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The dynamics of learning partnerships : case studies from Queensland

Peirce, Heather Jean (2006) The dynamics of learning partnerships : case studies from Queensland. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.

Abstract

This study examines the emerging notion of learning partnerships. As the study of such partnerships is a nascent research field, no single definition has yet emerged in the literature. However, within an uncertain and rapidly changing global context, two strategic initiatives have been identified which will support individuals, communities and organisations in their transition to a knowledge-based economy whilst building capacity for change and renewal. These two strategies are fostering learning communities/regions/towns and developing learning partnerships between multiple stakeholders. The term "learning partnership" has appeared in a wide variety of literatures including those of adult learning, management, social science and education. Working papers and emerging case reports identify a diversity of applications and a range of operational models or configurations that link multiple stakeholders. Learning partnerships have been associated with vocational education and training, innovation and research, lifelong learning, organisational learning and knowledge cultivation. These literatures reveal a paucity of Australian research to explain how multiple stakeholders form and develop these configurations, particularly in the Queensland context. The purpose of this study is to build deeper understanding of the meaning of a learning partnership in the Australian and (more precisely) the Queensland context. A working definition of a learning partnership, adopted as the basis for the research, indicates a strategy designed to foster continuous learning, collaboration, innovation and renewal in response to the demands of the knowledge-based economy and knowledge and learning societies. The research focuses on organisational arrangements in order for the researcher to gain deeper understanding from the key stakeholders in their work environments. Three diverse situations were selected for detailed exploration of their issues, relationships, activities, processes and working knowledge. With a view to contributing to emerging theory, an organisational case study methodology

was adopted to identify and explore the nature of the relationships and issues confronting the key stakeholders in three Queensland-based learning partnerships. An interpretive theoretical framework draws on the social theory of symbolic interactionism and the "systems thinking" of General Systems Theory. An interpretivist perspective influenced the case study research strategy and guided data collection, analysis and reporting. Within the case studies, data collection methods included observations, informal meetings, synergetic focus groups, semi-structured interviews, diary notes, researcher memos and documents. From these multiple data sources, the researcher was able to assemble three case files. The inductive process for within-case analysis for the case reports, and later, cross-case analysis, integrated as a form of constant comparison technique, was used as a basis for presenting findings. These findings are reported as three separate "in progress" models to address three interrelated research questions. The case reports explain complex and interconnected organisational arrangements - evolving, adapting and responding to internal and external tensions. While there is considerable activity which could be regarded as representing learning partnerships, there is no cohesive policy framework to support such partnerships, and much ambiguity, "muddy" definitions and unclear terminology. It appears that a "new breed" of knowledge-worker is emerging - linking, networking, interacting, exchanging - to work across organisational intersections. The study shows that like "herding cats", co-ordinating and managing the inter relationships at the organisational intersection take time, resources, vision, processes for interaction, individual willingness and "in-kind" support. Whilst there is opportunity for linking disparate groups to cross-fertilise ideas, working knowledge, and information, and there is the potential to cultivate a knowledge and learning ecosystem (a fertile compost heap for knowledge generation and an innovative learning system) - "intellectual horsepower" - such configurations may also derail, realign or stagnate. It is individual stakeholders who form the relationships, interact, share ideas, and build networks, and it is the individual who maintains the relationships, engages in the process and learns from the experience. Therein lies a paradox between the strength of diversity of the collective (synergies) and their weakness as the relationships may be compromised by a single individual who withdraws or transfers. Drawing on a computing analogy, this could be akin to "corruption" in a system which may not be sufficiently robust to tolerate ambiguity, or a system that is too inflexible to survive threats while maintaining the momentum to adapt and renew. On the basis of this research it would appear that a more robust or resilient paradigm is emerging with interconnected, blurred boundaries and much "talking and thinking" about more sustainable futures. The study identifies these as indicative of wider social and economic changes. The thesis proposes three conceptual models as particularly useful in interpreting these "shifting systems and shifting paradigms": the concentric, the centripetal, and the plutonic.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 16248
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Lidstone, John& Dooley, Karen
Keywords: learning partnerships, shifting paradigms, shifting systems, complex adaptive systems, innovation, lifelong learning, knowledge economy, knowledge and learning age, knowledge and learning ecosystems, systems thinking, interpretive theoretical framework, plutonic knowledge, knowledge octopus, sustainable economic development
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Department: Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Heather Jean Peirce
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 13:59
Last Modified: 29 Oct 2011 05:45

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