Learning and Development: The spirit that exists within people, place and purpose

I haven’t written so far on my thoughts on learning and it’s an important piece of the overall picture I’m trying to help develop in people’s minds (it is briefly touched upon in the documentation if you look closely).

The idea of the Socially Enterprising platform came about after a period of volunteering, study and personal research with an educational charity called GLADE and it shouldn’t be too surprising that much of what I learnt there carried itself through into the platform.

Bringing together the different forms of development (personal, community, organisational…) into a unifying framework potentially creates a new structure around which learning can take place.

Place-based being the key to their potential coalescence.

A platform with a strong place-based element is able to connect and make available these various types of physical (e.g buildings, organisations and people) and non-physical assets (e.g. historical, cultural and spiritual).

We’ll return to this spiritual aspect later.

I’d like to guide you first towards the Cities of Learning project in Plymouth which provides an example and an early insight into how learning can be embedded into place.

Below are a small sample of Digital Badges which have so far been implemented through the programme and there is a link if you’d like to drill into more detail.

Digital Badges can allow learning to be embedded into place not only for young people as illustrated above but also within companies to demonstrate learning on the job.

Inversely they could also be used to embed organisational development and learning outside of the organisation and into place — not that digital badges are a requisite for an external approach!

Once you understand that multiple forms of learning can be embedded into place the logical next step for me would be to then connect it with the needs of place itself.

Why not learn public speaking, design thinking, meeting facilitation, mental health first aid or whatever it is in settings which can benefit from your interest, practice and development?

The local civic, social and environmental landscape offers multiple opportunities for this.

I’m sure that there is a role for public libraries to host immersive learning and supportive experiences that would form a part of a complimentary mix of developmentally oriented place-based learning.

Civil society organisations, charities and social enterprises would be well suited to facilitate and expand upon this.

Where we go, our assets, strengths and resources go with us. Place learning and development into place and place then becomes connected to this otherwise absent potential.

I understand that nothing is ever quite as simple as this of course.

But it is possible and it would change how we and our organisations learn, contribute and interrelate with society.

Locating development

I’m a big fan of the Outcomes Star. I first learnt of it when researching well being measurement on a mental health project and I was particularly attracted to it’s flexibility and ease of use.

The basic premise being that it can be used to measure change within a person (or group, organisation etc) over time.

The example below shows two assessments that then allows us to visualise this perceived change.

Education could be understood as a system/process which assists you in the attainment of levels of qualification. You move from one level to the next and so on up the ladder.

For me development is different. There are no defined levels. There is only an assessment at a point in time.

Let’s say I wanted to develop my relationship skills and understanding.

It could be that education (e.g. attending a course or attaining a certificate) could be part of that process but the most important thing is that I should be able to assess where I felt I was starting from and how far I feel I have changed.

That’s development. There is no ladder. All you can do is assess where you are and how far you feel you have come.

If education could be equated to a thermometer then development would be how cold/hot you feel. It becomes a matter of perspective — it is different for everyone and relative to time, situation and circumstance.

Development is very portable and adaptive to change.

If you take a look at the various Outcomes Star’s you should hopefully see this developmental aspect and obviously the outcome stars are specific to certain purposes and needs.

Developing Active Citizens

Moving on there is also a top level view which is separate but inclusive.

To illustrate, you could draw a star related to a person with categories such as Intellectual, Spiritual, Moral, Social, Cultural, Character etc. I definitely encountered many of these whole person type models while at GLADE but I’m at loss on how to find them again. Hopefully you get my drift.

A bit like this… although spiritual is also an important aspect. If you have a halo spare please add it in somewhere.

Active Citizenship is another view which could apply equally to individuals, organisations and businesses alike and there are ways of looking at this through a developmental lens.

Active Citizenship (Individual) — Active citizenship means people getting involved in their local communities and democracy at all levels, from towns to cities to nationwide activity. Active citizenship can be as small as a campaign to clean up your street or as big as educating young people about democratic values, skills and participation.

Active Citizenship (Organisation) — Active citizenship refers to a philosophy espoused by organizations and educational institutions which advocates that members of charitable organizations, companies or nation-states have certain roles and responsibilities to society and the environment, although those members may not have specific governing roles.

I’m sure there’s existing models and frameworks for this too. This image is not exactly what I was looking for but it will have to do.

I present these here purely to illustrate that at this top level we can begin connecting everything together.

The work, activities and contributions I make as a person, active citizen or corporate active citizen show up here.

It allows us to see where we might want to focus on next.

Maybe as a company I do all of the exciting and fulfilling charity fundraising and always have done. But if I’m not doing anything about sustainability it becomes much clearer for me to see.

Maybe as a person I don’t do enough physical activity. Well now I can take that as a starting point.

This top-level view hides a mass of complexity and possibility. Everyone is different and can make their own choices.

Badges, qualifications, social actions and experiences can all fit into a holistic view of you or your organisation.

Place can offer a huge variety of possibilities for this developmental opportunity to occur.

Global education and an additional dimension

GLADE supported schools and teachers to enrich their curriculum through global education and the introduction of a global dimension.

All of these terms can be quite contested so I’m sure I will get this attempt at explanation wrong.

“global education is one that incorporates learning about the cultures, geographies, histories, and current issues of all the world’s regions. … Global education develops students’ skills to engage with their global peers and highlights actions students can take as citizens of the world.”

“by ‘global dimension’, we mean (very broadly) ‘exploring the world’s interconnections’… With a global dimension to their education, learners have a chance to engage with complex global issues and explore the links between their own lives and people, places and issues throughout the world.”

20th century educational curriculum are not necessarily produced with this kind of need in mind. This is a great shame as the world has changed a great deal and presents us with substantially different realities, needs and possibilities.

The global dimension allows for a greatly expanded type of learning which may be a better fit for the workplace and social needs of today.

“it is not a subject but a dimension that runs through the curriculum, an extra filter to help children make sense of all the information and opinions the world throws at them. It combines methodology — active and experiential discussion-based activities, a caring, co-operative and open outlook on the classroom experience, and core concerns- finding out about all the world’s cultures and groups, about the causes of poverty and inequality and about the environment.”

I am unfairly simplifying here but there is a contrast between;

a) getting the maps out, looking at photos of poverty in India, thinking ourselves jolly lucky and getting a multiple choice test at the end of the day.

b) learning how colonialism, globalism and international trade together contribute to the long-term impoverishment of rural communities in India by looking at land use for crops and crop types grown in each nation.

When we weave an additional dimension into the mix, what was there before can take on an additional life of it’s own. This is where the developmental potential lies waiting to be released.

Learning how to play Chopsticks is instructional (as is much of our current education system).

Learning about chopsticks within a global education, global dimension or global learning context is very different. It runs much deeper and is far more open and non-prescriptive.

Now I am brought into a different type of relationship where cultural and personal learning and development can all take place at the same time.

I am able to still receive the same standard of education and reach the same level of attainment but it is now much more likely that I become a different person, far more aware of the world and it’s interconnections — a global citizen.

Place-based Learning can, if it is well conceived, take a similar approach.

This isn’t just applicable to the ‘global dimension’ in ‘global education’ as I’ve described above.

You can read the 8 Key Concepts to the Global Dimension here.

There is an entire missing ‘dimensionality’ to learning which it helps to demonstrate and guide our thinking towards.

To come back to the example of learning to play Chopsticks earlier. What could learning around music look like in a town or city with this additional dimensionality brought into the mix?

Don’t think of the individual elements in isolation (e.g. music teacher, college, arts centre, cultural events, community venues, live music venues…)

Think of how all of these elements can compliment each other and create a platform for learners to navigate through as they choose.

Think of how other forms of learning and development could be intermixed with this to create something for the ‘whole person’ to be engaged and developed.

If it helps you could imagine the game ‘cats cradle’.

As educational or developmental practitioners, local organisations or institutions you can reach your hands deep into place and bring them back out to create multiple place-based learning experiences.

In effect you are working with the material of connections and relationships (existing, uncovered or becoming).

In the same way, once learning is connected to place, the learner is able to reach their own hands into the material and form shapes that fit around their own personal desires, needs and circumstances.

In this understanding global, cultural, historical or spiritual dimensions become a route to imbue those temporary forms with additional meaning, depth or purpose.

They can bring life and substance to empty forms or be used as a body around which the learning can become situated.

There are obviously questions around how this could be fully achieved but the potential exists and I’m merely trying to connect your thinking to the possibility.

The spiritual dimension

It can be easy to dismiss spirituality in the modern world and this is a great shame. It’s as old as humanity and an important part of every culture there has ever been.

It is easy to simplistically connect it to the churches we see in our towns.

Yet spirituality exists in many places, forms and expressions.

There are elements of spirituality in certain types of agriculture and land-stewardship and it is contained within many health and wellbeing supporting practices.

It is there in the arts and it is there in our ancient monuments.

It’s in our woods and open spaces and upon every of our pilgrims paths.

The mythologies from which our cultures stories borrow and build upon mostly contain this spiritual dimension.

When we experience the world through very restrictive points of view we become narrow in many other ways too. It is when we give ourselves the opportunity to stretch ourselves whether this is in thought or in activity that we create the potential for development to occur.

You never know, by doing so we may discover something new about ourselves or about the world we thought we understood. Or maybe we discover an entirely new perspective from which we can explore new ground.

It matters not whether something is true. It matters not if you believe. It matters whether something can expand your thinking and create additional dimensions to your life, relationships and the world around you.

Our world is becoming increasingly multi-cultural at the same time as multiple pressures are being exerted upon our lives and communities.

If we want to hold things together then spirituality, whether as; an informed citizen, a seeker, a practitioner, or a community member is a good foundation to build cultural understanding upon.

Integrating Arts, Spirituality and Transformative Learning towards Wellbeing

To me all of the things above are connected and place-based learning is a way in which they can be achieved.

The thoughts and intention to do this has been on my mind for many years now but it’s better written down and expressed than stored away.

The trigger was the reading of this paper — Integrating Arts, Spirituality and Transformative Learning towards Wellbeing

“this paper aims to expand the consideration of wellbeing, mental health, ageing and the environment to the roles that the arts, spirituality / faith and transformative learning play in the process of post-pandemic community resilience and renewal. What is constant is change, and what is necessary is an agile, flexible approach to lifelong learning that encompasses priorities that recognize polycentric realities, one that is much broader and inclusive of multiple ways of seeing and understanding the world.”

It’s interesting reading.

Founder of Socially Enterprising / Commoner / Mostly Unemployed.