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Research Domain: Group Five - Informal Learning in Different Workplaces

Title of Project: Communication, Mobilization and Leadership Through Informal Learning in a Union

Start Date: April 1, 1997
Academic Investigator: Dr. Donald Wells (McMaster U.)

This project centres on informal learning in a multi-workplace (35 sawmills, pulp mills, nursing homes, factories, etc.) Union in northern Ontario and Quebec. Most of the workplaces have between 50 and a few hundred workers, making them typical of the size of workplaces emerging in 'post Fordist' Canada and the U.S. The union is unusual in that it gives the highest priority to member education about union workplace and political goals. It has an ambitious, long-term commitment to make education the key to member mobilization inside and outside the workplace.

The project is designed to make union education of various kinds more effective by linking it to informal learning by 'rank and file' members that develops after more formal union education takes place. The project is designed to answer the following:

  1. What is the nature of the informal learning which develops among union members after union education (e.g. new member orientation sessions, steward-as-educator training courses, contract bargaining information sessions, political seminars) has been delivered? For example, what is the nature (content, mechanisms) of informal learning through workplace and community networks or 'bush telegraphs' that workers use to communicate with each other?

  2. How and to what extent is informal education by union members linked to a) their identification with union goals, b)participation in the union, community organizations, and political parties, c) member action concerning workplace and broader community issues.

  3. What are the best ways for union leaders to use this informal learning among members? How can union leaders to use this informal learning among members? How can union leaders best educate their members in ways that take account of informal educational processes after the steward-educator has been 'educated,' the steward has 'educated' the members, the educational representative or local leader has 'taught' the curriculum, or the union leadership has articulated its bargaining or political agenda to the members? In effect, how can the union better incorporate informal learning to inform, inspire and activate its members to mobilize to achieve the union's workplace and broader political agendas

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