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Research Domain: Group Three - Informal Learning Cultures

Title of Project: Working -Class Learning Practices: Home-Based Perspectives

Start Date: April 1, 1997
Academic Investigator: Dr. D.W. Livingstone
Student Researchers: Jennifer Stephen (OISE/UT), Rachel Gorman (OISE/UT), Reuben Roth

Very little attention has been paid to the actual array of learning activities that working people are engaged in, how and why they choose to learn, and the relevance of existing education programs to their needs. There is some adult education research which indicates that people do a lot of learning outside of formal educational settings, but this research has virtually ignored working class people. Our previous SSHRC-funded research project, "Working Class Learning Strategies in Transition: Union-Based Perspectives" (WCLS), has documented the richness and diversity of the actual learning practices of unionized workers in this period of widespread change in paid workplace relations. We have used a participatory action research approach and semi-structured interviewing techniques. In the initial stage of research, two basic interviews were done with each participant union member, one focussed on current learning activities, the other on a more general life history. We generated detailed profiles of the range of working class learning activities in terms of objectives, strategies, processes, content, obstacles and effective outcomes. We look at the entire spectrum of learning sites, including formal school and post-secondary education programs, on-the-job-training and apprenticeships, retraining and upgrading programs, nonformal adult education, informal and self-directed learning projects and collective learning in community settings. We explored similarities and differences in learning practices according to employment status and household type, as well as by age, sex, race/ethnicity, levels of schooling, participation/non-participation in retraining programs, and union activism. The primary research sites have been union locals in the Greater Toronto Area. We received the cooperation of USWA, CEP, OPSEU, CAW and ILGWU/UNITE, as well as MLEC, to select appropriate union locals and to assist us in working with local union members. Interviewees were chosen on the above criteria. Research reports were completed and given back to the union and the general membership at each site. New education committees and new program for members have been initiated at some sites.

With the agreement of all 5 unions, we are now continuing this research with other family members in the households of some of our previous respondents, including both partners and children over the age of 15. Our total sample will be a minimum of 50 people. Limited comparisons may also be made with non-unionized workers and with executive and professional households. The main interviewing will be conducted by graduate students from OISE/UT who aspire to work with the union movement after graduation.

Social theorists typically conceptualize working class forms of knowledge negatively, for example as an absence of "cultural capital" or as based on "restricted" language codes. Most heralds of the "information society" and "learning enterprises" similarly presume that working people have serious knowledge deficiencies that must be filled to ensure societal and enterprise viability. Our prior positive findings require a reconceptualizing "cultural capital", revising the connections between informal and organized adult learning, and rethinking the relations of adult learning with compensable work and citizenship. The research is based on an activity-based theory of learning derived from the work of Vygotsky and Freire.

After completion of the in-depth family interviews, discussion groups will be conducted at each union site to explore the educational significance and implications of the preliminary findings, just as has been the case in the first phase of this study. A small number of follow-up interviews will then be conducted. Prior to completion of the final report, a series of workshops will be held with union representatives and family members to explore in detail the potential benefits of the findings in relation to employer, union and general provision of new educational programs for union members and their families. The general findings will also be published in standard research journals as required by the SSHRC. We will also aid in disseminating beneficial results within the labour movement and more widely.

The major research activities in the WCLP project will occur in years 4, 5 and 6 of NALL. The first two years (years 1, 2 and 3) have involved appropriating information from the concluding WCLS project, updating a literature review, consulting with union representatives on research design, and conducting some preliminary family interviews. Years 4 and 5 will be devoted to gathering, analysing and verifying the interview data from family members. The latter part of Year 5 and Year 6 will be devoted to educational program development for union members' families.


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