Transforming Learning Cultures in Further Education (2001-2005)

Contact: David James

Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

Together with colleagues at the Universities of Warwick, Leeds and Exeter, David James won a substantial ESRC grant within the Teaching and Learning Research Programme (£830k) for a research project entitled Transforming Learning Cultures in Further Education (TLC). The project ran from 2001 to 2005.

The TLC project aimed to deepen understanding of learning and teaching with particular regard to learning cultures in FE sector colleges. It examined opportunities for the enhancement of learning cultures and the improvement of learning and teaching in the FE sector. The project attracted considerable media attention, being described in a Guardian feature article as ‘The Big One’ (Guardian, 12th August 2000) and gaining further news coverage towards its end in the TES and THES and on local radio and television.

The research involved close co-operation between the researchers and teaching staff at four Further Education Colleges in the Midlands, North, West and South West of England. The initial research team comprised Professor Martin Bloomer (Exeter University), Professor Denis Gleeson (Warwick), Professor Phil Hodkinson (Leeds), Professor David James (West of England, Bristol) and Dr. Keith Postlethwaite (Exeter) and a team of nine research fellows based in the four universities and four colleges. Following the sad death of Martin Bloomer, Professor Gert Biesta joined the team in 2003.

The Nature of the Project

The research was based upon partnerships between the four universities and four further education (FE) sector colleges. Within the colleges, 16 (later extended to 19) FE learning ‘sites’ provided the focus for an intensive examination of educational practice, learning and learning cultures by means of longitudinal study. The project made use of interviews, observations, a questionnaire survey, shadowing, tutor diaries, and documentary analysis. Its principal aims were:

  • to deepen understanding of the complexities of learning;
  • to identify, implement and evaluate strategies for the improvement of learning opportunities; and
  • to set in place an enhanced and lasting capacity among practitioners for enquiry into FE practice.

The project addressed three problems:

  • the need for a robust evidence base of the improvement of learning and teaching in FE;
  • the need for deeper understanding of the nature of learning cultures, how they impact upon learning and the means by which they can be transformed to enhance and improve learning; and
  • the need to promote a system-wide research capacity in the FE sector and beyond.

The outcomes of the project

These included:

  • a new theoretical and conceptual understanding of the cultural influences on learning in FE, including a much needed clarification and elaboration of the meaning and utility of the term ‘learning cultures’;
  • the development of principles of procedure for the transformation of learning cultures in FE;
  • the growth of research capacity in the FE sector, in the case study colleges, in the regions within which they are located, and nationally.

The project produced many publications in a variety of formats, including several joint researcher/practitioner publications.  The best initial sources are probably the ‘Gateway’ book produced by the project team, and the relevant pages on the TLRP website:

  • James, D. & Biesta, G.J.J. (2007) Improving Learning Cultures in Further Education London and New York, Routledge.

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