European School of Governance, position paper #25 by Louis Klein
Community-based learning ecosystems lie at the very heart of our understanding of the world, of its being and of its transformation. Being immersed in community-based learning ecosystems is a shared experience for all of us. By trusting this as an invitation to a process of inquiry, learning, and understanding, we begin to live out our human potential and realise our humanity. We will witness how a humanising society grows from metamorphic niches in learning communities. And it will change our understanding of learning and understanding, of development and transformation, and the roles of those who want to change the world.
We learn from life. We did not learn our mother tongue at school. We did not learn to walk from a teacher. We learnt it while being supported in the care of the nurturing emotional niche of our family and the embedding community ecology. This is where we learnt to walk and talk. This is where we learnt our social skills and what we believed to be true and right. We learn from all those experiences lived in our family and our community; we learn from friends and peer groups, from colleagues and competitors. In our community, we learn to understand the world and find our place within it.
Our understanding of the world grows from experience. Being taught is not the same as learning, and learning is not the same as understanding. Learning a foreign language serves as a good example to illustrate this point. Being taught does not do the trick. Reading a book about the language or being taught in class does not provide the essential experience required to actually speak the language. Making progress in learning, like any other development, always requires experiences, trial, and error. We need to chew on those new and unfamiliar words. The muscles in our face will itch when pronouncing what we never pronounced before. We learn vocabulary and grammar and construct sentences hoping they convey the same meaning as the familiar sentences we translated in our head. Learning a foreign language is a journey of mounting complicatedness and increasing complexity. Yet, there is a tipping point. There is the moment when first phrases and sentences slip out without thinking or translating yet expressing very much what we wanted to say. Understanding a language is to immerse oneself in it, using it without thinking to express ourselves. Eventually, we embody our understanding of this foreign language like we embody riding a bicycle or swimming or driving a car. We will not forget it. Understanding is knowing without knowing.
Learning and understanding are essentially community-based. Hence, confining education to school appears artificial. Though there are a lot of things we can learn at school, it neither starts nor stops there. On the contrary, what is not learnt for life will be forgotten soon. And sometimes we learn one thing at school and the opposite on the other side of the fence. We experience dissonance and incoherence. This is where the community-based learning journey may start, when a community reflects those experiences and seeks coherence, resonance, and clarity together. The awareness of community-based learning overcomes the distinction between the school and the world around the classroom. It builds bridges from the community into the school and back again. It nurtures the appreciation for learning and education. It fosters life-long learning. It overcomes contradictions and dissonances between what is taught and what is lived. Above all, however, it is caring for one another. Community-based learning emerges from experiences and reflections. It weaves coherence. It engages in an ongoing process of inquiry, learning and understanding. Being immersed in our community, we cannot not learn. What we learn in our community is our understanding of our world.
Learning in the community is neither good nor bad. Community-based learning, with all the good that may arise from it, shall not become a romanticised notion, as if all learning in communities were ideal and applaudable. What we learn in our community is to immerse ourselves in our culture, to speak and live the culture of the community. For example, racism, misogyny, and violence as the prevalent means of conflict resolution are learnt in the community. From the interconnectedness and interdependence of experience and learning in our community does not necessarily emerge the best of all understanding and culture. There is no mystical emergence or crowd wisdom that inevitably yields the best of all worlds. The invisible hand is not our friend, we better watch it, we better care.
Ecosystems, as well, are neither good nor bad. Like the term community-based learning these shall not be romanticised either. Ecology is the science of coexistence, of emergence from dynamic, interconnected and interdependent, interactivity. These three terms – community, learning, and ecosystem – do not carry a positive value out of their sheer existence. They inherently exist and could grow in any and all directions; they can be beautiful, as well as not. If we care, if we seek coherence, resonance, and clarity of our experiences, if we watch the invisible hand, aware and humble of our co-creation and co-facilitation, we realise ecosystems of desirable community-based learning and understanding. We can realise learning communities as metamorphic niches a humanising society grows from.
Realising community-based learning ecosystems is a start, not an end. A community, inherently being the metamorphic niche that it is, can learn to become a place, a space, a field where people compassionately care for each other and thrive. A community can learn to thrive as a community, a community that grows in its awareness and understanding of what it means to be a metamorphic niche where all people can thrive, young and old, women and men, all colours and all degrees of ability. And a community can learn to thrive as part of the ecosystems of communities in society, not living at the expense of other communities, not living in competition but co-creating and co-facilitating metamorphic transformation allowing for a humanising society. The learning community can be the safe space where we experience and realise what a humanising society can be, and what it feels like. The learning community can grow in its understanding of being a humanising community, a place, a space, a field of care where human relationships can heal and thrive.
The learning community learns by itself. It learns based on its experiences, out of its own capacity, out of its own human potential. It does not need change-makers and impact investors to humanise it. A learning community does not need to be taught. The learning community is not an achievement, it is the experience of caring, it is the realisation of our human potential and the understanding of humanity as what connects and defines us. What emerges and grows out of community-based learning ecosystems, is our responsibility. Realising a humanising society is a process of inquiry, learning and understanding, knowing, in all epistemic humility, that we do not know, yet sensing the coherence, resonance, and clarity of our human relationships, experiencing it. If we had the courage, we would speak of love. If we do, we know that we have come one step further on our way to experiencing and realising a humanising world.
In the light of this understanding, the roles of development aid and capacity building will change. It may start with realising that all these benevolent capacity builders, change-makers and social entrepreneurs, the philanthropists, doners and impact investors are a community and a learning ecosystem themselves. Embarking together on a process of inquiry, learning, and understanding – in all epistemic humility – sensing the coherence, resonance, and clarity of their human relationships – will yield the answers to what a desirable course of action would be. This will require the courage to trust in one’s own potential and the potential of others. Yet, development aid and capacity building themselves could be the metamorphic niche it has always been looking for.