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© The Swedish National Council of Adult Education (Folkbildningsrådet) The Swedish Agency for Flexible Learning ( ) Adult Study Net Project Stockholm, Sweden 2004

The renaissance of the meeting! by Lars-Erik Axelsson


or a long time distance studies have been moulded in the form of self-studies and isolated individual work. The image still lingers of the diligent student studying by correspondence sitting at his desk in a sparsely-populated area and solving the assignments in the course letters. Maybe that image was justified in the time of the correspondence courses, but hardly in the time of networks and the Internet. Nowadays there are technological possibilities for good communicative rooms for various types of conversations and various types of collaborations on the Internet. The meeting-based learning is, for “folkbildare” *, the very core in the work of folk high schools and study associations. It almost goes without saying that the participant does not only learn from the study circle leader/teacher and the study material but also to a large extent from and together with the other people on the course. In the meeting with others the chance to formulate questions and test ideas against the opinions, interpretations and values of others, increases. This is especially important when the goal of the course is not just to find, memorise and render the knowledge before an examiner, but also to transform and implement it in new situations and to solve problems in the real world. The conversation, in both physical meetings and on the

* About “folkbildning”, see p.  for explanation.


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Internet, is therefore fundamental in the learning process – a conversation that can be held in various constellations: in couples, in groups or in classes and also with external actors outside the course, depending on the subject or the need. However, in the debate about flexible learning and distance pedagogy, the meeting and the conversation is not something natural, not even among folkbildare. On the contrary, to many people distance studies are the same thing as isolated individual work and self-studies by the computer. And if we look at the pedagogical debate and practice, two discourses or pedagogical models for flexible learning and distance studies have crystallised. First, there is the individual model, associated with continuous admission, isolated individual work and, a lot of times, web-based course packages. Second, there is the group-related and meeting-based model, associated with closely coherent groups and process thinking.* Today, folkbildning shares the focus on group-related study forms with many other tutors within colleges and communal adult education, and there are many academic predecessors for this study form that work with various meeting forms, as virtual seminars and problem-based teaching (Dahlen/Hudner, Säljö, Fåhrœus). The difference is that the ones who advocate the individual or the more meeting-based distance study form do not cut between different educational organisers but instead cuts directly through adult education and the college sphere. The two models have two completely different historical origins, in folkbildning and correspondence courses respectively. Therefore we will start with a historical flashback.

A bit of history Folbildning’s natural study form has, since its historical origin in the popular movements of industrialisation, been the democratic meeting and the community of an ideological organisation. The meeting-based study circles and the public libraries that developed as a response to the * Dahlen/Hudner: The virtual seminar, :, Uppsala University, The Department for Education, p.  ff.


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popular movements’ need for studies and education, stood in opposition to the established power structure and the procurement pedagogy of the state-owned schools – a school system that educated the small elite and by definition excluded the broad masses from higher education, literary education and studies. Instead, folkbildning implied a mobilisation of common interests and a need for knowledge from below, which would lead to knowledge cultivation and, in the end, practical action for societal change. A folkbildning ideal was constructed, with the public meeting on an equal basis as a pedagogical ideal. Equals who meet in mutual conversation, to discuss their common interests, read books, listen to lecturers, but also to learn from each other’s experiences, and in the main educate themselves in order to influence and alter their life conditions and society.

The institution of correspondence courses About one hundred years ago the first correspondence courses started in Sweden (Hermods ) and thereby the country’s first generation of distance studies was born. They also came to represent a state sanctioned academic knowledge from above, since they mainly realised certifying and vocational courses at a distance as a complement to the ordinary local school. To many people living in sparsely-populated areas or working, this was their only opportunity to study in order to improve skills and to climb a few steps on the social ladder. These courses mostly applied continuous admission, that is, the students started and finished their studies whenever they wanted to and they studied at their own pace. The studies were mostly individual selfstudies, with detailed study manuals, and communication by correspondence with the teacher, without any fellow students (in some subjects, physical meetings could however be required as a complement in laboratory and practical subjects). The teacher sent out work assignments, the participant did the assignments, the teacher commented on it, made corrections with a red pen and handed out grades. The correspondence school, founded by the Swedish Cooperative Union in , diverged to a certain extent through elements of a more


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group-related teaching, which was not so strange considering that it emanated from the values of folkbildning. Besides the correspondence communication between participants and study supervisor, there were elements of exchange of experiences and “conversation” between the participants in order to reach a common comprehension about the answers to the assignments.*

And then the computer came… When the State’s schools for adults () in Norrköping and Härnösand were established at the end of the s, they mostly followed in the tracks of Hermods and the other correspondence courses. The schools’ purpose was to mediate distance studies on a national scale as a complement to local adult education. It was to a large extent a conscious emphasis on the sparsely populated areas and on groups that normally could not attend communal adult education or did not have access to it where they lived. The -schools basically took over and made the individual model of the correspondence courses for distance studies their own. The difference was that Härnösand had its own boarding school and emphasised the physical meeting as a complement to the distance, while Norrköping concentrated more on pure distance studies. Very little changed in these study arrangements when, during the th century, the Internet and web-based courses took over from the correspondence courses, despite the new communication opportunities that the Internet offered. However, as a consequence of the new communication technology new actors, such as communal adult education, colleges and new e-learning companies, started to establish their own distance education. A few new actors chose to test group-related studies with tightly knit groups, while others still chose to follow in the steps of the traditional corre-

* A report from Lifvprojektet, Sundgren, Byström, Tegnér, unpublished material that refers to  : Correspondence education within the school system and Bolander, H, From the history of correspondence courses.


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spondence courses and concentrate on the established individual study form with continuous admission.

You can find it in the study manual! With the new technology, the detailed study manual and the course literature are built into the web-based course packages. The participant can independently click his way forward and search for work assignments, texts, study tips and links in the pre-fabricated web-structure. The course packages, or course modules, are based on the teacher’s ability to be based anywhere in Sweden, have many students who work from a detailed manual found on the web and send in assignments to the teacher who corrects, comments on and grades them. Self-correcting answer books and interactive programmes replace to a certain extent the course leader when it comes to more simple tasks with given and prefabricated answers. Technically, the Internet and e-mail imply big improvements, both for participants and course leaders; the communication is faster, it is easy to comment on and correct texts immediately, it is also easy to send course material and assignments and we now have the possibility to use the web as a source of information. However, has the pedagogy itself changed from the beginning of the time of the correspondence courses? Sure enough, there are communicative rooms in the web-based course packages where the participants and the course leader can communicate with each other. Of course, but do they have a sensible function in the already pre-fabricated web-structure? Does a learning dialogue take place there between the participant and the course leader and not just a prefabricated answer book as an answer to the participants’ assignments? A dialogue with the written language demands more time than a dialogue with the spoken language and a private dialogue with each participant takes more time than a group-based dialogue. There is always a tough economical cost estimate behind everything and most of the time the teacher has very few hours in his or her post to communicate with each participant. The risk is rather that the economical efficiency in the future will lead to a situation where more resources are allocated to stan-


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dardised course packages, which will replace the costly living conversation.

Web-based course packages Many economists and school politicians share a dream that large-scale distance education will clear a way for cheap and efficient education for the flexible work force of the future. Since teachers are the large cost entry in the equation, that entry has to be minimised and the teacherbased dialogue must as much as possible be replaced with more self instructing study manuals and course material. Therefore a lot of money is ventured in order to construct standardised web-based courses in order to make the activities profitable, which has opened up a very lucrative business for study kit producers. The newest trend is for interactive game-based programmes, which try to make people learn through play through various dramaturgic tricks. The prototype is obviously the many virtual reality-programmes that are so successful on the “adventure market”. These web-based courses are often marketed as an easy and quick way to get an assessable and certifiable module of knowledge for the future ( *, for example). What is offered is a fast and comfortable way to receive the coveted qualification or certificate. However, in order to render possible a comparable examination across the whole country, it is necessary to have quantifiable and measurable units. Then we can leave it to the individual to independently choose different course elements, course modules, in order to get a unique package solution. The question we have to ask ourselves is what kind of knowledge view and knowledge quality this module thinking, with a standardised course curriculum, will lead to. Is this not associated with a very instrumental and mechanical knowledge interest where knowledge is more about memorising and reproducing information instead of actually critically cultivating and using it? For more simple, more mechanical and repetitive forms of learning this might be satisfactory, but is it suitable if we have higher knowledge goals than that? *  = European Computer Driving License.


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The strength is within you alone? To summarise, the individual study form, with continuous admission, is often based on the use of standardised web-based course packages. It mainly implies isolated individual work and, to a large extent, self-studies in front of the computer at home. Communicative rooms with the course leader/teacher exist but the dialogue is often quite meagre. To exchange thoughts or to have conversations with other participants, on the Internet or in physical meetings, is not considered possible or even desirable in this more extreme individual form. You have to choose between the individual’s freedom and the independence of others or the need for collaboration between course participants. Quite often references are made to ideas that collaboration restricts the student’s independence in time, room and study pace, and that limitation of the independence is not desirable to the student. Or references are made to the difficulty or impossibility to have group-related work on the Internet.* We have shown some weaknesses and drawbacks in the extreme form of individual studies, which excludes all collaboration with other students, but there are also advantages with this study form, with continuous admission/individual study form, that we should not disregard: ❦ If I am in need of a great freedom and independence of others when it comes to time, room and study pace (I can, i.e. study on my own terms if work, illness, disabilities, personal finances and geography renders physical meetings or collaboration on the Internet difficult or impossible). ❦ If I prefer self-studies and only a communication with the course leader as my learning style. ❦ If I have difficulties expressing and asserting myself in group-related contexts. ❦ If the group process does not give any positive value to the topic * Svedjeholm, Lena, “The role of the meeting in distance learning”,  , and Muda, Ulla and Carlsson, Conny, “The students’ expectations and the practice of education”, in Holmberg, C, “Perspectives on distance education”, , .


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or to the quality of the learning process. For example, in topics where the focus is on memorising, skills and exercises with no need for a dialogue. This individual study form is by no means dominant within Swedish adult education, on the contrary, most educational organisers work with completely or partly coherent groups. There are examples of communal adult education, which bring together continuous admission and individual study forms at a distance with complementary physical meetings. During these meetings, you can pursue group-related exercises in language, science and other subjects and have better control over the “right” persons being examined and certified. Other communal adult education does not have continuous admission but works only with coherent groups and more group-related studies.

Together we are stronger! For folkbildning, the -projects* in the middle of the nineties became, among other things, the kick-off point for the experiments with -supported distance studies on a larger scale. Already from the beginning the pedagogical development and discussion were dominated by the idea of the meeting and the dialogue as the fundamental elements of distance communication. It also became natural to integrate the distance studies as part of the total course offer, that is, the “dual mode” **. The character of the courses became more crafted since the course leaders chose a large part of the course material and the course outline themselves. Many folkbildare doubted from the beginning the consistency of folkbildning and distance studies. It cannot be possible to bring togeth*  = The committee for distance education. ** Both the correspondence course institutes,  and the new e-learning companies that have developed, chose a large-scale mass production of distance studies, so-called “single mode”, that is, they focused only on distance studies. Folkbildning, communal adult education and the universities, on the other hand, started to focus on “dual mode” at the end of the s, that is to combine and integrate distance studies as a part of and together with the rest of the course offer.


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er the living conversation and the dialogue with everyone sitting at home and communicating through the computer? They often proceeded without reflections from the traditional correspondence and self-study courses as the norm for what distance studies should and could be. That doubt is by no means removed, but thank God we have come part of the way today. Nowadays the focus of the pedagogical debate is not on the question “if ” but rather “how” it is possible, that is to say, more focus on how the methodology and the pedagogy within the meeting-based flexible learning can develop and be refined, which is promising for the future.

Why meeting-based learning? In order to learn from each other, you need to have a reasonably coherent group. This can very well be connected with a lot of flexibility for the course participant in time, room and study pace, who will be able to study in “her time”, “her place” and at “her pace” during the distance periods. The individual has the responsibility and the freedom to join together work, family life and free time with studies at home. However, the work programme and the timetable of the course will obviously put up limits for when the course elements need to be worked on, deadlines for handing in assignments and attendance at possible physical meetings in the course. A meaningful communication on the Internet presumes certain game rules of how often you are supposed to read and participate in the web-based dialogue. If you choose to have continuous admission where everyone decides when to start the course, which study pace to have and when to finish the course, you have basically made it impossible for any meaningful communication and collaboration between the participants in the course. For the individual there is no point or incentive to communicate or collaborate, since they still can work independently. Distance studies can be carried out either fully at a distance without physical meetings, or with various combinations of near education and distance education. You can find representatives for the individual study form, who consider all physical meetings as a limitation or restriction of


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freedom for the student. And naturally there are individuals who, for different reasons, cannot participate in physical meetings and therefore cannot choose a course where physical meetings are included. However, here you obviously have to, as in all other pedagogical arrangements, weigh these restrictions against the many qualities and advantages that good combinations of nearness and distance can give. Fig 1. Individual and meeting-based discourse Individual study form Pedagogical main features Continuous admission

Meeting-based study form Coherent groups

Historical roots

Correspondence courses, ssv-schools, certain e-learning companies

Folkbildning (DUKOM projects) certain colleges

Historical power aspect

State regulated curricula, Top-bottom

Knowledge cultivation & mobilisation from below *

Production aspect

Large-scale, mass production Crafted, integrated distance of distance solutions solutions (dual mode) (single mode)

Physical meetings

Often missing, but possible


Collaborative work forms i.e. problem-based studies

Difficult, almost impossible

Possible and important for knowledge cultivation

Study manuals

Often detailed

Frame manuals, more space for processes

View on knowledge

Knowledge as a “package”

Knowledge as a “process”

We will now, more systematically, go through some, according to us, strong arguments for meeting-based learning.

* Notice that knowledge cultivation and mobilising from below hardly includes higher education.


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Participant steering ❦ The meeting and the conversation can be used as a forum for participant steering for the course organisation, working methods and contents (which decrease the power of the material/leader/course organiser over the study outline). The freedom you have as a course leader to choose a course or study circle, or different combinations of them, has never been a problem within folkbildning since it by definition is “free and voluntary”. In addition, there is the possibility for you as an individual or as a group to influence the outline and the contents during the course since folkbildning normally should not be steered by a centrally planned curriculum or course material. The individual study form is mainly based on a vertical power relation. It is a one way communication, or if one is lucky, two way communication between the course leader/study package and the individual participants. The participants do not communicate with each other and are therefore quite isolated and powerless against the course organisers – furthermore central course curriculum and course packages often steer the outline, which makes all efforts to influence meaningless. In the meeting-based form there is a more horizontal power relationship based on multiple way communication between the course leader/course material and the participants and between the participants themselves. As a participant you can and are encouraged to comment on the outline and the working methods. Fig 2. Vertical and horizontal power relations (CL = course leader, P = participant): CL








This participant steering makes room for a great flexibility when it comes to changes according to the participants’ study conditions, needs


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and desires during the course. This goes for both the physical meetings and those at a distance. The wise tutor can, depending on the desires of the participants, alter the work plan, the timetable and can change the division between individual work and group work in a course. Study pace, work assignments and methodology can also be differentiated according to the participants’ strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their learning styles. You can, for example, have the same assignments or questions for everyone, but let the participants use different forms of expression for their presentation and examination. It is a common perception among distance tutors that distance studies demand more structure and good order than normal studies. Because of that many people put a lot of energy into detailed study manuals and pre-fabricated study packages. However, by doing that we run the risk of locking the pedagogical process and preventing all participant steering. Therefore we like to talk about frame manuals, which give us an administrative structure, especially when it comes to routines (times, deadlines, rules for communication etc), but otherwise leave more or less free space for time and work plan adjustments during the course. At this time, a warning also has to be issued about trusting pre-fabricated course material/course packages as study material. Too many textbooks and course packages at upper secondary schools and communal adult education levels seem, to the point that they are unreadable, to be simplified and compressed academic basic course literature, which hardly arouses anybody’s curiosity about the complexity of life. There are however alternatives, for example the Folkbildning Net’s resource website ( It is a great example of an Internet-based resource, which does not cost a fortune, and which allows for a more process focused learning, where the course leader can get ideas for material as well as using a multitude of sources and theoretical angles of approach in order to design his own course. A common misunderstanding when we talk about the value of meeting-based learning is that it implies an endless amount of group projects.


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A “keyboard” of working methods! ❦ I can get access to a keyboard of various working methods, from individual work, to work in pairs, groups, whole classes etc in order to solve assignments and to produce presentations. ❦ I can take part in thematic studies, project studies or problem-based studies, which presuppose collaboration and joint problem solving. There is a whole “keyboard” of different working methods and group configurations in meeting-based learning, where individual work is an important work form among others: Individual In pairs

In groups The whole class

“External persons/groups”

Individual work

Different forms of collaboration

A good learning process can, and should, include a flexible use of both individual work and different forms of collaboration in order to process material and assignments. By mixing different work forms and group configurations with different methods, you can create variation and dynamics in the course. Which combinations are best in a certain subject, at a certain time, must always be judged by the character of the subject, the target group, the purpose, the ambition etc (see Fåhrœus, Namuth, Schueler in this anthology). What the individual study form does is by definition to exclude a multitude of work forms and methods from the studies. The “keyboard” is limited to an inner monologue with the material and an external dialogue with the teacher. Thematic studies, project studies and problem-based teaching become impossible in the individual study form. Pedagogically, that must be a hark back, to a time with self-studies at a distance. Within the framework of a coherent group you can easily, to a certain extent, individualise study pace and contents for the participants. It is more dependent on the character of the course and the ambition and imagination of the course leader, rather than the coherent group restricting the flexibility. As an example, Hola, Västerås and Kristinehamn Folk


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High Schools have all, within the framework for their long general programmes at a distance, rendered possible a far-reaching flexibility with maintained coherent groups, where most of the assignments are common. “The electronic lifeline” at Birka Folk High School is another example of how to differentiate the studies and support individuals, who for different reasons need remedial teaching. Maybe one of the strongest arguments for meeting-based learning is the demand for knowledge quality in the learning process. Knowledge is something more than just memorising facts and repeting them for a formal examination.

Knowledge quality Naturally the course leader and the course material are central elements in my learning process, but the other students are also useful: ❦ I can get help from the other students to define the problems and to formulate interesting questions. ❦ I can get suggestions from other students about different information sources and angles of approach. ❦ I can use the group as a sounding board, to try the reasonableness of my ideas and I can get help to find weak points in my thoughts and arguments. ❦ I can hand out a text or an assignment to the group for comments and additions. ❦ Through the constructive dialogue with the course leaders and the other students, I can reach a higher quality of knowledge and illustrate a phenomenon from various aspects. Meeting-based learning rests on the view of knowledge as a process based on constructive dialogue and not as pre-fabricated packages that should be communicated to the students. The student should not just acquire their “cultural inheritance” but also learn how to question old truths, seek new information and form his or her own knowledge. It is in the critical and constructive dialogue with the course leader and other students that good knowledge can be found, but sure enough, the indi-


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vidual always needs time for reflections, to acquire and work on information from the literature and his or her own experiences. Knowledge cultivation, in that sense, always takes place in the individual’s head, but it is in the confrontation with the arguments and ideas of others where this knowledge can be worked on, tested and manifested. The strength of meeting-based learning is that the individual can use not just the course leader but the whole group as a resource in order to formulate thoughts, gather information, listen to others’ thoughts and work on and test the sustainability of his or her personal thoughts. However, self-studies and a dialogue with only the course leader can surely be enough in some kinds of more repetitive subjects, which focus on memorising and personal exercises and skills that do not need deeper reflection. But the farther away you get from repetitive to constructive knowledge, that is, from just memorising/repeating to transforming/ applying your knowledge in different situations, the more important is the constructive dialogue with both the course leader and the other students. This also applies to subjects focusing on exercises and skills that include problem solving and application of the knowledge in new situations. According to research done about primary and secondary school pupils’ writing of simple “research reports”, the individualising of the work often leads to situations where the pupils only communicate with their teacher and not with their classmates. The result is reproductive texts that do not generate any personal knowledge or critical distance to the problem that is dealt with, only a few pupils draw their own conclusions and thus create new knowledge in their reports. The conclusion is that we need “classrooms” where problems and questions can be jointly formulated and worked on. There is a need for a more collective working method, with a constructive dialogue not just with the teacher but with the other students as well.* The phenomenological discussion about superficial and deep learning is interesting in this context, as is Bloom’s discussion about different cognitive levels of knowledge. Deep learning implies not just memoris* Nilsson, N-E, Write with your own words, Malmö College, .


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ing and reproducing something that you have learned, but understanding the meaning of it, relating it to similar phenomena and finally applying this understanding in new situations and solving the problems that occur in real life. We can illustrate this discussion about the growth of knowledge with the knowledge ladder in this figure. * To create something new and better. To search for new experiences, enrich your language, create new terminology, to get a more comprehensive world view. To apply what you have learned in new situations. To work on and add more to what you have learned. To reproduce/repeat what you have learned. In order to reach the top, you need to use a varied methodology and various sources to be able to illustrate a phenomenon from different aspects (Marton talks about the “architecture of variation” with the teacher as the architect). So, what is then better than to use different work forms, including individual work, to find different angles of approach and together solve the problem? If you combine different work forms with a variation of methods, it ought to give you a more rich view of the phenomenon that is being studied.** If we want to study “democracy” as a phenomenon, we can look at the following example: It can start with spontaneously defining and limiting the definition according to each person’s experiences. After that you narrow it down to definitions and limitations of definitions with the help of the course leader. This can then be confronted through the read* Marton, F., The discussion of phenomenology, in About Learning, Studentlitteratur, . Blooms cognitive ladder and the “knowledge ladder” is found in Maltén, A, Lärarkompetens, Studentlitteratur, , p.  and  ff. ** See Kolb’s learning cycle in Axelsson, Lars-Erik’s text About learning styles and learning environments, p.  in the anthology.


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ing of theoretical texts about the parliamentary democracy in Sweden. As an addition, the students can individually or in pairs do study visits and interviews with local politicians, which will give them a real-life experience. The study visits and the interviews are then presented online. You can also reflect over and analyse a political debate or event on television or in the press with the course leaders and the other students online. You can make role-plays from a practical case online or at a physical meeting, or follow a local politician for a day in order to experience the political everyday life. In this way, theory/text reading can be combined with a real-life experience and your own reflections on that experience, the role-play and the auscultation. All these working methods give slightly different angles of approach on the phenomenon and ought to give, in combination with each other, a higher quality of knowledge. Furthermore, it gives you a variation of the usage of different learning styles. Both the theoretical and the practical participant can use their strengths, while they at the same time are challenged to test and to develop their weaknesses.

Security and solidarity ❦ I can use the group or someone in the group as social and mental support when the studies feel hard and difficult A classic motive for meeting-based learning is to create a social solidarity and to give a sense of security and mental support with the studies. A sense of security, trust and the sense of solidarity can be strong incentives in pedagogy. To give two examples of this: People with little or no experience of studies, who often feel very comfortable verbally but have a more difficult time with the written word, often need to feel the security and the solidarity in the group in order to begin and maintain their distance studies. Many disabled people can benefit from the distance studies’ freedom in time and place, but they also need the group participation in order to break their isolation at home. However, the secure and study experienced persons might also need the groups’ support to become motivated to continue to study. All distance tutors know how difficult it can be sometimes with the motivation


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and the study discipline, especially during long distance periods, and how easy it is then to run short of desire to study and that can lead to people dropping out. The peer pressure and the inspiration from the other students can then be a strong incentive to motivate the individual to make a renewed effort, when the studies feel hard. In the first place, we might think about the role of the physical meeting where to create trust and a sense of security in the group, and naturally it is an advantage with a face to face meeting. However, many years of experience tells us that this can also be created online through a warm, humorous and accepting dialogue. The course leader obviously has a central role here by setting the tone in the conversation (see further: Svensson, To create the good forum, p. ). Many organisers of distance courses presuppose a good study discipline and that the participant has a good local study structure – financially, socially and mentally – at home. This is naturally not always the case. There are obviously highly educated and study experienced course participants, who have a good economy, support from family and friends and who do not need any social and mental support from the course leaders or the fellow students, but instead fix that on their own. But for many of the people with little or no study experience, with a poor economic situation and who might meet negative attitudes to their studies in their home environment, there is need for more contributions from the course organisers and the local society. An interesting development project is taking place right now to create local support functions for distance studies, in the form of communal or other learning centres, computer centres, local tutors etc.*

Democracy must constantly be re-conquered! ❦ I can, as a member of an organisation, or a “fiery spirit”, use the meeting in order to form a community and solidarity with like-minded people, who together with a shared knowledge can create opportunities for action and social reforms. * In “Folkbildning Network at a Distance” local tutors, as a complement to national distance courses completely at a distance, is one example of such local support forms:


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Democracy can never be taken for granted but must constantly be reconquered. The group can then function as a forum for democratic practice and decision making and thereby as a tool for social involvement. Idealistic organisations and networks that want to influence social development can use the study circle form online to exchange experiences, and work with mobilisation and decision making. Fiery spirits in organisations, who need support and the exchange of experiences with each other, can construct a network with the help of the Internet and distance studies. Action groups can use meetings online for their networks and their mobilisation. There is a great potential for meetingbased learning online as a natural study form for both old and new popular movements. One example is the Hearing-impaired’s district in Sörmland, that have constructed, in collaboration with  and Åsa Folk High School, their own network and their own study platform at the Folkbildning Net for the six associations in the district. Another example is Tollare Folk High School’s distance course “Suburb pedagogy for fiery spirits”*, which targets practising social workers who work with reform work in their local environment. There are also many good examples of study associations and folk high schools that help organisations build networks and carry out studies online.

Social competence ❦ A group project can have as its purpose to practice collaboration and to improve my social skills and dialogue competence online. ❦ By functioning as a leader of a group project I can develop my leadership qualities. Today the importance of social competence or emotional intelligence within society and the working life is often mentioned. The meeting can then function as a natural place to develop your conversational and personal skills in meeting and communicating with other people, but also * Shueler, Ronny, “Suburb pedagogy for fiery spirits”,, the first edition.


The renaissance of the meeting

to develop your leadership qualities. If we look at all leadership courses for the high-ups of the political and the business world, meeting-based learning is a matter of course. And why should it not then be a matter of course for ordinary people to practice leading meetings and work groups? Maybe this was what the pioneers of the popular movements saw when they started to use the form of the study circle as a natural meeting place to assert the interests of the people against those in power at that time. We have earlier mentioned that the course participants can be used as mutual resources, to comment on contributions and to conclude and lead group discussions and seminars and this can imply a certain relief in the course leader’s work. Dialogue with the written word demands a lot more time than the spoken word in a classroom and it can be difficult for the course leader to manage a good dialogue with each and everyone with limited time resources. Simpler parts of the course leader’s work can be delegated to the participants, and at the same time this creates a lot of positive effects in the form of increased participant steering and dialogue competence.

The renaissance of the meeting! At the risk of repeating ourselves! Meeting-based learning and conversation, both in the physical meeting and online, are fundamental in a constructive and qualitatively good learning process. This was true a hundred years ago and it is true in the Internet and network society of today. Especially if the knowledge goals imply more than mechanical reproduction of information for a formal examination; demands for analysis, critical testing and application. Often in college education at a distance, virtual study rooms and problem-based learning are a matter of course nowadays. It is obvious that the participant does not only learn from and with the course leader or teacher and the study material but also, to a large extent, from and with the fellow students. In the meeting form we can use a “keyboard” of work forms; individual, in pairs, in groups or the whole class, in order to solve different types of assignments.


The renaissance of the meeting

This presupposes, within reasonable limits, a coherent group, where individual work can be interchanged with different forms of collaboration. The coherent group can also, within reasonable limits, be combined with great flexibility and freedom for the course participants to study on their own conditions from home. Within reasonable limits implies that the student’s specific study conditions, needs and desires always must be weighed against other pedagogical values, such as the current knowledge goals and the advantages of a group-related work form. Furthermore the meeting form creates a forum for participant steering and conversation about the course arrangements and working methods. This renders it possible for the course organiser to flexibly adjust courses and study circles according to the desires of the participants, both as individuals and as a collective. In this way the combination of different learning environments and working methods in the courses and study circles can be adjusted smoothly to the participants’ study conditions, learning styles and specific needs. The study circle and the meeting, where participants and course leaders together form the course from their own prerequisites, needs and desires, is really the ideal study form for flexible learning in the future. We folkbildare can walk into the virtual room of the future and hold our heads up high, conscious of the fact that our historical legacy will live on in new forms.