Learning in communities: relevant – and joyful!

Three podcasters around the table.

Encouraging adults to join learning initiatives for green transition might seem challenging – but there are multiple reasons why community engagement happens. Learners, educators and community organisers from across Europe have told us why they found it important to create or join a learning community.

What is it that makes adults go out after a long day at work and participate in learning activities? And out of the different topics they could possibly learn about in their free time, why would they invest time and effort something that might seem so far removed from their daily reality as climate justice? For the past six months, at the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) we’ve been meeting with learners, educators and community organisers who have shared with us their experience in learning for green transition, and what it means to them personally or professionally.

Since September 2023, at EAEA we’ve been hosting a podcast Beyond Learning, whose first season has been focused on how adult learning can contribute to a greener future. As an association working at the European level, it can be deceptively easy to overlook the community dimension of learning; we often either look at the individual, or at the national or European perspective when drafting our policy papers or recommendations for policy-makers. At the same time, green transition is a topic that can seem challenging in its complexity and global dimension, and yet is very relevant for communities.

Throughout the seven episodes that we recorded for the podcast, we met with people whose work or interest are very much community-based, and in one way or another linked to learning. It has been eye opening to discover how many different roles are taken on by community leaders. We’ve spoken to an architect who works in participatory construction, but also teaches community yoga and strives to make her classes more egalitarian. We’ve talked to a filmmaker who cycled 13,000 kilometers from Brussels to Tokyo and on the way, learned not only about how to build physical endurance, but also met with women from around the world who build local communities around cycling. We’ve visited a sewing class and spoken to learners who talked about their personal attachment to their clothes and the sentimental value of repairing them. We’ve also taken a tour around a green community which was saved from demolition by a group of residents and activists, joined around the shared idea of building a new way of communal living.

While the experiences were all vastly different, there were several things that all our guests had in common. It quickly became clear that as adults, we have a lot to learn from each other: learners take on the roles of educators, educators become community organisers, and community organisers go back to learning, all within the same context. No matter the age or background of learners, we’ve heard again and again how important it was to build an atmosphere of trust and respect, which might take a long time, but is an effort worth investing. Finally, our guests often reminded us that learning needs to be relevant – you might turn a community to look for a solution to a problem, or simply to find new people to connect to, beyond your immediate family circle. And finally, learning can – and should! – bring people joy. In the words of one of our guests: “Why would you stay in an enclosed space at work if you can come out to a community garden and be with other people”?

You can listen to all of the episodes of Beyond Learning on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. More insight into the motivation of learners is available in EAEA’s background paper A Greener Future: Voices of Learners and Educators in Green Transition.

 

Aleksandra Kozyra, EAEA

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