Saturday, August 31, 2013

Parish as Learning Community: Providing Learning Spaces for Adults

Going through my blog feeds this morning, under technology, I just saw this: Optimizing Informal Learning Spaces: Ten Tips for Universities - it occurred to me that just as universities are places for learning, our parishes should be as well. A parish is, according to the catechetical documents, a learning community. This should be true for all ages, not just for the children and youth. So, the idea of both formal and informal learning spaces for adult learning is one that we might consider borrowing from universities.

Certainly there are rooms where formal learning sessions for adults take place in every parish. However, what about people who do not come to "sessions?" What is available for browsing on Sunday morning, for example?  Where can people go to learn about good Catholic resources? To share and discuss faith informally?

Let's start with formal space. Some parishes do have libraries - and those are a great idea. These usually consist of a collection of books and videos, with perhaps the ability to use a DVD player. But why not add tablets populated with Catholic apps that people can sample? These could be prayer apps or news apps. The Missio app, for example, provides a daily feed of news videos from around the Catholic world, provided by the Vatican.  There are ways to attach tablets to a surface or the space could be monitored by a volunteer librarian.
Less-formal space is even better - it could involve an adult learning lounge. Why not provide a monitored open space with audio CD's, CD players and headphones, with comfortable chairs? There are many good audio learning resources. Tablets, as mentioned above, would also be a great idea. A literature rack could include a list of great Catholic apps for phones and tablets.  Magazines, a few pamphlets that can be taken home, even some of those inexpensive CD's that people could purchase might be a great idea.  Wi-fi so that people can use their own devices would be a must. Put a seating group off to the side for people to gather for informal discussion - or even consider a separate space behind a divider or in an adjoining room so that those who wish to study privately can do so without disturbance.

A great idea for the discussion area is to have a member of the parish staff present for informal Q&/A - on a rotating basis, perhaps. Or, provide table tents with the "Question of the Week" based on the Sunday gospel reading. These are available online both in English and Spanish from Sadlier and RCL/Benziger.

In the case of both adult spaces - do make them hospitable! Pleasant furnishings, perhaps some coffee and doughnuts, and a friendly volunteer monitor who knows about the collection would be a great addition.  Promote the space - put something on the website and in the bulletin regularly about the "learning lounge" and encourage adults to continue their lifelong journey of learning and growing in their faith.

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