Learning Community

HugStudents at Findhorn create and participate in their own cooperative Learning Community. In the shorter courses, the group will become a learning community seemingly almost by chance, but in the longer courses we will consciously create it together. It is our experience that learning in such a context is more empowering, relevant and enjoyable than normal classroom learning, and that both the sense of achievement and the actual level of learning is often higher.

A learning community is a group that has a shared learning goal. That may sound easy, but it is actually hard work. Everyone comes to the College for a different reason. They are at different stages in their lives, and come from a variety of backgrounds. What participants have in common is that they have all chosen a holistic education programme now. If everyone puts effort into the learning that happens, for themselves and for one another, this enhances the quality of the learning in the courses and in our lives beyond.

So what is a Learning Community? Our aim is to create a learning environment in which:

• Students and faculty (or participants and facilitators as we prefer to call them) learn together from each other by sharing knowledge, discoveries and experiences.
• Differences of rank, power and authority in the group are minimised whilst acknowledging differences in personality, life experience and knowledge.
• Cooperative inquiry, collaboration and collective learning are encouraged.
• Particularly in the longer courses, group members (both participants and facilitators) are encouraged to create their own learning contracts with personal goals and achievement criteria which emphasise self-improvement rather than competition with others.
• Group members are encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning outcomes.
• Class content is flexible and negotiable to meet group needs and interests within the context of the established curriculum.
• Different learning styles (eg visual, kinaesthetic, and aural) are respected and catered for as far as possible.
• Differences of opinion and relationship issues within the group lead to constructive inquiry, dialogue and new understandings rather than conflict.
• An atmosphere of trust, openness and confidence is developed in which it is safe for group members to express any thoughts or feelings without risk of ridicule or judgement.
• Clear ‘contracts’ are negotiated between group members about the way the group works together.
• Group members are prepared to give and receive feedback on their behaviour and performance provided it is supportive and constructive, aimed at enhancing each other’s learning.
• Learning is fun, challenging, motivated, self-directed and has the quality of open-ended exploration of any ideas, feeling, beliefs or values.

The ability to work together creating a living learning community is part of our expectation for success. By helping each other, working collaboratively, sharing excitement about ideas and events, and actively seeking experiences we all contribute to each other’s education. We want each member of the group to see himself or herself as an active part of a greater whole and act accordingly.

This dedication to collective as well as personal learning is truly an art. It is not always easy to adjust from the competitive norm of standard education to this cooperative and collaborative model. We each need to be aware of, and work with, our tendencies toward competition and comparison that compromise the learning process. Despite the hard work, learning in community is an inspiring and rewarding experience.

To quote from recent participants:

'The flexibility of the teachers and the safe classroom environment really worked well for me.'

'My learning needs were met more than I ever could have hoped for by the learning community. I would choose to be involved with a learning community again in a heartbeat!'

'I really liked feeling on an equal level with every person in the group including the tutors. I liked that classes were a dialogue between all of us rather than a monologue by the teacher or a discussion where students feed directly back to the teacher. We all talked to and learned from each other.'

Findhorn  Collge
Findhorn Foundation College, St Leonard's Rd, Forres, Morayshire, Scotland, IV36 2RD, Scotland