Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Graduate formation and life-long learning (conference abstract)

Abstract submitted -> to the SCD Learning & Teaching Theology Conference April 2019. This is KCML being research active and accountable. This is taking the hard work of 18 months of Thornton Blair Research and exposing it to “cross the ditch” peer review.

Graduate formation and life-long learning in the context of ministerial vocations
Dr Steve Taylor and Dr Rosemary Dewerse

A caricature of education involves the forgetting of what one has studied once exams are completed. This presents challenges to any talk of graduate outcomes. What to make of teacher talk regarding student futures if learners are on a stated mission to forget?

A more complex dynamic became evident in recent research into the life-long learning needs of Presbyterian ministers. Funding from Thornton Blair Trust enabled research of 280 participants in Aotearoa New Zealand. Phone interviews with 55 ministers ascertained their perceptions of future learning. General focus groups with 230 lay participants provided feedback on the interview data. Action-research tested possible learning plans with specific interest groups and experimental learning communities.

The research revealed that graduate formation has a communal character. Life-long learning needed to account not for the individual minister, but for the leadership groups and communities in which they served. Formation in practise-based modes was valued over information and existing qualifications. Participants identified peers as key learning resources, who as “human libraries” could be engaged in action-reflection modes. Graduates understood formation in relation to interpersonal dynamics, occurring in the middle of communities of practice, through processes of action-reflection and peer learning.

These graduate perspectives have important implications for the undergraduate experience. Outcomes must include skills in action-reflection and the ability to cultivate practice-based learning in communities of practice.

The data can be read theologically. In the temple, Jesus learns with those older in a dialogical community. In the encounter with the Syro-phoenician woman, Jesus’ understanding of identity and faith is challenged in the practice of ministry. Irenaues’ doctrine of recapitulation understands Jesus as one who grows in ministry. Theologically, the growth of Jesus is communal in character and formative in practice. Hence graduation formation is a communal journey of life-long learning in response to the redemptive dynamics of the Divine.

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