What is a Learning Community

JEFFERSON E FUNDERS FORUM as a Learning Community

In 2003, Dr. Mary Ellen Fleeger, Trustee of the Carpenter Foundation, offered her perspective and experience on Learning Communities as a methodology or practice:

1. Learning Communities are:

  • A group of people having common interests.
  • Groups of people engaged in intellectual interaction for the purpose of learning.
  • One way to build the commonalities & connections essential to our education and our society.
  • The integration of work and learning creating the capacity to think BIG.

2. Components of Learning Communities:

  • Purpose with goals and objectives
  • Issues & topics to address
  • Affiliated participants
  • Meetings and activities
  • Scholarly process for learning
  • Community connections, partnerships and engagement
  • Assessment/evaluation of activities & projects

3. Why Learning Communities?

  • Philosophical: They fit into a changing philosophy of knowledge.
  • Research based: Fit with research that tells us about learning.
  • Pragmatic: Learning Communities work. They allow you to continue a collective learning process across many organizations.

4. New Thinking and Learning Communities:

  • Focus on community changes
  • Imagine the difference if the starting point for foundations was not what they do best or like best, but what the community needs most.
  • Learning communities provide people the time and opportunity for interaction and talk about ideas, one’s work, and the larger community.

5. The Jefferson e Funders Forum as a learning community offers the opportunity to notice and learn that ….

  • Each organization will see how universal their deepest problems are.
  • Inevitable setbacks and crisis occur for everyone and you can help the community from derailing.
  • When facing challenges of profound change, there is no substitute for collaboration: people coming together out of common purpose, willing to support one another so an entire community benefits.

6. The Learning Community Approach offers a New Opportunity for Foundations: To Move From Fix It Approach to Create It Approach

  • Fix It Approach

a. Focus on correction & analysis of problems
b. Little margin of error
c. Focus on what’s wrong
d. Problems stronger than vision of collaboration

  • Create It Approach

a. Create something new that we want
b. Expect error, tolerance for chaos
c. Focus on what we want to accomplish
d. Vision stronger than problems

7. A Potential New Paradigm for Foundations Now:

  • Moving from fragmentation to integration
  • Creating community networks
  • Understanding that all members are tied together in some fashion
  • Facilitating decisions by the network in concert with the community
  • Creating a seamless giving community will bring economies of scale, greater efficiency, and reduced duplication.

8. Fixing Financial Incentives:

  • When financial incentives change, behavior changes
  • A shift in incentives translates into concrete decisions & actions.

9. Who’s in charge?

  • Community accountability is most elusive, but is an important characteristic of a learning community.
  • If it’s best to close some services/agencies, merge others, or reduce certain ones, then the members must do that.
  • A learning community is accountable to the broader geographic community.
  • Consumer satisfaction is one criteria by which you will be judged