Searching for the essence of learning and Bildung in voluntary organisations

The Sivis Study Center clarifies in its project the educational role of NGOs and seeks new ways to support learning.

Voluntary organisations have for more than 200 years offered a significant space for collective learning and advocacy. They have had an important role in fostering Bildung, which more recently has become somewhat unclear. At the same time they work to resolve wicked problems like climate change or the crisis of democracy, which challenge people to learn and change their life trajectories. What kinds of learning and Bildung can civil society organisations offer as a solution?

The Sivis Study Centre from Finland is looking for answers to this question in its project ‘Sustainable Bildung for Voluntary Organisations. Our aim is to highlight the opportunities for Bildung offered by the voluntary sector and to update our conceptions of it. We also wish to support learning in voluntary organisations so we have set out to test tools that can be used also in very short training sessions, which are increasingly common as the competition over people’s time has intensified. We are paying particular attention to learning around sustainable development.

We have already published a small-scale study on the factors that support learning and Bildung in sustainable development-themed educational activities provided by voluntary organisations. We were particularly interested in transformative learning, i.e. the kind of learning the changes the learner’s relationship with their prior knowledge and values. We worked with five courses and three peer-led study circles.

The interviews, training materials, feedback and other materials we analysed showed that voluntary organisations can support transformative learning, for example by activating and engaging the learners and using space creatively. The importance of reflection and interaction was highlighted often – very short training courses do not necessarily enable this.

Interaction with one’s peers and other people turned out to be meaningful. A peer group can support learning and dealing with the challenges and emotions that arise in the process, which is an important part of transformative learning. Enabling peer learning can improve learning in most learning activities. It can be anything from a short moment of mutual reflection to a long process after the training itself. Adult educators could facilitate this by offering physical or on-line spaces for meeting. Mutual sense-making can evoke a willingness to take collective action.

We are on our path towards discovering the essence of Bildung in the voluntary sector: ideology, community and a need to change the world. The voluntary sector’s emerging Bildung role is based on co-creation and dialogue – historically it has been conceived more as a one-way promotion of ideas and knowledge. In 2022 our project will publish a vision for Bildung in the voluntary sector. What do you think is the future role of the sector?

The Sustainable Bildung for Voluntary Organisations project is funded by the Bildung+ programme at Sitra. 

Read more about the Sivis Study Centre

Author: Marion Fields, Specialist, Sivis Study Centre

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