Links between paradigm of social learning and juggling

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Woodhill  (2002) identifies three elements for facilitating the development of social learning.  He points out that these are the three defining features of a paradigm for social learning.

– A paradigm is defined by its philosophical assumptions – a paradigm for social learning includes philosophical reflection.

– A paradigm is defined by its methodological approaches – a paradigm for social learning includes methodological pluralism.

– A paradigm is defined by its institutionalised practices – a paradigm for social learning needs institutional design.

As I read Woodhill’s commentary on what he experiences in the here and now and what he advocates is needed for a social learning paradigm, I saw a number of parallels with what we learned through the juggler isophor in part 2.

Philosophical reflection

Woodhill comments that our education systems created a “whole cadre of professionals who are largely uninterested and certainly intellectually ill equipped to deal with the more fundamental questions of human existence, knowledge and action” (page 65).  We also have little “ability to master the concepts and language required to think deeply about our social ecological predicaments” (page 65).

To me this is illustrative of a collective failure to juggle the B-ball (being).

Woodhill explains his view that social learning requires us both individually and collectively to be aware of underlying assumptions and values.  The process of exploring values and norms using philosophical reflection is a tool for situations of conflict and negotiation.

Methodological pluralism

Woodhill comments that the traditional positivist approach to science on their own are inadequate for the complex issues facing society, such as managing natural resources.

He advocates a methodological pluralism – not only does this mean using a wide variety of tools and approaches but also having a “critical consciousness of why a particular methodological approach is being followed in a particular situation and what the underlying epistemological assumptions are” (page 66).

To me, this has lots of parallels with juggling the C-ball (contextualising).  Woodhill is advocating this at a collective, societal level.

Institutional design

Woodhill’s concern is with institutions that “facilitate social learning and participatory democracy” (page 66).  But he also comments that “institutions are both the means to, and outcome of, social learning” (page 67).  By this I understand that institutions and social learning are in a relational dynamic – they mutually construct each other.

To me, this poses a particular problem – how can you create institutions that facilitate social learning when the existing institutions constrain it?  Woodhill does not really go into this dilemma, he does however propose a set of eight principles for facilitating institutional design (listed in my post on Key concepts related to critical social learning systems).

There seem to be links here with juggling the M-ball (managing).  Particularly, the aspect of the M-ball that is about managing in a way that creates the context for emergence and self-organisation.


Woodhill, J. (2002) Sustainability, Social learning and the democratic imperative: lessons from the Australian Landcare Movement in Blackmore, C (Ed, 2010) Social Learning Systems and Communities of Practice, The Open University/Springer Publications, Milton Keynes/London

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