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The Balance between Communities and Personal Agency

Page history last edited by Norman Jackson 14 years, 2 months ago


The Balance between Communities and Personal Agency: Transferring and integrating

knowledge and know-how between different communities and contexts

Michael Eraut, University of Sussex




Most undergraduates are members of several communities: their family, their friends, their university, workplaces where they earn money, and other types of social groups. These all involve engagement with other people; and that engagement plays a central role in their informal learning, whether or not they are engaged in formal learning. Good relationships with other people are known to enhance such learning within the appropriate domain. However, transfer of learning from one context to another cannot be taken for granted. Such transfer is often more challenging than most people expect, because learners have both to recognise its relevance and to see how it might be used in a different context. This paper sets out to show how people learn different things in different ways; but further learning is needed to merge different types of knowledge into holistic performances. While most undergraduates want to get a good degree through learning formal knowledge, they are also concerned to find career jobs with prospects that require other, more interpersonal, knowledge; and many of them are also looking for a new balance between their participation in families, friends and communities. This participation involves access to communities, an ability to engage with those they meet and a growing ability to contribute to their goals.


The paper argues that, in a period of rapid change, the concept of competence-based goals as indicators of a person’s workplace capability is far too restrictive. Lifelong learning requires the use of lifelong learning trajectories, which can offer more freedom to be holistic, attend to the emotional dimension of work, and appreciate the significance of complexity. Life-wide learning contributes to the holistic development of a person and offers the potential for individuals to develop along some of their learning trajectories through different parts of their lives simultaneously.


Good feedback needs to go beyond these simple indicators to respond to a person’s overall contribution to their working group and their community; and appraisals need to discuss future possibilities as much as past performance. What are the possible relationships between people and their communities, and how do newcomers find out what works best for them? Who is responsible for helping whom? Who actually helps them? How do people find ways to develop their own agency within communities? Data from working contexts are discussed through both stories and questionnaires; but the overall context will be focussed on the issue of transferring knowledge and know-how between different communities and contexts.















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