Chapter 9: Learning Communities at Work

This chapter explores different ways in which learning communities are organised. In the past, institutions of learning had neat and definable boundaries. Today, education can take place as a full-time activity at a particular time in your life and in a particular place, or as a part-time activity anytime in your life and anywhere you happen to be, such as at home or at work. Education is lifelong and life-wide.

One thing about education persists, no matter where and when it is and what- ever its mode of organisation: it involves consciously designed, formally organised and explicit knowledge acquisition for learners. This makes it different from informal learning, which is an incidental and inevitable aspect of lifeworld experience. This chapter discusses three modes of organisation of formal learning or education.

Bureaucratic organisation of learning entails centralised and hierarchical control of educational institutions and the knowledge they distribute. Knowledge and authority are passed down from level to level, through chains of command. Finally, at the bottom level, knowledge is transmitted from teachers to learners in classrooms. This allows for little more than an ‘assisted competence’, in which teachers rely on curriculum content and disciplinary rules handed down to them, and learners rely on sources of authority to guide their action and as the source of their knowledge.

A more self-managing organisation of learning devolves a measure of self-direction to teachers in their work and learners in their knowledge making. This allows for an ‘autonomous competence’ in which teachers can take more control over pedagogy and curriculum, and learners can construct deeper, more personal understandings of the knowledge they are presented.

Collaborative learning organisations regard themselves as knowledge-producing communities at every level. Schools are self-managing communities. Teachers work collaboratively in the design of pedagogy and curriculum. The principles of collaboration extend to learners themselves, as they come to understand themselves as makers of knowledge, connect with their own experiences and explore applications for knowledge in the ‘real’ or ‘outside’ world. At every level of the school organisation, this reflects a ‘collaborative competence’.