From frontier learning to blended community learning: a phenomenography of informal learning in rural community informatics

Arden, Catherine (2017) From frontier learning to blended community learning: a phenomenography of informal learning in rural community informatics. In: 26th European Distance and E-learning Network Annual Conference: Diversity Matters! (EDEN 2017), 13-16 June 2017, Jonkoping, Sweden.

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In Australia, in spite of a policy commitment at the national level to an investment in national broadband internet infrastructure across the country, the problem of an enduring digital divide – along with the probability of an associated learning divide – persists, particularly for so-called disadvantaged groups in rural and regional communities. Therefore, like their counterparts in many countries around the world, Australian rural communities are working on strategies to build the capacity of their citizens for active participation “in an information society that includes a concept of civil society as a target for skills development, engagement, decision-making, and societal cohesion” (Taylor, Schauder, & Johanson, 2005 p. 4). Such strategies include the Learning Communities movement, in which towns, cities, and communities adopt a “learning-based approach to community development…with a framework in which lifelong learning is the organising principle and social goal” (Faris, 2005, p. 31) and grass-roots community technology (Community Informatics) initiatives that seek to leverage digital Information Communications Technologies (ICTs) and the Internet in the interests of supporting the achievement of community development (Gurstein, 2001) and digital inclusion (Alamelu, 2013) goals. One such initiative is GraniteNet, established in 2006 in the town of Stanthorpe in South-East Queensland with the aim of harnessing the possibilities presented by digital technologies and the Internet for enhanced social connectivity, community networking, and citizen engagement in lifelong and life-wide learning.

The author concurs with Merriam et al (2007, p. 430) that “informal learning contexts, including social action and community-based learning, are where much of adult learning takes place [and that as adult educators and researchers] we need only see them as sites for learning” to be able to explore and better understand, and make visible, the dynamics and complexity of this learning. Using phenomenography as the primary research approach, the author explored the experience of learning with a purposive sample of 20 community volunteers drawn from among GraniteNet’s diverse communities and networks of interest and practice at a high point in the organisation’s development in 2012. Although learning across various content domains was explored, particular emphasis is given to the interrogation of conceptions and experiences of learning about and learning to use digital technologies in GraniteNet’s face-to-face, virtual and hybrid community learning and working environments. Phenomenographic analysis of interview transcripts and respondent-generated mind maps identified seven qualitatively distinct, yet logically related ways of experiencing learning in GraniteNet, representing the collective learning consciousness of GraniteNet at the time of the study. This constituted the study’s outcome space, which is interpreted in the context of the case study description to illuminate the experience of learning in GraniteNet and to theorise about the nature and dynamics of this learning.

The study’s findings confirm those reported in the literature on learning in associational life and volunteer work that emphasise the variety of learning opportunities afforded by small-scale voluntary and community-based organisations “across the spectrum of adult learning” (Kerka, 1998, p. 1) along with the breadth, depth and significance of this learning for participants. They also demonstrate how individual and collective learning is further expanded through the “combination of digital interactions with offline encounters” (Field, 2005, p. 148) afforded by GraniteNet’s hybrid socio-technical working and learning environments. Related to this are new understandings and insights generated about informal learning as a phenomenon linked to younger and older adults’ growing capacity for metacognition and reflexivity in the interests of understanding and furthering their own learning, providing evidence to support the assertion that, under the right conditions, digital technology can be used to “support sustainable environments where learners gain new perspectives on their learning, share and learn collectively, and master their own drive for learning” (Eden17, Conference Scope).

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Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Commonwealth Reporting Category E) (Paper)
Refereed: Yes
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Additional Information: Copyright 2017 European Distance and E-Learning Network and the Authors. This publication contributes to the Open Access movement by offering free access to its articles and permitting any users to read, download, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software. The copyright is shared by authors and EDEN to control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Linguistics, Adult and Specialist Education (1 Jul 2013 - 30 Jun 2019)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Linguistics, Adult and Specialist Education (1 Jul 2013 - 30 Jun 2019)
Date Deposited: 26 Oct 2017 06:13
Last Modified: 07 Jan 2019 05:28
Uncontrolled Keywords: informal learning; community informatics; technology-enhanced learning; learning in associational life; community volunteering; community socio-technical literacy practices
Fields of Research (2008): 13 Education > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130399 Specialist Studies in Education not elsewhere classified
13 Education > 1399 Other Education > 139999 Education not elsewhere classified
Fields of Research (2020): 39 EDUCATION > 3904 Specialist studies in education > 390499 Specialist studies in education not elsewhere classified
39 EDUCATION > 3999 Other Education > 399999 Other education not elsewhere classified
Socio-Economic Objectives (2008): C Society > 93 Education and Training > 9399 Other Education and Training > 939999 Education and Training not elsewhere classified

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