Adult Learning Australia ALA Conference 2012

 What do you do to build resilience in yourself?

This was the question posed by Byron Region Community College Director, Richard Vinycomb, to set the scene for the 52nd annual conference, held in Byron Bay last month.

It was a perspective shifting few days that were very well received by over one hundred participants who attended.

Exploring the theme Lifelong Learning = Resilient Communities, Richard began with the definition; “bouncing back but not necessarily in the same shape”.

He then posed the questions that would fill the next two days:

  •  What does a resilient you look like?
  • What does a resilient relationship look like?
  • What does a resilient organisation look like?
  • What does a resilient community look like?
  • What does a resilient world look like?

The theme of resilience was well integrated throughout the conference and encouraged some very deep reflection on the purpose and value of adult learning.

Richard was followed by Professor Barry Golding, whose address spanned the globe to make a compelling case for the inseparable links between learning and wellbeing.

Robin Shreeve, Chief Executive of Australian Workplace and Productivity Agency, gave an overview of the policy environment in which adult learning providers currently operate and gave hope that key adult learning issues, such as variable participation across gender, were on the agenda.

In the context of resilience, the very purpose of learning was interrogated and discussed. Key ideas can be summarised in the words of keynote, Alan Tuckett, President of the International Council for Adult Learning; “Most learning isn’t about what it says it’s about; it’s about agency,” and presenter Bob Boughton; “Literacy is about humanity and humanisation.”

Another strong theme was the power of communities to act; care for themselves and become resilient. Byron Bay shire is the location of some very inspiring community action and it was plain for all participants to see how the robust adult learning organisations feed the community’s resilience and vice versa.

Lyn Carson’s keynote presentation on Deliberative Democracies and Annie Kia’s short film about community action against Coal Seam Gas further enlivened the discussion around empowering communities to participate in their own future making.

The value of the notion of ‘resilience,’ however, did not go unquestioned. Critiques ranged from it being just another ‘weasel word’ to a morally questionable expectation placed on communities undergoing upheaval through climate change and other social or economic factors. Robbie Guevara, President of ASPBAE, suggested that, in the context of disadvantaged communities, asking for resilience could even be described as ‘re-silencing.” Bob Boughton echoed this idea in relation to Indigenous Australians.

There were some innovative new mythologies trialled at the conference such as series of quick 7-minute keynotes and the open space discussion period on the morning of day two, both of which energised the conference and stimulated a high level of audience participation.

Day two saw an inspiring tour of nearby township Mullumbimby, home of the main campus for Byron Region Community College. In this world-class example of sustainable building design, featured keynote Alan Tuckett, opened our eyes to the holistic benefits of “seriously useless learning.”

The conference concluded with a tour of the Mullumbimby Community Gardens and the iconic Byron Bay Lighthouse.

New Zealand visitor, Jennifer Leahy, extended a warm invitation to all present to attend the next Adult Learning Australia conference in New Zealand in June 2013. Further details will be coming soon.

All conference papers and keynote presentation podcasts are available here.