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Community as a learning experience
In our daily and working lives, we are expected to work in teams, solve problems together, commit ourselves to global solutions, motivate and organise ourselves, deal with conflicts and challenges, and appreciate diversity as well as much more. But do we really learn how to do all of this in our educational institutions? Hardly! Instead, learning tends to be organised according to routines that stipulate which learners should learn which topics with whom and how they should go about doing so. Nevertheless, a gradual change is beginning to occur.
More and more educational programs are prioritising the common achievement of complex learning goals and the acquisition of social skills instead of testable knowledge. Unlike some group experiences (such as group dynamics training), the aim here is not personal therapy, but about achieving common targets set by the learners themselves. In these settings, learning communities not only provide the basis for individual learning, they also deliver the resources with which to implement large projects that could not be handled alone. These settings develop learners’ potentials while profiting from the deployment of diversity.
Regardless of the achievement of specific objectives, working together forms an important part of our learning paths. If common solutions need to be found, and success in doing so depends on good cooperation, learners have no choice but to focus on their social skills. In these situations, selfish people learn to turn to others, and selfless people come to understand that they too have to take their needs into account. Similarly, shy people become bolder through the support of other people, and more talkative people become quieter.
Learning needs to focus on the individual as a whole
Learning contexts such as these are often linked to experiences of nature, taking on responsibility for farms and farm animals, or are connected to travel. These experiences not only involve collaborative planning, but take place within settings that directly lead to negative consequences for egocentric behaviour. Moreover, community life is always embedded within frameworks for reflection that enable specific involvement to develop into lasting experiences.
Learners usually live together in these community-based learning settings. They cook, eat, and wash up together, and they deal with other people’s temperaments, speeds, hopes and behaviour. To a great extent, private life is no longer separated from learning, and learning comes to be seen as something involving the individual as a whole. Consequently, personality development and the practical acquisition of skills are viewed as going hand in hand. These settings are based on the idea that the interior (belief and emotion) needs to be in harmony with the exterior (action and communication) if learners are to lead a successful and happy life.