A powerful learning environment

A powerful learning environment

Conditions needed to create a powerful learning environment together with the volunteers

We want our volunteers to create a powerful learning environment for those who take part in the activities of our organisation. We want to support them in this and make them strong. Becoming strong as an organisation where learning is being supported demands two basic attitudes:

  1. Focus on learning
  2. A positive attitude towards the potential of people and an organisation: belief in growth.

1. Focus on learning

Our volunteers do not enter our organisation as a blank page. They have already had a lot of experience of learning and development in many different forms. This may have been as a participant in education and training courses, structured or not, as mentor in learning or development processes in private life, as a work task or as part of a previous responsibility. This means that every one of them has formed for his or herself a picture of what good learning and development support consists of (Kelchtermans). This may or may not be consistent with the vision of the organisation where they have signed up as a volunteer.

Attitudes towards learning and development have always been liable to change under the influence of changes in society, experience of education and as a result of scientific research. The picture of the all-knowing teacher who stands in front of the class declaiming a monologue has gradually made place for a variety of effective methods of education, varying according to the intended goals. The image of the learner as an empty vessel who passively fills up with the knowledge offered by the teacher is little by little being replaced by the image of the active learner who by working with the tools with which he is provided builds his or her own thinking and knowledge. (Dochy & Nickmans)

If we wish to make our volunteers and our organisation strong, we need to start a conversation about learning and what we mean by it. Knowledge of ideas about learning, but also frequent reflection about how to act in the light of these ways of thinking, will help the various people in an organisation to align themselves better with each other, to help each other and become stronger by mutual support and by learning together.

A possible way to begin working as a group on this theme is provided in ppt 1. The worksheets 1 and 2 in annex can be useful as support.


2. Belief in growth!

Focusing on learning and growth is one thing. Believing that this is going to work always and everywhere is quite another. This demands that the mentor, in this case the volunteer who is supporting the learning, believes in the potential of each and every participant. This does not means that everyone will always develop and learn everything, but that everyone can develop him or herself and take steps towards growth in the context of their own potential. This confidence in the potential of everyone will express itself in the manner in which the teacher or mentor behaves with each and every participant. He or she will express that belief, but will also look for and offer ways for the participant, within his or her own potential, to take control of their learning. This growth mindset (Carol Dweck) can open doors for all concerned.

This has an immediate effect on the organisation. Only an organisation that believes in its own growth and in doing so values the potential and the contribution of all those involved will be able to develop a culture in which people look towards the future and search positively for new possibilities rather than hanging on to the old ways of doing things and  so getting stuck in dead-end situations. Appreciative inquiry (Cooperrider) provides a possible approach for dealing with this.

A possible way of getting a group of volunteers to think about belief in growth! Can be found in ppt2.

Belief in growth as an organisation, and belief in growth of every individual, as a starting point makes it possible to work on learning and development. In order to do this volunteers should be assigned a range of tasks. Some of the volunteers will give lessons to groups, others will mentor individual people in their development, others will take part in learning groups.


In the following articles we will offer to each learning support situationa number of techniques for making the volunteer stronger in their learning support for the participants.

  1. Bolhuis S., LEREN EN VERANDEREN. Bussum, Couthinho, 2009.
  2. Dochy F. e.a., BOUWSTENEN VOOR HIGH IMPACT LEARNING,  Het leren van de toekomst in onderwijs en organisaties. Amsterdam, Boom Lemma uitgevers, 2015.
  3. Kelchtermans G., De leraar als (on) eigentijdse professional. Reflecties over de “moderne professionaliteit” van leerkrachten. Notitie in opdracht van de Nederlandse onderwijsraad. Oktober 2012.
  4. Carol Dweck . GROWTH MINDSET   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiiEeMN7vbQ
  5. Masselink R. & Van den Nieuwenhof R. . APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY. http://docplayer.nl/30651504-Appreciative-inquiry-robbert-masselink-en-rombout-van-den-nieuwenhof-het-begin-hoofdstuk-1.html
  6. Cooperrider . APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JDfr6KGV-k&t=15s
  7. METHOD OF APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwGNZ63hj5k
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