I interpret a community of practice as a group of people which learns how to improve its knowledge, its behaviour and its influence as a result of interaction between each other and with other groups. I suggest below 3 case studies where this happened.
Case 1: Schools-Industry Twinning - tapping into the expertise of different organisations
Woodberry Down, an inner city London school, had a rich ethnic mix within its catchment area and a high proportion of one-parent families. It was situated in a difficult area of inner London with an unenviable local crime record where there is very little background of learning, much less lifelong learning. It also had a dynamic head teacher in Michael Marland whose passed on his passion for using new ideas to serve his students to his staff.
By contrast, the city location of the mighty IBM, 3 miles away was situated in the City of London, one of the richest areas in the world. It employed 700 highly trained professional people – systems analysts, salesmen, managers, experts on all aspects of computing, and most of them with complementary talents, skills, experiences and knowledge outside of their work life.
These two apparently incompatible organizations began to explore how one could help the other. So meetings were held at both locations and a social evening arranged. As a result of this a coordinator, actually the wife of one of the IBM managers, formerly a social worker, was employed to track needs and solutions. She talked at length with the staff of the school and with the managers in the IBM location and how the skills and knowledge of one organization could be used to improve the situation of the other in a 2-way collaboration.
As a result, more than 30 joint projects and events took place which changed the outlook of teachers and IBMers towards each other, broke down the stereotypes and provided valuable human, intellectual, social and financial resources for both the school-children and the work location.
- teams of IBM people met with school-leavers to advise on interviewing skills, running mock interviews to point out to the youngsters how they could improve their performance
- The company commissioned and paid for a large collage to be constructed by the art class for display in the foyer of the city location. This provided a talking point for visitors (which included the then prime minister) and an increase in schools industry activities by other city companies.
- Each term a discussion session on a particular topic – leadership, management, computing in education etc – was held at the school and at the IBM location for an exchange of views leading to action eg teachers on IBM management courses, donation of computers and expertise.
- The contribution of time, talent and ideas by many people on both sides of the education/industry divide plus a talented project manager and a wide range of projects overcame the suspicion that might have existed between the organisations.
Case 2: The PALLACE project linking people and organisations in 4 continents
Many cities are now establishing themselves as ‘learning cities’ ‘smart cities’ or ‘sustainable cities’ and creating networks with other cities nationally and internationally to share and exchange expertise, knowledge and ideas.
The PALLACE project, which I managed some years ago, is one example. In this, stakeholders – universities, administrators, teacher trainers, schools and libraries - in cities in Australia, Canada, Europe and China collaborated in joint learning projects . 2 examples - children in 17 schools in South Australia engaged with several schools in Finland in internet discussions about how they would like to see their own cities develop in the future and what their schools could do for their local communities. As a result several schools drew up charters and strategies on their roles as members of the community they served.
Stan Salagaras, Australian project manager outlined several communities of practice outcomes e.g. the change of outlook of parents, staff and students in the schools vis a vis the local community, the role of international debate between students for stimulating ideas and activities. Example 2 Several City leaders in Beijing came to the project seminars and interacted with the partner projects. As a result, Beijing has completely changed its rigidly top-down education system to one which engages all its people in the building of a learning city.
Case 3: Mawson Lakes – community development in Australia
Mawson Lakes near Adelaide combines all the resources in the community for the delivery of education to its children. One is as likely to see a grandmother sharing a mathematics lesson there as a child learning Indonesian via a television link to Djakarta. Its vision is ‘to create a lifelong learning community where learning is available for everyone, at any time, and in any place. Educational services will contribute to the economic sustainability of Mawson Lakes and become a catalyst and a conduit for the creation of a community that has a culture of continuous improvement.’ Among Its precepts are
- Educational services at Mawson Lakes must be responsive to the inevitability of unforeseeable change.’
- Whole of life education will be available to all at Mawson Lakes.
- Optimal use will be made of the new information and communication technologies.
- The principles of sharing, cooperation and collaboration will apply in the delivery of education at Mawson Lakes.
- Education will contribute to the economic sustainability of Mawson Lakes.
- New resource models will be required for education at Mawson Lakes.
- Mawson Lakes will be part of the global community connected internationally and a destination for learners from all over the world.
Mawson Lakes is, in other words, a whole community learning organisation whose stakeholders in community, business, education and administration grows organically together. Its advantage is that it has started with these ideas as a new raoidly growing community where they are inbuilt into the municipal psyche.
In each one of these successful case studies the main ideas are:
- A strong belief that the actions taken will be of benefit to all communities
- The participation of many people in their development
- Clever leadership that persuades rather than directs
- A common sense of purpose with a community ethic
- A willingness to learn from experience and to keep on learning
About the author
Norman Longworth is the creator of the 'learning ladder', a diagram which describes the stages in human learning, and has written several books on lifelong learning and learning cities as templates for future development. After a period of national service teaching statistics in the Royal Air Force he trained as a school teacher specialising in Geography and French, and became Head of Geography in two schools in the North of England. A change of career took him into the industrial field. Here he developed the UK's first schools-industry twinning programme, He chaired the UK Industrial Society's schools industry panel and sat on the Secretary of state's committee for microlectronics development. A period in University researching for an M Phil degree in the 1970s saw him create a nine module course on information processing for children which was taught in schools in the UK, Australia and elsewhere. At the end of his career he was the manager of external education programmes for Europe, Middle East and Africa creating many links between education and industry at all levels and in particular helping to develop a satellite-based continuing professional development programme between leading edge researchers and scientists and managers in industry.
He then commenced his more academic career as UNESCO-IBM Professor of Information Technology ate Southampton University on secondment from IBM, a progression which has continued to the present. During the 1990s he was President if the European Lifelong Learning Initiative writing well-received books on Lifelong Learning (Lifelong Learning - Taylor and Francis/Routledge 1996)and the burgeoning concept of Learning Cities (Making Lifelong Learning Work - Learning Cities for a Learning Century - Taylor and Francis 1999) in which he is regarded as one of the world's leading experts.
He has been a visiting professor of lifelong learning in several European Universities - Sheffield Hallam, Napier Edinburgh, Stirling, ESC Toulouse - managing international developmental projects with Universities from Italy, Hungary, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Canada, China, Australia, New Zealand, Botswana, France, Germany and many others, and has delivered keynote and invited speeches at conferences in more than 30 countries world-wide. He has advised International Governmental Organisations - EC, OECD, UNESCO - and is currently helping the latter to establish a Global Network of Learning Cities which it is hoped will transform the way in which cities perceive and manage a more prosperous, stable and sustainable future.
In 2001 he wrote the European Commission's policy document on the Local and Regional Dimension of Lifelong Learning (Learning Cities and Regions. His more recent books have enhanced his reputation as an out of the box thinker and developer of Lifelong Learning Cities and Region principles (Lifelong Learning in Action - Transforming 21st Century Education; Learning Cities, Learning Regions, Learning Communities (both Tayor and Francis/Routledge); Perspectives on Learning Cities and Regions - Policy, Practice and Participation (with Professor Michael Osborne)(NIACE). He has also been active as a consultant in PASCAL the global observatory on Place Management, Social Capital and Learning Regions. 10/2012