves of migrants and refugees from Europe, Asia and Africa, and with industry and manufacturing closed, what provides the raison d’être to live, work and learn in the area? What resilience is demonstrated in a community which appears to be experiencing a shifting of options for work? What links are therefore able to be realised between the suburban community and that of the university? These questions are explored with a consideration of connected living, working and learning. The concepts of lifelong learning, public pedagogy, workplace pedagogy, place, education for democracy, and community frame the analysis of the data. The University commitment to learning in the workplace and the community is interrogated.
The project delves in to the ‘back story’ of the suburb, exploring the perceptions of those living, learning and working there. It aims to provide insight into the public pedagogies, the informal and formal learning undertaken by the participants, and what they value. The reports on the perceptions of living, working and learning in the area contribute to the development of the University Town project and to further the creation of learning opportunities and interactions.
The Delors Report (1996) set an agenda for lifelong learning and goals to support the development of both individuals and society. This study provides an insight into these aspects. The framing of the study through the lens of public pedagogies, workplace learning and learning communities contributes to an examination of the role of a university today, and how it may contribute to more socially relevant and challenging modes of learning.
The participants’ accounts of the informal and formal learning undertaken and of what they value contribute to insight into the lived realities of policies and implementation of education and training policies.
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