Leone Wheeler: How the learning city concept contributes to furthering the objectives of lifelong learning

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Sunday, 20 September 2015 22:04
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The learning city concept can contribute greatly to lifelong learning objectives within a community (rural area, neighbourhood, city or region). However, it must be well planned, engage stakeholders from across different sectors and most importantly provide a mechanism for monitoring progress.

I define lifelong learning using the PASCAL definition[1] ‘structured, purposeful learning throughout the lifespan, from cradle to grave’. This links with the UNESCO definition of a Learning City[2], which feature the mobilization of resources for some broad goals to do with individual empowerment, economic and cultural prosperity, social cohesion and sustainable development. The resources include formal education, workplace learning, community and family learning, technology, ensuring a quality experience while developing a culture of learning within a community.

I think that lifelong learning is the driver for change in a community. I have found that the learning city concept works best when communities come together to deal with tricky economic and social issues. For example, low levels of educational attainment, low-income levels, or an absence of employment opportunities in a community. In my experience, it is difficult to mobilise learning city resources to achieve lifelong learning goals without a plan.

My colleagues and I wrote about how three communities, over a period of more than 10 years, planned, engaged their stakeholders and evaluated their learning city work. The case studies include two city locations on the outskirts of Melbourne, Victoria and a learning community in rural New South Wales in Australia (Wheeler & Wong, 2013, Wheeler, Wong & Blunden 2014a, Wheeler, Wong & Blunden 2014).

It is the systematic accumulation of documented knowledge – the small successes, the programs, awards, recognitions that count towards long-term outcomes. If you have a collective plan with goals, it makes it easier to incorporate lifelong learning objectives and prioritize programs and evaluate.

I enjoyed interviewing individual learners who talked about how their lives were changed for the better because of programs that were funded in their community. I was also impressed by the way stakeholders came together to plan and develop social and learning infrastructure, that is, libraries, learning centres, business development centres, rejuvenated theatre, and trade training centres.

Based on the case studies and other research we produced a Learning Community Framework and Measuring Impact Toolkit to help other communities (Wheeler, Wong, Blunden, 2014).

I acknowledge that you can achieve significant lifelong learning objectives without the learning city approach. Collaborative planning introduces complexity. Inevitably it takes time to implement. However, in my experience, if you take your stakeholders with you, great things can be achieved for individuals and the community.



Wheeler, L., Wong, S., & Blunden, P. (2014). Learning Community Framework and Measuring Impact Toolkit. Vol. 2.  Retrieved from http://acelg.org.au/publications

Wheeler, L., Wong, S., & Blunden, P. (2014a). Learning Community Framework and Measuring Impact Toolkit. Vol. 1.  Retrieved from http://acelg.org.au/publications

Wheeler, L., & Wong, S. (2013). Learning as a Driver for Change: Learning Community Framework. Sydney: Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government and University of Technology. Retrieved from http://www.acelg.org.au/news/community-learning-and-local-government

Dr Leone Wheeler

Content Editor and Board Member of PASCAL International Observatory

Associate of School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

Note: The Australian Learning Community Network uses the phrase learning community rather than learning city to denote that the community development approach as outlined in the Toolkit can also work in rural, remote and regional areas.


[1] http://pascalobservatory.org/themes/policy-themes/lifelong-learning target="_blank"

[2] Learning Cities at Unesco Institute for Lifelong Learning



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1 comment

  • Comment Link Randolph Preisinger-Kleine Tuesday, 06 October 2015 17:15 posted by Randolph Preisinger-Kleine

    Just read Leone’s text, and think the observations are quite important, especially when contrasting them with the experience in my own country. In particular it seems that investment cycles in lifelong learning in our countries are different, and so is the logic of intervention. According to Leone’s observation the learning city approach in Australia seems to work best during economic downtimes, or at least in situations where there are socio-economic issues local communities are forced to tackle with.

    In Germany to the contrary, the Learning Regions at no stage were expected to create impact on the socio-economic conditions of regions, and at the time of delivery there was quite no link to labour market policies. The overarching goal was to make the education system more flexible with regard to changing demands of learners, and major investments were made during times of prosperity. One could even say, that lifelong learning in the course of the government’s “new deal” has been decoupled from labour market policies. Unemployed persons from there on were only able to participate in state-subsidised continuing education & training if living in places with good economic conditions and job opportunities.

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