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Research Domain: Group Five - Informal Learning in Different Workplaces

Title of Project: Women and Community Economic Development: Changing Knowledge, Changing Practice

Start Date: April 1, 1998
Academic Investigators: Dr. Ted Jackson (Carleton U.)
Student Researchers: Mary Stratton (Carleton U.)

What are the learning processes and strategies for change management used by CED practitioners committed to integrating gender issues into their practice? To what extent has their learning focussed substantially on gender issues? How do they become informed and learn to introduce and management change?

In addressing the above questions it is also necessary to ask about the processes involved in learning and change: to what extent have practitioners learned on-the-job and/or away from-the job? What sources/methods of information and learning have they utilized? What skill-sets and knowledge have they found to be the most relevant? To what extent do they identify the substance of what they have learned as professional, political or personal in nature? How would they like to be informed? What methods of information dissemination and learning would work best for them? What do they need to advance learning and practice that they do not now have?

Although it is well established that the context of women's social-economic relationships differ to those of men, current literature provides little insight into the above questions. Therefore, in keeping with the NALL commitment to participatory processes, an interview schedule was collaboratively developed, and pilot-tested by a focus group of Toronto based CED workers. Subsequently, the interview schedule, designed to collected closed-end quantitative and in-depth qualitative information, was applied in a preliminary study with 15 key informants currently employed by CED organizations across Canada. Telephone interviews (approximately one hour in length) were conducted with practitioners fro a variety of different geographical, economic and social contexts, who are concerned with promoting CED activities that include women as clients.

The research team views the present study as a stepping-stone to further investigation of the complexities embedded in the opening questions. Preliminary analysis suggests that CED practitioners currently utilize a wide range of formal, informal and semi-formal learning sources to meet their work-related needs. Knowledge that integrates various types of learning is the most highly valued. The lack of suitable formal learning opportunities is an issue, however, in terms of both availability and content. Theme of knowledge clashes emerge, revealing tensions between theory and practice, credentialized and experiential learning, and different life-context (such as those pertaining to geography, class, etc.)

Electronic network and web sites were seen by a number of respondents as one way to entrance informal learning opportunities, as well as make formal knowledge more widely available. Practitioners, nevertheless, identified this as an area that could be improved by specifically focussed electronic networks that provide relevant CED information and details about pertinent web sites.

In addition to the improvement of electronic networks, the data point to other implications for improved education and practice: funding formulas need to reflect the recognition of the importance of on-going learning for CED practitioners, and formal leaning programs need to be developed that value and incorporate practitioners' collective and experientially based knowledge.

It is anticipated that information from the study will be useful on four levels:

1) to assist other practitioners in evaluating their learning and practice opportunities and needs;

2) in developing a more sophisticated research instrument for use in further research on these issues;

3) to identify theoretical and philosophical issues and tensions involved in a consideration of work-place learning processes and networks, and their implication for change in everyday practice, and;

4) identifying specific concrete actions that can be taken to provide practitioners with access to the knowledge they need.

 

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