Reflections on Collective Learning: Open and Closed

  • Valerie A. Brown


This chapter contains reflections on the outcomes of a collaborative action research programme, the Local Sustainability Project (LSP), Australian National University, 1995–2015. The aim of the LSP was to support whole-of-community change towards a sustainable future. The Project team conducted over 300 workshops using collective learning as the vehicle for community-wide change. Project participants came from parties interested in the proposed change. The workshops were held across four continents, using a framework adapted from David Kolb’s long-established experiential learning cycle: first ideals, then facts, followed by ideas and action.

There were three rounds of workshops. Each round built on learning from the one before. In the first round, workshop participants were drawn from those with an interest in the change. In the workshops, the principal conflicts were not over the issues themselves; rather, they were between knowledge sub-cultures (individual, community, specialized, organizational and holistic) each with its own language, content and methods of inquiry. Loyalty to knowledge sub-cultures meant that the learning process was closed and participants were resistant to thinking about the whole.

In the third round of workshops, participants from the vested interest groups and knowledge sub-cultures were invited as individuals, and asked to contribute based on their personal ways of thinking. These ways of thinking proved to be physical, social, ethical, aesthetic and sympathetic, and as a result they established each individual as a collective thinker in their own right. Final reflections found individual collective learning open to the creativity and insight required to redress the closed biases of the vested interests and the silos of the knowledge subcultures.


Collective learning Collective thinking Individual thinking Knowledge sub-cultures Collective learning workshops Action research 



My thanks to my long-time collaborator, John Harris, writing group members Craig Ashurst, Diana Dibley and David Marsh and two anonymous referees for their valuable contributions to this paper.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Valerie A. Brown
    • 1
  1. 1.Fenner School of Environment and SocietyAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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