A critical lens on learning communities: An international comparative study of higher education practice
Yang, Y and Williamson, J, A critical lens on learning communities: An international comparative study of higher education practice, Proceedings of the 2011 Australian Association for Research in Education Conference, 27 November - 1 December 2011, Hobart, Tasmania, pp. 1-13. ISSN 1324-9320 (2011) [Refereed Conference Paper]
The term 'learning community' can be defined either broadly or narrowly depending on its context. It is a term now widely used in Education settings as varied as in schools and universities; or, in other institutions, e.g., business work places, by many researchers (see, for example, Brown & Duguid, 1991; Dufour et al., 2006; Huffman & Hipp, 2003; Wenger et al., 2002). A review of the Literature has demonstrated a significant change in the meaning of the term 'learning community' and this evolution in its usage has reinforced the need to investigate how participants in different contexts understand their situation if it is described as a learning community. As understood now 'learning community' is more than just a group of people who simply work together in the same space.
This cross-cultural study addressed inter alia the question: how do academics in Australia and China perceive their work places as 'learning communities'? It sought to do so by examining the constituent issues of (i) the perceptions of shared mission, vision, values and goals; (ii) the demonstration of commitment to continuous improvement; (iii) initiatives that develop and sustain a collaborative culture and collective enquiry; (iv) feelings of supportive and shared leadership; (v) perceived freedom of group membership and (vi) the descriptions of interaction, proximity and mutual engagement.
The unique data presented in this paper attempts to fill a gap that was evident from the literature search where learning community studies have focused primarily on a single case whereas here the study explored learning communities operating in two university academic departments in Australia and China respectively. The study also examined the way academics valued their work contexts as learning communities and their perception of team work, sharing and flexibility of role relationships. Data collection methods included a mix of qualitative and quantitative techniques consisting of document analysis, a questionnaire and a face-to-face interview with volunteers.
Among the important findings from the study was that the role of national culture, reflecting historic- socio-political influences, was central in understanding respondent's perceptions of the six constituent elements listed above. The paper will present some of these data and locate it within the literature.
This paper will be of interest to researchers in education, particularly in higher education, but also those interested in academics' work lives and policy development and implementation and more generally those who have utilised the term 'learning community' in their own teaching or research.
Refereed Conference Paper
learning community, learning organisation, professional learning community, community of practice, cross-cultural, perception, higher education