LearnWest Network: A Short History
The fledgling network of Community Learning Coordinators in Melbourne first formed in 2015, and initially called itself Western and Northern Regional Learning Communities Network: LearnWest.
The first kernel of a network began with a conversation between Peter Blunden, at the time Melton City Councils Lifelong Learning Officer and Diane Tabbagh, the newly appointed Coordinator Learning Community at Wyndham City Council. Diane and Peter both set about trying to locate the incumbents of similar roles in neighbouring Local Government Areas (LGA’s), a search made more challenging by the fact that many LGAs did not have Learning Strategies and/or dedicated Learning Community officers. By the end of 2015, the network’s ranks had swelled with the addition of colleagues from Brimbank, Hume, Maribyrnong, Moonee Valley, Darebin and Hobson’s Bay.
The Network initially met in person bi-monthly to share challenges, professional development and experiences; and to seek out opportunities to use its collective impact to voice the shared lifelong learning goals to the broader community. With the support of Dr Shanti Wong, the Network first formulated its Terms of Reference in December 2015 and considered opportunities for funding to pursue shared goals. Dr Shanti Wong, a member of Wyndham City Council’s Employment, Education and Training Portfolio Committee at the time, facilitated a discussion on the development of the network and stepped the group through some reflective questions using the Learning Communities Framework and Measuring Impact Toolkit, Vol 2 Discussions included the shared challenges the group faced that would drive the network agenda; expectations of the group; and opportunities to use collective impact to voice the shared lifelong learning goals to the broader community.
In formulating its Terms of Reference, the Network also defined its role as one of supporting experienced and emerging Learning Community practitioners in the Western Metropolitan Region of Melbourne in a community of practice where lifelong learning drives an increase in the economic and social capacity of our communities
Over the years, Network members have shared information on conferences attended; developed online learning directories; evaluated and developed Learning Strategies; and supported members in their application to join UNESCO’s Global Network of Learning Cities. Guest speakers have occasionally attended meetings, including a further visit by Dr Shanti Wong and a visit by Jim Saleeba, then the Hon CEO Australian Learning Communities Network.
Despite personnel changes, and the inability of some LGA’s to continue their involvement, the LearnWest network has continued to be an effective vehicle for sharing Learning Community experiences and professional development opportunities amongst the group in the west of Melbourne.
In 2021, the Network collaborated on its first joint project: The Learning for Earning Festival, in response to community needs during the global COVID-19 pandemic. This project led to the development of a website for the Network and a closer working relationship between several of the Network members as the project was implemented.
Through evaluating the 2021 Learning for Earning Festival, the Network revisited its Terms of Reference and has consolidated its membership to now include only active representatives: Wyndham, Melton, Brimbank, Hobson’s Bay and Maribyrnong councils. Other Councils interested to join or re-join are most welcome if willing to play an active part in the Network.
Due to the pandemic the Network’s three meetings per year are now held online.
For experienced and emerging Learning Community practitioners, the LearnWest network is a community of practice where people who are passionate about lifelong learning can work together to drive the necessary changes to increase the economic and social capacity of our communities.
We will do this by:
Engaging with thought leaders in tackling entrenched disadvantage
Collaborating to deliver world class conditions for learning and innovation
Gaining the economic and social advantages from closer connections between the LearnWest members
Contributing to best practice through our own action research
Sharing our findings and experiences
 Economic and social factors are regarded as inclusive of all aspects of community development including cultural and environmental.