Processes of learning in communities outside school-related education; Bahá'í theories of how education can express humans as noble beings; knowledge as a manifestation of social reality; teleological history; humanity as an organically evolving entity.
Thesis submitted for the Master of Arts in Learning and Development in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts, University of Luxembourg. Also posted to scribd.com.
Exploring Learning Processes within a Collaborative Study Circle:
Cultural-historical activity theory perspective on individual and social transformation
The purpose of this study is to explore learning processes of a collaborative study group,
engaged on a path of individual and social transformation, with the perspective of
cultural-historical activity theory. The topic opens up a window on processes in learning
communities beyond school-related education. The objective is to gain insights how
learning takes place in the activity, what the tools are that the participants use in the
activity, how these tools guide their learning, and how the participants' multivoicedness
influences the learning process.
Research as a process
Scientific method is a truth seeking exercise, is interpretive, and any researcher needs to
be clear about the basic set of beliefs that guides his action, his interpretive framework,
and the network that contains his (1) ontological (the kind of human being we are; the
nature of our reality), (2) epistemological (the relationship between the inquirer and the
known, the observer and the observed), and (3) methodological premises (how we know
the world or gain knowledge of it).
(1) To consider man as a noble being, as mine rich in gems which education can bring
out, is a core element of a conceptual framework that governs every educational activity,
and stands at the centre of the empirical data I have observed. Bahá'í texts state that the
crucial need facing humanity today is to find a unifying vision of the nature and purpose
of life and of the future of society. The object of the Bahá'í Faith is to effect a
transformation in the whole character of mankind. Every human being has a two-fold
moral purpose; to develop their latent potentialities through efforts to contribute to the
advancement of civilization (Institute for Global Prosperity, 2012).
(2 and 3) Our culture(s), our language(s), our belief(s), our institutions and educational
systems influence our understanding. They are products of the human mind. Social reality
mediates our engagement with the world, and we have the capacity to create anew this
reality. I advance on a path of learning that reduces ambiguity, where the mind does have
access to reliable knowledge. The nonfoundational approach to knowledge recognizes the
legitimacy of different points of view and the limitations on certainty, but unlike a
relativistic approach, permits judgments about inadequacy or error. Human capacity for
comprehending reality is circumscribed, but the mind does have access to reliable
knowledge. We learn to live with uncertainty, and without epistemological guarantees, we
act and strive to reduce ambiguity. This research presents a modest contribution to
explore a tiny facet and fragment of social reality, and is not a description of the world as
it is. The study represents one perspective on social reality, a reality that is whole.
I take the teleological stand that history is not just a series of events, but develops.
Humanity as an organic entity evolves, in its collective life, towards maturity. Humanity
stands today at the threshold of maturity and the distinguishing attribute of this maturity is
the unification of the human race. My belief in the oneness of humankind stands at the
center of a conception of existence within which the nature of the fundamental processes
and structures of the collective life on the planet are defined.
How the research was conducted: participants and research instruments
The unit of analysis consists of a group of five participants who start a course on how to
provide children, aged five to eight, moral, spiritual, and values-based training. The data
collected includes five video-recorded group sessions and interviews, written
questionnaires, notes, and a number of documents, which include primary texts, written
by the central authors and institutions of the Bahá'í community, by individuals or Bahá'í-inspired organisations. Each of the five video-recorded sessions lasted on average two
hours, and there was a lapse of five months between the first study session and the last
written questionnaire, carried out after session six. 21 excerpts chosen are analysed in
The research is founded on the framework of the cultural-historical school of learning and
development, which is referred to during the analysis of the interactional data. The
concept of learning is applied to the individual and social plane. The analysis at the
micro-level is referring to individual utterances and joint conversations. References are
made to acquisition and participation approaches and their interconnectedness.
I use activity theory to frame the analysis and discourse analysis to analyze the data.
Activity theory states, that a collective activity, with the basic purpose shared by others, is
undertaken by people who are motivated by a purpose or towards the solution of a
problem, which is mediated by tools, used in order to achieve an outcome.
When we communicate, we may strive for clarity, but we are always situated in an
historical context and what we say is influenced by our multivoicedness. Reflecting on
what people have said and written, and thereby discovering meaning and interpretation is
the basis of discourse analysis (Gee, 2005).
Findings and Implications
The study shows how learning takes place through a complex interaction between all of
the elements in the activity system. Nine distinct instances offer insights that this
particular type of collaborative activity encourages and promotes the exchange of
questions, ideas, experiences, thoughts and knowledge among participants:
ideas bounce and comments resonate with other participants
cultural differences meet in a collaborative activity through value negotiation
a known concept connects to a new context of having to raise children
the object of learning is considered a positive source, spread out worldwide for the
learning develops through comparison and identity develops
an research interest is shown in what participants do and how they do it
the activity undertaken is value-oriented
participants negotiate the suggested learning tools, mediation is present
the tutor shares experiences and skills
The study shows that participants negotiate tools given by the content-based curriculum
and suggests that participants in a collaborative learning activity focus on their objectives
and outcome, and thus choose, define and appropriate themselves suitable tools. The
following mediating artefacts, tools and signs were used by the participants and shaped
three languages (French, Luxembourgish, and German)
the curriculum and the negotiation of the tools provided
participants' cultural-historical background and the tools they added to the activity
The study circle observed is at the beginning of its historicity. Study circles are
developing with their own historicity in different contexts and cultures, and on the one,
influence the way participants learn. On the other hand, as participants bring in their
historicity and multivoicedness, they influence the learning activity. In this way, there is
interconnectedness and mutual influence between participants and the learning activity.
The study shows how participants bring into the activity their multivoicedness and
historicity. Most of these voices help the participants towards reaching their objective and
In the analysis of the 21 excerpts, I identified 32 voices that participants bring into the
activity, collected into seven interacting and overlapping categories:
voices that are in the name of everyone, or for everyone, when we see ourselves
voices of those we care for and love
voices of those that are keen to learn and curious to find out more about human
voices of someone that takes part in an activity, someone that shares his skills,
someone willing to contribute as best as possible.
voices of someone with certain qualities, skills and values that transmit and
portray certain qualities
voices of those that endure physical hardship and are close to nature
voices of those not satisfied by certain learning tools
I suggest that participants, engaged in collaborative learning activities, raise their
awareness that their multivoicedness influences their learning.
The study suggests that the existence and deliberate creation of certain conditions among
participants in a learning activity influence the learning process. They include mutual
trust, honesty, unity, a welcoming and encouraging attitude, a respect for the opinion of
others, adopting a humble learning attitude, humour, and taking ownership of one's
In a further research step, the challenge of expansive learning, that is, transforming the
context of the learning activity through joint achievement can be analysed and achieved
through an interventionist approach. Additionally, a more distant stance towards the
processes in the collaborative study circle can be taken through a meta-level analysis,
facilitated by the cultural-historical activity theory framework.